Just as I have to think about how I can mentor myself after poets when I want to write vivid poems, I encourage children to make reading-writing connections with the poems they encounter. Young poets can be taught how to develop theories, or hunches, about what they’re noticing poets do in poems they admire. Teaching students how to develop theories, orally or in writing, helps them make reading-writing connections. When students read poetry with the intention to improve their own poetic writing, we can encourage them to notice what a poet is doing as a writer, to develop ideas about why a poet chooses to write in a particular way, and then we help students figure out ways to transfer the craft they’ve noticed and thought about into their own writing.
Emily Smith, a staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, has done a great deal of work in the area of mentor texts. She suggests having students talk about texts in order to support reading-writing connections. In order to foster the progression of talk around texts, Smith uses conversational prompts to help students talk about their noticings, their hunches, and their connections. This kind of work can be modeled for students when you’re teaching them to notice what poets are doing when they write. To that end, I’ve created a graphic organizer, using some of Smith’s prompts, that you can use when you’re doing a think aloud about a poem you’ve used as a mentor poem (text).
After you model filling out this graphic organizer with a couple of poems, you can have your students do the same thing, independently, with poems they admire and want to study more intensely. Once one of these sheets are completed, the student can review it himself, with a writing partner, or with you in a conference, and use it to help himself ratchet-up the quality of the next poem he writes. Providing budding poets in your classroom with conversational prompts allows them to have the language they need make reading-writing connections in a purposeful way that will help them become much more perspicacious writers of poetry.
Finally, National Poetry Month starts today. Be sure to check out the Teacher Page at Poets.org, which has a fantastic array of activities you can infuse into your classroom this month (and all year long).
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.