The Big Book of Poems

With our new writing unit just a few weeks away, we immersed ourselves in poetry by:

  • Reading poems from anthologies throughout the day.
  • Learning how to read new poems during shared reading.
  • Illustrating copies of poems during readaloud.
  • Reciting poems on our transitions through the school.
  • Writing poems together.
  • Learning how readers read poems in special ways.
Modified from Becoming Avid Readers, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Units of Study, Heinemann

Early on in our exploration, Marcel, age five, asked: “What is a poem?”

Having had difficulty with defining poetry in the past, I leaned on Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman’s definition in Welcome to Writing Workshop:

“Poetry is drawing a picture with words.” (p. 10)

Stacey and Lynne elaborate on this, of course, as did my kindergartners and I. But this simple definition feels just right, and it’s a definition that sets writers up for success.

With this definition in mind, kindergartners paid close attention to the pictures and words in poems, to the pictures they created in their minds.

They lingered on each page, needing to talk about the way words changed shape and size. They studied the organization of the text and illustration — discovering that the two can be separate or together. They talked about why some poems are spread across multiple pages, and why others fit side by side. Then, they noticed some poems have no pictures at all.

The focus of our immersion became craft, and the thought of what these young poets could create on their own, with such a strong awareness, was exciting.

I knew these soon-to-be poets needed the opportunity to make the same kinds of choices as their mentors have, choices that all poets have. However, the paper choices I typically use, with lines and picture boxes, would inhibit that.

With this, grew the idea of a poetry book.

Having a blank book to fill with poems, means:

Poems grow into a collection, bound together in one place.

Open-ended possibilities of text and illustration layout.

Text and pictures on separate pages:

Pictures that stretch across multiple pages:

Poems on single pages, side by side:

Poems that join text with illustrations:

Poems can go together:

Books can travel with us.

Poets brought their books on a walking trip to a library, where they were inspired to write.

Tools and Tips:

Fixing Mistakes

Many children want to make their poems look polished, especially when housed in a special place. Writers can help create revision toolkits to keep at different writing spaces. A revision toolkit can be a caddy which holds favorite revision supplies, such as pens, pencils, large erasers, scissors, paper cut in small rectangles and squares, glue sticks, and scrapbook tape.

Supporting Writers with Directionality, Spacing, and Word Placement

  • Sticky notes can be purchased or cut as rectangles, so that kids can stick one note on the book for each page.
  • Kids can paste in skinny strips of lined paper.
  • A sticker or stamp can be placed on the top left corner of each page, so kids know where to begin writing.
  • Kids can draw lines for word placement.

Teaching into the Book:

During the first week, process minilessons are important, and can sound like:

  • Poets open the book from the front cover before beginning to write (kindergartners need this reminder)
  • Writers find the last page they were working on before starting a new page.
  • Poets decide where the words will go and where the pictures will go (this makes for a very engaging inquiry minilesson, while studying mentor texts).
  • Poets are persistent. They can fix mistakes using revision tools.
  • Poets can use coloring tools to make their pictures and words match the poem.
  • Poets put their books away carefully so that they don’t hurt the spine.

Other poetry tools and keepsakes can be added to the book as well:

  • Heart maps
  • Copies of poems written and read together
  • Work from poetry centers (i.e. illustrated poems, line break explorations, list poems, five senses)
  • Photographs brought from home to inspire poems

Materials:

The books that I ordered will not be filled by the time our unit is over, meaning children will bring a keepsake book home to continue to write in over the summer.

To help fund the books, families had the option to donate several dollars. A fundraising page could also be set up, such as Donor’s Choose. Next year, I may consider using budget money to purchase them ahead of time.

Book options:

  • I purchased blank notebooks from Barebooks, which range from $2-$6 per book, depending on size and number of pages. I wanted kindergartners to have large paper, so I chose 9.5″ x 11″.
  • Sketchbooks (a cover can be glued over the original cover)
  • Blank composition notebooks
  • Blank books could be made with a coil-binding machine

My favorite illustrating materials:

With a poetry book, writers aren’t just writing poems to fill a folder, they are creating an anthology, a journal which will showcase their learning as the genre study progresses. A book to write poems in is something special, something personal, something to be treasured, something that published poets use. In a poetry book, student work becomes their heartwork.