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The Intersection of Poetry and Informational Writing + a Giveaway

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders goes on sale on 12/26/12. Once you’re finished reading this blog post, please leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a giveaway copy of this book before it hits stores.

It’s been awhile since the Common Core State Standards were released.  However, I’m still shocked that the CCSS writing standards overlook overlook poetry. While I still advocate for poetry units of study and the infusion of poetry into all parts of the school year (e.g., poetry circles, poetry stations, poetry walks), I have worked with a handful of teachers whose administrators are talking about getting rid of poetry units of study in writing since they don’t fit with the CCSS.  I cannot even imagine a classroom where poetry isn’t written, can you? 

I’ve been thinking about ways teachers can teach students how to write poetry within the context of one of the three types of writing the CCSS writing standards include (i.e., argument, informational, and narrative).  When I recently cleaned out my basement, I uncovered a book I purchased when I was teaching fourth grade.  Faces of the Moon, by Bob Crelin is an informational text, written in rhyme.  It is a book that teaches, through pictures and poems, about the phases of the moon.   If one is teaching a science unit, then this book can surely be a mentor text that can offer up another way for students to convey information about a topic.  Rather than writing in prose, students can use a book like this to write about their scientific topic poetically. 

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders, written by J. Patrick Lewis, is a collection of poems that informs readers about men and women who fought to eradicate injustice based on ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, and sexual orientation. When I received a review copy of this book, I initially thought it would be an excellent book for teachers to reference when studying the civil rights movement..  Then I chastised myself for allowing myself to be so one-dimensional in my thinking.  I came to realize this book could be used in content area writing.  It can be used as a mentor text to teach many qualities of good writing.  Young writers could study the poems and instead of crafting biographies or writing informational reports about leaders whom they researched.  Rather than the traditional type of content area writing, writers can take what they’ve learned and mentor themselves after one of Lewis’s poems from When Thunder Comes.  (Obviously teachers will have to help students appreciate the poems in the book first through read aloud.  Additionally, teachers must provide some minilessons for crafting poetry.)

I reviewed the grade four informational writing standards in an effort to determine whether or not one could have students write content poems about a content area and have it meet some of the year-end goals for informational writing.  Specifically, I examined ELA W4.2 to see what I could accomplish, if I were still in the classroom full-time, if I wanted to try informational poetry writing with a group of young writers.  The standards follow below in green, while my commentary appears in orange:

2.  Writer informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey information clearly.

a.  Introduce a topic clearly and group related information in paragraphs and sections; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.  |  Stanzas could equal “sections.”  Students could draw a relevant illustration to enhance the meaning of their poem.  Headings would have to be taught during a different unit of study.

b.  Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, and other information and examples related to the topic.  |  I think all parts of this standard can be achieved through writing informational poems.

c.  Link ideas within categories of information using words and phrases (e.g., another, for example, also, because). | While some transition words can be taught, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time emphasizing this if I were teaching students how to craft informational poems.  I would save this for another type of informational writing during the school year.

d.  Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.  |  This is important to target in minilessons when teaching students how to craft informational poems.  Strong word choices are key to writing powerful poems.

e.  Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented.  |  Poems need to wrap-up, but they rarely include a concluding statement or section.  Hence, I do not think this part of the standard could be met with this type of unit.

Teachers (and their colleagues who share instructional responsibilities in other subject areas) have an entire school year to make sure kids are meeting the grade-level writing standards.  Therefore, if I were still in the classroom, I feel I could justify taking the time to teach my students to write informational poems within the context of science or social studies (writing).    

Before I share some of the poems from When Thunder Comes with you, I want to be clear that I still believe of informational writing, such as articles, nonfiction books, reports, must be taught in writing workshop.  However, if I were in the classroom and if I were teaching in a school where I was no longer going to be allowed to do a month-long poetry unit of study, then I’d be pitching informational poems to my principal as a way of teaching poetry by still working towards the year-end goals of the CCSS. However, I must admit, I think I would have-a-go with a unit like this even if I were teaching a traditional poetry unit since I think it could be valuable for young writers to convey information in poetic form.

The Captive
The Child
The Innocent
The Slugger


There is a four-page long author’s note (of sorts) that comes at the end of When Thunder Comes. It provides readers with additional information about the people behind the poems.  Here are two of the paragraphs about two of the poems above.


the innocent

Mamie Carthan Till: When fourteen-year-old Emmett Till made a trip from his home in Chicago’s south side to visit relatives in Money, Mississippi in 1955, he had no idea what awaited him. He and his friends stopped to buy candy at Bryant’s grocery store. Accounts differ as to what happened next. Emmett either said, “Bye, baby,” or whistled at the store owner’s white daughter—a “crime” evidently punishable by death in the Deep South. His executioners beat him, shot him, and left his body in the river to swell. They were acquitted by a white male jury in 67 minutes. Emmett’s mother insisted that her son’s body be shown in an open casket as a symbol of Southern brutality. Thousands attended Emmett’s funeral in Chicago. Resource:


the slugger

Josh Gibson: Josh Gibson is a legend wrapped in a myth surrounded by a mystery. He died at the young age of thirty-five and never made it to the white major leagues, but in his career, he hit “almost 800 home runs,” according to his posthumously awarded plaque in baseball’s Hall of Fame. The stories about him run up to the edge of belief and sometimes beyond. “I played with Willie Mays and against Hank Aaron,” Hall of Famer Monte Irvin once said. “They were tremendous players, but they were no Josh Gibson.” Jackie Robinson received credit deservedly for being the first black American to play in the major leagues. But Josh Gibson, though little-known today, would surely have been the first had it not been for the rampant racism that engulfed America at the time of his prominence. Resource:

 Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders (  Many thanks to Chronicle Books for sponsoring this giveaway.
  • To enter for a chance to win a copy of When Thunder Comes each reader may leave one comment about this book and/or poetry in the classroom in the comments section of this post.
  • All comments left on or before Saturday, December 8th, 2012 at 11:59 p.m. EST will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Sunday, December 9th.   I will announce the winner’s name at the bottom of this post by Tuesday, December 11th
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Chronicle will ship the book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field.)

Comments are now closed.

It’s Tuesday, 12/11/12, and I’m a couple of days late posting the giveaway.  I had to go out of town to Washington, DC for a couple of days and completely forgot about this giveaway until early this morning.

Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post.  I used a random number generator with the commenter numbers and kdrex’s comment was selected.  Here’s what kdrex said:

I like to assume that Common Core people “forgot” about poetry in the same way the National Reading Panel “forgot” to include writing. That said, I have just started a short poetry unit before going into informational writing so I am going to mesh the two for a few weeks. This is the perfect book to use as a mentor text!

Stacey Shubitz View All

I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.

I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

30 thoughts on “The Intersection of Poetry and Informational Writing + a Giveaway Leave a comment

  1. I always saw an improvement in students’ writing after our poetry unit–I think spending time really thinking about each word choice and every detail of the structure spilled into students being more thoughtful about writing in general.
    This book of poetry you shared reminded me of a book I liked to start the year with–How We Are Smart by W. Nikola Lisa. It presents poetry and a short biographical sketch of people representing different backgrounds who represent different types of intelligences. (Thurgood Marshall, Tito Puente, Maria Tallchief, I. M. Pei, …) It’s another book that can be used to integrate poetry with other purposes.


  2. For the last two weeks in my sheltered English 9 class we have read and listened to poetry. Many examples have had to do with social justice. We have also talked how poetry (and lyrics) have helped bring change. It would definitely be a boring school year without poetry!!!!!!!!!!


  3. I am also concerned about the loss of poetry in the Common Core, however since the CCSS is so heavy on analysis and interpretation, poetry fits right in. In my district we have decided to continue to write units for poetry. I would love to use this as a mentor text for a social issues book club we will be running. It is perfect and I am so glad I found it!


  4. Without fail, every single time I bring my guitar into the classroom and teach students to write songs (poems set to music) based on their reading, I am blown away by the level of thinking, engagement, participation, focus, togetherness, and productivity!


  5. What an absolutely powerful and gorgeous book! I teach poetry year round…and we write poems in social studies, too, as a response to our units on slavery, theCivil War and others. Our forays into poetry informs our writing in general….and it saddens me to hear that kids are not exposed to poetry more consistently … They miss out on so much!


  6. I’m working on a civil rights/social justice unit for this spring that will incorporate varied text: novels, essays, speeches…but I had not found a solid source for poetry. This looks like a compelling collection. The inclusion of poetry throughout the year is something I have grown into. I find that the use of well-written mentor texts can serve multiple purposes. Thank you for sharing and inspiring…


  7. Thanks for the introduction to this great book, Stacey, as well as your thoughtful post. As you know, I believe in the use of poetry across the curriculum. While it is true that the CCSS did not include poetry in the writing standards, we must remember that the CCSS are not curriculum. They are outcomes that need to be achieved, but the path to achieving those outcomes can take many routes. Like you, I also believe that many of the writing standards can be met through poetry. Our students have a right to understand and use all types of writing. I think it’s important for teachers to explore what the CCSS are not saying, as well as what they are saying.


  8. I love your ideas about including poetry into the curriculum. I am fortunate that I can also use poems to improve fluency. I have always used them to teach things like verbs, nouns, etc. I hadn’t thought of using poetry for informational writing. Thanks! I would love to win the book, When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders, to have a wonderful resource for my students.


  9. Every year as I get to know my new classroom of fifth graders I am always struck by how few of the traditional rhymes and songs they know that I take for granted. It is in these rhymes and songs or poems that the essence of our culture is often hidden, but deliciously so, just beging to be discovered . I can think of no better lesson to deliver required or necessary language skills than that which deciphers rhyme, rolls to a rhythm and allows for numerous layers to be peeled back. It is usually all in a poem! I am very excited about this new book with its layers of civil rights images waiting to be peeled back by my kids


  10. I am currently working with teachers to rewrite our communication arts curriculum. I do not plan on cutting out poetry. Thanks for all the great comments that expand my knowledge. I look forward to the reading the book and sharing the information with others.


  11. I’ve been wrestling with using high-interest, shorter informational texts as I teach thematic units and connect fiction with non-fiction and sheepishly admit I’ve done very little with poetry. Thanks for the nudge, this text looks great. Our sixth grade teacher uses a variety of texts to explore the Civil Rights movement, can’t wait to tell her about this upcoming release!


  12. As Carol above said about sceintists, I’ve long used the argument with students that in art and science, we must be as meticulous in our observations of the details as we are in writing. It is sad to me that a teacher must make an argument to teach about poetry, Stacey. This book looks like a fine collection to add to the non-fiction poetry already out there, or in biographical studies too. Thanks for your reasoning with the standards & your review.


    • @Linda: Your and Carol make wonderful points.
      It is a shame that people have to justify the teaching of poetry, Linda. When I say it’s a handful, I have to be honest… it’s more than a handful. It’s more like two handfuls. That’s ten teachers are ten too many! (Especially when you consider the amount of kids that they teach, etc.)


  13. Great post! I’m a homeschool mom of five in rural Michigan. My teaching style and methods are language arts based, and I can’t imagine teaching my children without poetry. I love hearing teachers so passionate about their job and children, especially regarding writing and reading! We could really use that kind of passion in schools in our neck of the woods.


  14. Poetry has been a very successful unit at our school when teaching writers’ workshop. Thank you for opening up a whole new way to incorporate poetry into other areas of study. I can’t wait to read this book and use it with my students.


  15. I like to assume that Common Core people “forgot” about poetry in the same way the National Reading Panel “forgot” to include writing. That said, I have just started a short poetry unit before going into informational writing so I am going to mesh the two for a few weeks. This is the perfect book to use as a mentor text!


  16. I am a strong believer in using poetry to teach science and social studies.. This is very upsetting to hear that poetry is being ignore. For me, poetry is accessible to all students and a an avenue to have student synthesize learning. This looks like another great book to add to the library collection.


  17. I agree the loss of poetry in the standards is huge and will unfortunately allow teacher preference of poetry to determine whether they work to make it fir the standards or choose to have a reason to eliminate it all together.


  18. I can’t believe people are considering taking out poetry from their teaching. I so good for encouraging vocabulary development. For years, I felt I wasn’t doing enough to infuse poetry through the year. So, last year, I started Poetry Friday. Any read aloud I used on Fridays was poetry. I would talk about structure and vocabulary. I encouraged kids to write poetry every Friday in my writers workshop. I love the idea of integrating poetry and informational text.


    • @EmilyK: Hopefully teachers who work in schools where this is being considered will pull out scholarly articles that shows the power of poetry. I will try to look for some that can be shared with those who might wish to eradicate poetry writing. It is my hope that poetry will continue to be a part of all kids’ writing workshops since it is such a powerful genre!


  19. The loss of poetry in curriculum units is very concerning. For some students writing poetry provides the structure or lack there of, that enables some to write and share their thoughts and ideas that other writing formats would not allow. Thanks for thinking outside the CCSS box. Would love to check out this book and others similar to see how we can continue to infuse poetry into our informational and content units.


  20. I am also concerned about the loss of poetry in our curriculum. I send out a weekly email to my colleagues that includes a poem-of-the-week with a lesson plan idea. This book not only would enhance my own teaching, but it would help me guide other teachers to including poetry in their lessons. I plan to buy this book either way. Thanks for introducing it to me and showing the connections to CCSS.


  21. It’s amazing the avenues that have opened up for students when poetry is modeled to them – the idea that less is more (as far as words go) is very appealing, as well as the opportunity to use such beautiful language. I am excited to check into this book, as we are just moving into a unit on the Southeast US and, hence, Civil Rights leaders. Thank you!


  22. Don Graves used to always say that poets and scientists see the world in very similar ways, because they both have to observe so closely. Combining nonfiction and poetry makes perfect sense to me- I’ve been experimenting a lot with using poetry in multi genre research reports, and would love to win this book.


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