Poetry Pathways: Expanding The Possibilities of Genres You Teach
When I was a new-ish driver, back in the late 90s, smartphones were not yet invented and GPS was not the household acronym it is today. Which is to say, I got lost. A LOT. I would call my parents on my giant (unsmart) phone and tell them what road I was on and what the signs said. Often, I was heading in the wrong direction and needed to find the right route home. Fortunately, on Long Island, many roads lead to home and I would find my way … eventually. I learned that even though I missed the main road I was supposed to travel on, side roads would often lead me to my destination and there isn’t only one way to get where you need to go.
In traveling, in life, and in teaching, sometimes there is a direct route and other times, you might find an alternate route. You might make the deliberate choice to take a new pathway that might reveal fresh scenery and experiences. A new pathway might get you to your destination all the same, but you would have a richer experience on your travels.
Poetry can be a pathway. We can make the deliberate choice to lead our students down this road on our way to learning and sharing new information, telling a story, discovering a person from history, persuading others, playing with language, responding to reading, opportunities for collaboration, and alternatives to morning work. Poetry doesn’t only have to be shared in April or for a specific window of time. Poetry should be woven into the fabric of your curriculum and, can be the new road you travel down to reach many goals and objectives.
Throughout this post, I will be sharing Poetry Padlets which feature poetry collections. Please add your favorite titles to these Padlets so they can be a valuable resource for our community of educators.
Learning and Sharing New Information
Many poetry anthologies teach facts and information. (Explore collections of informational poetry here.)
As we teach different content areas, we can incorporate poems into our lessons. Instead of just reading an article, a textbook, or even a nonfiction picture book, reading a poem is a way to access a short amount of text on the subject. Students can write a poem to share information they’ve learned during a unit. List poems, acrostics, cinquains, and found poetry from an article or text are all pathways towards sharing information about a topic. Instead of going down Summary Road or Exit Ticket Avenue, a poem can be the path to expressing what a student learned about a specific subject.
My third grade students have been exploring Mexico as part of our Social Studies curriculum. I found an article about Frida Kahlo on ReadWorks and created a found poem as an example of one option students can have for sharing what they’ve learned.
Telling a Story
Poems by themselves can tell a story, or poems can be put together to be the pieces that make up a story. Last year, during April’s Poetry Month, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater told a story about a boy named John and his dog Betsy. Every day in April she shared a new poem, telling a little bit more of the story. We were captivated. At the end of the month, the story was finished and we had shared an amazing experience. I printed out all the poems and my class illustrated each page and put it together as a book.
How might you weave narrative poetry into your instruction?
For content area, you might ask students to compose a poem that tells the story of a historical scene. You can use a photograph or painting that depicts a historical moment or event and ask students to write the story of what is happening. Poetry can be an option or a pathway into exploring historical fiction. Six word memoirs are a fun way to share your own story or a person in history as well.
Poetry can be used to tell the story of a time in your life. A few years ago, I wrote a haiku a day inspired by a picture of something happening in my life. Looking back on the collection, I can see the story of this particular moment in my history.
Narrative poems can be found here. Please add poems or collections you know and love that tell a story.
Historical Figures & Exploring a Character in a Book/ Responding to Reading
Just as there are poetry collections that teach facts about nonfiction topics, there are poetry books that teach us about famous people in history. Consider sharing a biography written as poetry when highlighting character traits and inspiring people from history. (See some examples here and add to the collection with your favorites!)
Students can write poems about famous people or characters they meet in a book. They can use a structured “I am” poem or a “Where I’m From” poem and write it from the perspective of a historical figure or a character. I’ve used the “I am” poem as a poem for two voices. In a book like The Giving Tree, some students can write from the perspective of the tree and others can write from the boy’s point of view. You can pair students up to read their lines together, which paints a striking contrast. (The tree would read the first line, then the boy would read the first line, etc.)
Students can take a particularly meaningful passage from their reading and create a found poem by choosing keywords to pull out and rearrange. Students can also create list poems about the main characters or an “I am poem.” When tracking how a character changes, students might make a list poem at the beginning of the book and then again at the end to notice what stayed the same for the character and what shifted.
Poems can be the pathway to a persuasive writing unit. Share persuasive poems with students and discuss how the poet was able to seem convincing. This can be an introduction to the idea of argument Students might explore their ideas through poetry before attempting to write a persuasive letter or speech. (Persuasive poetry can be found here.)
Students might also consider writing a persuasive poem as a letter. In the wake of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, many people have been sharing his poem “Dear Basketball.” This could be used as a mentor text for students, who might want to write a poetic poem to their passion. Persuasive poems could also be written to people, places or ideas (Like “Dear Honesty” or “Dear Justice”).
Weaving Poetry into Writing
Poets use many techniques that make poems interesting and fun to read. Alliteration, metaphors, similes, and personification can all be taught with poetry. Concrete poems, haiku and poems written from the letters in a single word, like in the book Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed From a Single Word, are fun to explore and make language playful and poetry feels possible. You can find more examples of playing with language here.
Consider focusing on one craft move in a poem each week, – such as alliteration. Have students try it out during the week and create a display on the wall or on a Padlet. Students can add to their poetry technique tool box with one simple poem a week.
In my third grade classroom, my students keep a poetry notebook. I share a poem each week and we read and discuss it together. Students illustrate the mental images they make when listening to the poem on the page next to the poem. I think an extension of this could be to have students try their own poem using one of the craft moves identified in the poem. This could step up the poetry notebook and allow students to try out poetic devices based on the model. I was inspired by this post about poetry notebooks.
Opportunities for Collaboration
Students can work together to make a poem for two voices. A class can write a poem together, where each student contributes a line. In some schools, a character trait is shared each month. A collaborative poem is a great way to explore what it means to be honest or persistent. Schools could even take on the goal of creating a school-wide poem to celebrate what it means to be a reader, a writer, a learner or a member of that community.
Morning Work Alternative
Many teachers are re-thinking morning work. When students enter the classroom at the start of the day, poetry can be an option instead of another worksheet to complete. The teacher can set up a box that has poetic inspiration:- photographs, QR codes to songs that might inspire, interesting objects that might go with the season or content area. Students can choose to write a poem based on the poetic inspirations. The teacher could also have poetry books available for students to read. Students can record their favorite poem on Flipgrid or SeeSaw. This is a great way to practice fluent reading and is another simple way a teacher can assess fluency.
There is so much to teach! I’ve seen poetry often get pushed to the side to make room for test preparation or other units of study that need more time. Poetry can be seen as a short unit that fills the gap between other units, or perhaps several short units that could be placed between other units of study.
Poetry can be the pathway into writing for striving writers who find writing longer texts challenging. Poetry can help students begin to identify as writers.
Some teachers see poetry as the first thing to take out of an overstuffed curriculum. Poetry, however, is powerful and can play a role in every other type of writing we teach. We can use poetry to help teach content area and nonfiction subjects, use it for reading responses, and it can be a warm-up to a longer persuasive writing unit. Narrative poems can help students understand and discuss story elements with short, accessible text.
Why is poetry a pathway? I will let Sarita Sol Gonzalez share her ideas to conclude this post:
How do you incorporate poetry reading and writing throughout your curriculum?
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