If your students tend to moan and groan when they hear the word “poetry,” we’ve got some good news: poetry doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, learning about (and writing) poetry can be a lot of fun for your students—especially your struggling readers. So to help you celebrate National Poetry Month, we’re sharing our best ideas for bringing poetry into the classroom.
Research shows that songs, nursery rhymes, and books with rhyming text are powerful tools for preparing young learners to start reading. But younger kids aren’t the only ones who reap the benefits of reading and writing rhymes; poetry can help older students understand the beauty, rhythm, and descriptive qualities of language, as well as a host of other concepts—word choice, structure, and even symbolism.
Best of all, bringing poetry into the classroom doesn’t have to be time-consuming, stuffy, or painful; it can be as simple as starting each day with a poem or having students create short rhymes of their own. Here are a few easy ways to get the whole class reading and writing poetry, brought to you by former elementary school teacher and experienced storyteller Amy Carr.
1. Start each day with a poem. For younger students, choose a theme for the month, and then start each day by reading a poem that fits with that theme. You could choose something your students are already learning about for your theme, or you could focus on a specific author—Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, etc.
For older students, choose a type of poetry as your theme for the month. Then read an example of that type of poem and discuss its characteristics at the beginning of each day. Talk about what makes a haiku a haiku or what kinds of creative possibilities exist within the framework of the type of poem you’re studying. At the end of the month, have students create their own poem. Collect the poems each month, and by the end of the year, students will have their own anthologies.
2. Choose a poem of the week. Instead of reading a poem each day, choose just one poem for the week. Make a copy of the poem and hang it somewhere in the classroom where all your students can see it. Every morning, recite the poem as a class. Challenge your students to memorize one of the weekly poems by the end of each month.
3. Use poems to teach new concepts. To help younger students understand the concept of rhyme, choose a word family that they’re learning (-at words, -un words, or -on words, for example). Share a poem or book that emphasizes the relationships between the words in that word family, and then have your students make a list of rhyming words they heard as you read. Emphasize that words in a family are rhyming words.
To help your second and third graders understand narration and the art of storytelling, share longer poems that tell an entire story, like Vera B. Williams’s Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart or Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog. For kids in fourth through sixth grade, consider teaching poetry novels in your literature or language arts curriculum. Here are a few favorites: Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, Lisa Schroeder’s Far from You, and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s 42 Miles.
4. Get your kids writing. Of course, one of the best ways for kids to learn about poetry is by creating their own original poems. This can be a lot of fun, and you might even be surprised by how easily even your youngest students can create their own poems. For younger students, have each child create simple acrostics or shape poems. You can even have them rewrite their favorite nursery rhymes. For older students, teach the basic format and rules of shorter poems like limericks, haiku, or couplets. Then have students create their own poems and share them with the rest of the class.
If you're looking for good poetry books to share with your class, check out our list of poetry books for pre-K through sixth graders.