lucy calkins · minilesson · modeling · noticings · observations · poetry · reflective practice · units of study

First Attempt at Poetry

Yesterday Lori Hickman and I launched a poetry unit of study in her kindergarten classroom. Since we wanted to see what they already knew about writing poetry, we decided to have them write a poem. This made me a little nervous. What if they just stared at the paper or chaos ensued because they had never written a poem before. What if they panicked? (What if I panicked?)

Instead, I shared with them Zoe Ryder White’s poem called “Pencil Sharpener.” In the poem, Zoe talks about how it sounds like bees are buzzing in the pencil sharpener. Lori sharpened pencils while the students listened. Then we asked the class what else they hear when pencils are sharpened. We told them a secret about writing poems — Writers look for new ways to see things when they write poems. The class pulled on their poet  hats and began to hear the pencil sharpener in new ways.

“It sounds like rushing water.”

“It sounds like a rusty old car.”

“It sounds like a song is in there. Sh-sh-sh.”

(This lesson was inspired from Units of Study for Primary Writers: A Yearlong Curriculum, Poetry: Powerful Thoughts in Tiny Packages by Lucy Calkins and colleagues.)

Then we gave each student a dandelion and challenged them to see it with new eyes. They shared their observations with partners.

Now was the time to see what they could put on paper. It’s important to have writing at the beginning of a unit of study in order to plan instruction, as well as to show growth over time. So we gave them paper and I asked: “Would you draw the dandelion as you think a poet would see it?”

Lynk's interpretation of how a poet sees a dandelion.

I have to admit I was a little surprised as everyone settled in and quiet overtook the room. They put on their poet hats and were illustrating dandelions in fresh ways. After several minutes, I nudged them. “If you want to write a poem, go ahead and add it to your paper.” Most took the challenge.

Lynk's first attempt at writing a poem.

During sharing, many shared their poems. Lynk sang his poem. I had to get him on video. He knows poetry sounds like music. I plan to use his video later in the unit to help teach this big idea about poetry.

Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about as I reflect on this launch into poetry.

  • It is soooo important to embrace the expectation that students already know some things to anchor their learning in a new unit of study. Although most students didn’t write conventional poetry, they still knew some things about poems. Almost all were able to embrace the idea of putting on a poet’s hat and looking for fresh ways to see the world. (Also, I consider it a good thing that most weren’t writing conventional poetry or I would have had to restructure the entire unit. I look forward to seeing the kinds of poems they write in a few weeks.)
  • I’m never disappointed when I step out and trust students. I was nervous about the invitation to put on a poet’s hat and see the world in a new way. Yet, I was impressed by their first attempts.
  • Beginning of the unit writing prompts help me plan for differentiation. I’m able to see the different needs and consider them as I plan minilessons, conferring time, and share sessions.
  • I never regret taking the time to document our learning through video, photos, and blog posts. It is a very good thing.

14 thoughts on “First Attempt at Poetry

  1. Thank you so much for this GREAT post about teaching poetry in the kindergarten classroom. I follow your blog daily, and I always enjoy when you add a video! I love to see your ideas “in action.” Thanks for sharing!


  2. I love your reflection “I’m never disappointed when I step out and trust students.” Amazing perspective close to my heart.


  3. I believe so strongly that the visual informs writing for everyone & your lesson is such a good example of that Ruth. I like that you’ve shared the beginning through to the end. This is a valuabele example for every teacher.


  4. Ruth, Thank you for sharing this great start to a poetry unit with K students. So often I think poetry writing poetry is left out in a K room. It’s so important to include their drawings and I love how you used a dandelion to launch that and be the focus for seeing things differently. Thanks for your inspiration.


  5. There’s a wonderful (out of print book, of course) that I love to use as samples for very young poets, written and illustrated by St. Brigid’s Head Start in Syracuse, NY. It was a 1992 Scholastic Kids Are Authors winners…It’s called Together We Are Together, ISBN 0590492276. The poems and illustrations are darling – most are free verse, which (in my opinion) are the easiest to write. There are some used copies out there on the web…


  6. I soooooo appreciate it when you share the beginnings, middles, and ends of your units of study and the thinking you have behind what you are doing. I LOVE this! I need all teachers to see this and think about the process you have put in place. Thank you!!!


  7. How refreshing and fun! I think you’ve hit on the best way to teach poetry to all students, anchored on what they know while allowed the freedom to do it their own way. Awesome!


  8. I’m a K-2 literacy coach. This is an awesome post that I’d like to share with the k teachers I work with. They are really reluctant to let their kids write independently in a writers workshop.


  9. Ruth, and Lori, How fun. I teach kinders to write fibonacci poems (with words not syllables.) They are amazing at what they understand.


  10. This is by far one of the cutest posts I have ever read. I laughed when I saw that he compared a dandelion to an angry bird. He sees them in ways I never would have imagined. Seems like a smart little boy.

    I think that is one of the most endearing thing about children; their minds work in ways that adult minds would never be able to comprehend. Awesome post, it brightened my day 🙂


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