In my post on Jan. 25th I promised to write up some poetry lessons that I’ve done. I often begin with the idea that many poems should be read out loud. On an overhead projector or Smartboard, I put up my first example, “All My Hats” from Richard Margolis’s Secrets of a Small Brother. First I read the poem very fast, mumbling, in a monotone voice. Then I read it a second time with all the vocal expression I can muster.
All my hats
Are hats he wore.
What a bore.
All my pants
Are pants he ripped.
What a gyp.
…… (several stanzas)
All my teachers
Call me by my brother’s name.
What a shame.
We then talk about which rendition was better and why, as well as some discussion of the meaning of the poem, which many kids can relate to personally.
I put up the poem Foghorns by Lillian Moore and read it aloud. I tell the students that poets take time deciding how they want to arrange their poems on the page. They not only use punctuation sometimes, but also white space. The white space tells us where to pause and take breaths and how to read phrases together (for more on white space, read Fletcher’s Poetry Matters, pages 69-71.) I show them the same poem Foghorns, but I’ve arranged it in two other ways on the page. We practice how each one would be read differently because of the change in white space and arrangement of the words.
Now I want the students to get some enjoyment out of reading poems out loud together so we do some choral readings. (Eventually in future lessons we will do some creative dramatics and move with the poems, but today we are working only with voices.) We start with this one.
by Dorothy Aldis
Wasps like coffee
You might not think there is much to this poem. But because of all the white space after each word, you must pause a lot. Read it a few times and feel the beat in it; punch out the coke line. The kids join me reading it with a beat. “Again, now clap it as we read. Now snap it. Now soft. Now loud.”
Some other poems we read together are Good Books, Good Times, by Lee Bennett Hopkins. This one works well in two voices, with one side of the room starting and the other side reading every other line. Another is Boa Constrictor, by Shel Silverstein. The students enjoy having me read aloud a longer poem as they follow along, joining in on the repetitive lines. I use Nathaniel’s Rap from Nathaniel’s Talking by Eloise Greenfield or Honey, I Love (and we belt out that line, “But, Honey, let me tell you that I love…”) Then I usually give out two pages with several poems that are fun to read aloud and have them try a few with a partner. After that they all take a poetry book and read independently. Many find a poem that they want to share with the whole group at share time. In fact so many students wanted to do this that the teacher had to put up a sign-up sheet for three students a day for the next few days.
The wonderful thing I learned from doing these poems aloud with students is that they ALL wanted to participate. Prior to doing this lesson, I had explained what I would do to the classroom teacher. She worried a bit that her students were too shy or inhibited (worrying about what others might think, as fifth graders do). But they were ready to roll! They put all their energy into reading with the best vocal expression they had.