I had a discussion the other afternoon with a teacher who wanted to work on a poetry unit with her students. I dug out all my notes from workshops I had given on poetry over the years and shared ideas with her. First off, we talked about gathering up as many poetry books as she could from the school and public library and I lent her many of mine. We agreed that each day there would be time for the students to read and write poetry. We talked about various topics that could develop into mini-lessons for the opening of reading/writing workshop. I adapt the poems I use in mini-lessons to the different grade levels, but basically my lessons center around these points:
- Many poems are meant to be read out loud. Poets use ‘white space’ to help us decide how they want their poems to sound.
- Poems are meant to be enjoyed, shared, talked about, and understood.
- We can all write great poems.
- When poets write they use certain tools or think in certain ways.
- Poets love to play around with language in many ways.
- All the kinds of standards surrounding poetry (things that might be asked on standardized tests) can be taught and woven throughout the workshop unit. Examples are: stanzas, rhyme patterns, free verse, alliteration, onomatopoeia, narrator of the poem, metaphors, and so on.
- Sometimes we need to talk about poems with others to help us make meaning or create the story behind the poem.
Throughout the whole unit there are two charts that are available for the students to write on. Each one is blank, except for the heading. The first one is titled, “Things we are discovering about poetry.” The second says, “Poets we are enjoying and learning about.”
You would be surprised what the students write. On the first chart, I’ve gotten things like: poems can be about anything; not all poems rhyme; some poets use repeating lines; some poets use nonsense words; sometimes a poem is shaped funny on the page; there are lots of poems about nature/animals/food.
When we start the unit, most students can only name two poets — Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. But by the end, they know many poets, such as: Eve Merriam, Eloise Greenfield, Lee Bennett Hopkins, David McCord, Judith Viorst, Langston Hughes, Nikki Grimes, Ralph Fletcher, Richard Margolis, Lilian Moore, Myra Cohn Livingston, J. Patrick Lewis, Georgia Heard, and many more.
Over the next few weeks, I will be taking each of the above points and telling in more detail how I might relate the topic to students and what poems I might share during that mini-lesson.
Here are the additional poetry posts – enjoy!