Poetry Mentor Texts: Making Reading and Writing Connections, K-8 is the latest gem from Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli. Not only does their book help you hone your poetry workshop instruction using mentor texts, but it also provides suggestions with ways to infuse poetry throughout the school day. Just like their previous books, Poetry Mentor Texts has contains thoughtful explanations about a variety of concepts (e.g., responding to poetry, list poems, poetry for two voices). It contains “Your Turn” Lessons, which will inspire lessons you can teach in your own classroom. And, as always, there is an incredible list of poetry books, which contain detailed suggestions for how each book can be used, at the back of their book. Like I said, it’s a gem!
I’ve been thinking about the state of poetry in writing workshop and therefore wanted to get Lynne and Rose’s take on how to make poetry work in the classroom keeping the Common Core State Standards in mind.
Stacey: Poetry is overlooked in the Common Core’s writing standards. Why do you think that happened? The CCSS emphasize three types of writing: argumentative, informative, and narrative writing. Since poetry doesn’t fall into these three categories, how to you foresee teachers being allowed to teach poetry if they work in a school that doesn’t value writing poetry (but values following the standards to the letter)?
Lynne and Rose: We believe poetry is a form of writing that can be used to address any of the modes – narrative, informative, and argumentative. Many classic poems such as “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and “The Owl and the Pussycat” are narratives in poetic form. More modern authors such as Donald Graves (Baseballs, Snakes, and Summer Squash), Sharon Creech (Love That Dog), and Helen Frost (the most amazing Keesha’s House) provide narrative poems or novels in verse. Some of our favorite poems include other famous narrative poems such as “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe and “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. These poems can serve as great models for students who would like to try writing the story poem. Children’s poets such as Joyce Sidman, Georgia Heard, and Doug Florian offer a multitude of informational poems for study. See Monumental Voices published by National Geographic to read the poetry of J. Patrick Lewis, several written as persona poems.
When students conduct research to write a report or opinion piece, they can also open or close with a poem to create a multi-genre piece. Poems can be scattered throughout a non-fiction piece of writing in different voices to represent differences of opinions or positions. Poems can also include bits of information that the writer would like to include to add interest – the fun or WOW facts that are not essential but add energy to the writing. Creating such pieces of writing require skills in formatting as well. Should poems be placed in a sidebar, inset, or within the text in a different font and size?
Poetry was never addressed in state tests to begin with. But, students who are given experiences in writing poetry often feel more comfortable with reading poetry (which often is on the state tests at every level). If teachers understand that reading /writing connection – that we can help students deepen their understanding of poetry by encouraging them to write it – they can more easily justify the role of poetry in the classroom.
The CCSS have an emphasis on vocabulary development. When writing poetry, students become wordsmiths, exploring language to find the exact word to fit their poem. Additionally, writing poetry is a way to develop fluency. Of course, students will read the poems they write to themselves and to others. Poetry performances, using the poems their students write independently and/or collaboratively, can also provide opportunities to practice speaking and listening skills.
Stacey: How do you suggest teachers teach poetry writing? Should it continue to be a month-long unit of study or do you have other suggestions?
Lynne and Rose: Poetry can be taught as a unit of study in the writing workshop, but we also envision the use of poetry in reading and writing across the day, in language arts as well as content areas such as science and social studies, as opportunities arise. For example, writing a poem for two voices can give students opportunities to discuss and more deeply understand two different points of view. This format – poems in two voices – is perfect for collaboration. When students write collaboratively, they must share ideas, reach compromises, blend their thought processes, and learn from each other. Poems can also serve as a formative assessment of content area knowledge. Students can write poems in almost any form to demonstrate their learning and what they think are the most important concepts to remember.
Of course all writing, including poetry, is best taught when it serves a real world purpose for a real world audience. Poems can be written for specific holidays or particular themes or topics throughout the year. Poems can also be used during literature circles. Why not use some selections by the students as well and sometimes include their poetry as the topic of conversation!
Often, December, April, and June are three months where poetry seems to fit into the curriculum. Students can write winter haiku and link with art class to create black and white drawings with different brush strokes or write cinquains and acrostics illustrated with holiday scenes. April celebrates poetry. Students can write poems, submit them to contests and magazines written for children, or simply read their poem to as many people as they can on a designated “Poetry Day.” In May or June, teachers can take their students outdoors to observe nature in a writers’ café format to publish chapbooks as end-of-year writing assignments. In addition to poems, the chapbooks can also include narratives relating to nature (weather stories), essays of advice, famous quotes, favorite nature poems by famous poets, and even cartooning!
Stacey: The CCSS in reading has quite a bit about reading poetry (e.g., under literature, speaking and listening, and language). Is there any way teachers can tackle any poetry writing with their students while accomplishing the poetry reading standards?
Lynne and Rose: We think this question comes back to an understanding of the reading/writing connection which we tried to make clear in our new book. Students can study a poem to deepen comprehension by understanding the use of personification, metaphor, or symbolism, for example. They can examine unfamiliar words or familiar words that are used in unfamiliar ways or look through the poem for rhyme, meter, or the use of effective repetition or line breaks. Then they can copy it or part of it into their writers’ notebook and try a close imitation. This writing will help them better understand the reading or language strategies they were working on in reading workshop.
Stacey: When I was a classroom teacher, I infused poetry into the curriculum all year long. We read and wrote poems about the content areas, examined poems at Morning Meeting, had weekly Poetry Circles, etc. I know the afterword of Poetry Mentor Texts touches on this, but would you suggest teachers can make poetry part of their classroom culture all year long?
Lynne and Rose: Your suggestions are all good ones, Stacey, and clearly demonstrate the possibilities of using poetry throughout the day. Poetry gives students possibilities for collaboration and offers opportunities for students to use the strategies learned through poetry as they write in other modes during writing workshop. Teachers might want to include poetry as a choice in writing workshop or include it as part of a multigenre presentation which can include art or music. Poetry is a great vehicle for students to use in videos they produce. They can even use familiar songs and create their own lyrics – then “sing” their poems to accompany a video, Prezi, or PowerPoint presentation. Materials that are presented in a variety of presentation modes may improve attention and lead to improved learning performance; in particular for lower-achieving students.
Stacey: What are three big things you’d like teachers to take away from Poetry Mentor Texts?
Lynne and Rose: First of all, poetry should be enjoyed for its own sake, just as we encourage teachers to enjoy picture books by first just reading them aloud to students. Have fun with poetry! Read it aloud to savor the rhythm and emotional appeal, draw or paint pictures, create collages, build sculptures that help readers see your poem in another form, perform it with peers in a poetry slam, or simply share it with someone special in your life – Mom, Dad, Grandma, a brother or sister, aunt or uncle, a best friend.
With the right amount of scaffolding, all students can be successful with writing poetry. This success helps build confidence and self-esteem as students begin to view themselves as writers. Developing a writer’s identity is essential. For many students, poetry is the vehicle that will help students think, “I have something important to say, and when I write my thoughts and feelings down, others will listen to me.”
Poetry is a friendly and effective way to help students develop vocabulary and other key reading and writing skills. It easily builds bridges between the reading and writing workshop, offering opportunities for that close read that will deepen comprehension and provide scaffolds for writing.
Stacey: What are you working on next (i.e., after a well-deserved vacation since you’ve been working so hard)?
Lynne and Rose: We have just returned from Orange County where we delivered two different presentations at UC-Irvine campus. We were thrilled to meet so many California Writing Project fellows! Right now we are looking forward to a few speaking engagements – Lehigh Valley Writing Project Conference in January, Reading Recovery Conference in February, and Kutztown University Conference as well as IRA in April.
We just finished writing a discussion guide for Jen Bryant’s and Melissa Sweet’s book, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, which came out last week. The guide is published on Jen’s site. We are looking forward to more opportunities to work with Jen. She’s such an incredible children’s author and a good friend!
Lynne is beginning work on a professional book on embedding the teaching of grammar within units of study with a friend and Writing Project fellow, Diane Dougherty.
And, who knows, there might even be a children’s book in our future…
Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers sponsoring this giveaway. Three lucky readers/commenters will win a copy of Poetry Mentor Texts: Making Reading and Writing Connections, K-8. To enter for a chance to win a copy please leave a comment on this post about this interview, teaching poetry, or how you might use this book to enhance your poetry instruction. All comments left on or before Sunday, January 27th, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. EST will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Monday, January 28th. I will announce the winners’ names at the bottom of this post by Tuesday, January 29th. 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 Stenhouse will ship the book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you only leave it in the e-mail field.)
Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment. I used a random number generator and the following people had their comments selected: Betsy, Showgem, and Terri. Here’s what each of them said:
I am so happy to see a post on poetry. Stacey, thank you for asking these questions. I am so encouraged by the responses. With my kindergarten students, when teaching poetry, I have seen so many doors to vocabulary development, deeper understanding of concepts and wider openings for writing with my students. “This success helps build confidence and self-esteem as students begin to view themselves as writers.” I feel like this statement made by Lynne and Rose is the heart of why poetry is so important. It is nothing to be feared but instead embraced. I think many students and teachers who go past that invisible poetry barrier we sometimes put up get to feel that rush of being a writer.
Great thoughts here and a great resource that I hope to find soon. Thank you.
I always do a unit on reading poetry and there is a great deal of our discussion that lends itself to the Common Core Standards. I have never done a poetry writing unit. I think this book would be invaluable
I’d love an opportunity to amp up my poetry instruction with this book! In spite of the lack of poetry in Common Core, poetry is our human common core and teachers everywhere know that. We will continue to teach it, advocate for it, read books about it. And write it ourselves. Thank you!
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.