My fourth grade students are preparing for the annual Valentine’s Day Poetry Slam showcasing original student prose. I have this fabulous music teacher at my school who enthusiastically embraces this project every year and helps me organize the event. I used to hate to read, teach, discuss, analyze, or create poetry because my memory of studying it as a child is not filled with sunshine and chocolate. My short stint as a high school English teacher did not improve the situation. In fact, many schools handle poetry in such a dry way, we all have a bad taste in our mouth when it comes to poetry.
In the last few years, my view has changed. Poetry can be fun for students and offer a creative way to express feelings students might not share otherwise. I have also started to realize how much poetry enhances other areas of language study.
- Many poems typically follow a pattern of some kind. There might be a rhyme scheme. Rhyming words reinforce spelling patterns and expand vocabulary. Authors might repeat words or phrases in a specific order to emphasize an idea. Identifying a repetitive word pattern demonstrates a writing style that a student can emulate in their own writing.
- The repetition of letter sounds draws the attention of the reader to the beginning, middle, or ends of words, which supports spelling instruction. The easiest letter sound repetition to find is alliteration. In the fourth grade, I never teach assonance because I just can not bear using the word with a bunch of ten year olds.
- Figurative language requires some brain power. A student has to activate background knowledge to interpret expressions that are not literal. When Emily Dickinson tells us that hope is the thing with feathers, students have to translate the thing with feathers to a bird and then compare the bird to hope by tapping into a vocabulary bank for the various meanings and applications of the word, hope. Without critical thinking, the poem’s message would be lost.
- Poems use words in a creative way. Students often follow the same subject followed by verb sentence order when they write. Poems show how we can have flexibility in our writing.
Poetry can be intimidating for kids, so I started breaking down different poems and types of figures of speech into simple activities to help students create their own poetry.
- Take a poem you love with many lines that repeat and replace with ideas from your own life. I like to use the first stanza of “Love That Boy” by Walter Dean Myers. My students keep the beginning of most of the lines and develop their own simile (so I get to teach simile at the same time). My son, Mr. Star Wars, is actually in one of my language arts classes this year and his “Inspired By” poem made me cry. (He does not know I am reprinting his poem here.)
- Give each child an object. I like to choose an object from nature like a cloud, mountain, tree, flower, sunset, or ocean. Have the kids write five sentences about the object, but each sentence must use personification. The cloud could offer comfort. The mountain could glare down at you. The flower could dance. The students list the five sentences to create a poem.
- Provide three categories for students. They could be categories like sports, food, or animals. The students choose a topic like basketball, ice cream, or dog for each category and then generate a word bank to go with the topic. The students go through the word bank and group words that start with the same letter sound. The student also attempt to add words that have the same starting sounds as words that are already in the word bank. Using words with similar sounds to create alliteration, students organize the words into lines of poetry. Voila! Instant poem. (Hint– onomatopoeia words work well with this activity too.)
Many authors have started writing books that center around poetry but are presented in novel(ish) form. They are fast reads and good stories. Here are a few titles that I like.
- Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
- Gone Fishing by Tamera Wissinger
- Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan
- Emily by Michael Bedard (picture book)
Have some fun writing a short poem this Valentine’s Day!
I have more poetry ideas for the classroom in my teacher store. Click HERE and HERE.