There is nothing more fun than getting kids to move with poems to enhance the meaning! Here is how I do this lesson on creative dramatics and poetry. Since it’s always important to gradually release responsibility when you are teaching something new, I start with modeling one poem, next I teach them how to put motions with another poem, then the students make suggestions for the motions of the next poem, and finally they are grouped into teams to plan a performance poem. (Note: we don’t use props, just our bodies and our voices.)
I open by telling the kids we are going to move with the poems today; something I call ‘Creative Dramatics.’ We will use what the poem is about to help us decide how to move and what to do with our bodies. In fact, I mention that I saw a group of students the other day moving with the Boa Constrictor poem. I begin by modeling with Shel Silverstein’s Lazy Jane. The poem is short and easy to memorize. Be sure to check out the picture that Shel has drawn with this poem. As I slowly say the first lines, “Lazy, lazy, lazy Jane. She wants a drink of water,” I slowly take three steps and plop into a chair. As I say “So she waits…. and waits….. and waits….” I merely lounge in that chair, pausing, sighing, and looking like I’m waiting. And finally when I say the last line, “… and waits for it to rain,” I drop my head back with my mouth open towards the sky. The kids clap and I say, “Great, thank you, that’s exactly what you should do when someone performs for you.” (I’m preparing them for later when I want them to applaud each of their group performances.) We talk about the movements I chose and why I did it that way. I even show them how it wouldn’t fit with the poem if I marched across the room quickly saying the first lines.
Next I teach them movements to the poem Jalopy by Sylvia Cassidy. Don’t make the mistake of assuming kids know what a jalopy is; not one child in two 5th grade classes knew the meaning of the word. We bounce in our chairs as we read most of the poem, using other motions for certain lines: “No top has my jalopy”/ wave your arm from front to back; “Drop, goes my jalopy”/ just dip your body down a bit; “Clop, goes my jalopy”/ stamp both feet… and so on. You’ll figure it out.
Releasing a little more responsibility over to the students, I put up the poem When Tillie Ate the Chili by Jack Prelutsky. After reading it through and talking about it’s meaning, I let different students offer suggestions of hand/body motions we can do for each line. When all the motions are decided, we all perform it together. (Note: for the line “she coughed, she wheezed, she sputtered” the students will model making coughing noises. Be sure to tell them that they are just pantomiming the motion of coughing because they have to be saying the words of the poem. Also, for the line “she ran totally amok” hopefully they will suggest running in place.)
They are finally ready to go off on teams to prepare their performances. I use these four poems, but you can choose whatever you like.
Things, by Eloise Greenfield
Keep a Poem in Your Pocket, by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers
Rain Poem, by Elizabeth Coatsworth
The Storm, by Dorothy Aldis
If you haven’t been following my blogs on teaching poetry, feel free to check out the posts from February 3 and January 25th.