April is officially National Poetry Month, but I always read and write poems with my students in December. Class instruction gets interrupted due to holiday performance rehearsals, parties, and various holiday activities. I like to share poems during the holiday craziness because I can work around smaller blocks of time, and we won’t be left hanging at a critical part of the story if we have to put our work down.
This year, I combined a poetry lesson with one of my favorite craftivities– haiku tunnel poems. The students learned about haiku poems, and we created a finished product that kids took home to their parents for a holiday gift. I even made a tunnel poem to give to my teaching partner with a picture of us from our school Halloween carnival.
I asked students to bring a 4×6 family photo, landscape orientation, to school. The photo could be of any family member (and that included pets) and show any special memory whether it was a recent event or something from several years ago.
Students generated word lists that related to their chosen picture using THIS HANDOUT. When they completed their personal word list, they counted the syllables in each word and wrote the syllable count next to the matching word. Using the haiku formula for the 3-line poem (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables), students moved words from their lists around until they created a haiku poem. The finished tunnel poem has 4 frames layered on top of the photo. The first frame displays a title for the poem. The next 3 frames display the haiku– one line at a time– across the top.
CLICK HERE to go to my post about foldable booklets with step-by-step directions for making the tunnel poems. When I made these with students in the past, we used postcards as the back panel. This time we used personal photos to make it more meaningful. The photos were flimsier than postcards (especially if they were printed from home on printer paper), so I attached each photo to a 4×6 notecard to give the photo a little more stiffness.
Basically, you need lots of 4×6 notecards and a paper cutter to cut the side hinge pieces evenly. You will also need glue, scissors, colored pencils or markers, and lots of patience. I recommend training your early finisher students in tunnel poem construction and let them help other students. Spatially, it is difficult for some students to comprehend how to layer the frames and attach the hinges to the backs of each frame. It is easier to fold the side hinges if your photos are landscape orientation, but it is possible to make the tunnel poems with a portrait (tall) orientation.
I am always surprised how much my students like poetry and even more amazed at the poetry they create during our poetry unit. We start the poetry writing process slowly with an adjective review. The students made a list of adjectives that describe the sneakers on their feet and then wrote simple “adjective” poems using a frame I provide to get warmed up. The poem frame has a fill-in-the-blank structure where students add five adjectives from their sneaker description list. (Grab an adjective brainstorming page on THIS POST.)
Everyone can complete the poem without fear of having to rhyme words or create some great metaphor. After completing the sneaker poem, the students choose another topic like dogs, pie, or books and write a new adjective poem that uses the same structure. This year, we took the completed adjective poems and created concrete or shape poems.
How to Make a Concrete Poem
We searched for black and white clipart in Google images that matched the poem’s topic. The kids pasted the clipart image into a Word document and enlarged the blackline image to fill an 8 1/2″ x 11″ page. We printed the image and lightly traced the main lines with pencil on a blank piece of copy paper. Using black pens, the students wrote their poem over the traced pencil lines. Students left the paper with the clipart image under the paper with the concrete poem while writing to serve as a guideline.
In most cases, the students needed to write their concrete poem multiple times to fill the shape outline. They also added a few details to complete the effect. The finished product elevated the simple poems into something much more sophisticated.
More ideas for student poetry are available in my poetry unit. Purchase the poetry unit by CLICKING HERE.
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.
My children are poets, and they don’t even know it. Their latest poetic accomplishment is re-writing lyrics to the Gotye “Somebody That I Used to Know” song. Their version is, “Somebody that I used to throw!” or “Somebody that I used to mow!” or any other rhyming word they can insert. When we go to our local Moe’s Southwest Grill, and the burrito makers call out, “Welcome to Moe’s!” my children chime in with, “I have big toes!” or “I need to blow my nose!” You can see how we are inspiring some real William Blakes over here.
Rhyming is a skill children begin early in life. It is one of the easiest ways to encourage a love of poetry because it is easy to read and repeat. And often, rhyming poems are silly (think Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss) and that is just plain fun.
The other game we have been known to play at our house is the name-as-many-words-as-you-can-think-of-that-begin-with-a-specific-letter-in-the-alphabet game. How many parents with nursery school aged children play this game? When it is “d” week at school, have you spent a car ride home from school calling out “dragon” and “dinner” and “dog”? You may not be aware, but you are increasing vocabulary, improving letter sound awareness, and introducing alliteration (repetition of letter sounds at the beginning of words).
If you have not been including poetry books or books with poetic language on your reading list, you are missing out. It allows for small chunks of reading; it reinforces all kinds of good reading skills like making inferences, and it enhances creative ways to use and combine words.
Picture Books: On a half day of school before a holiday, I will bring a stack of my children’s picture books to my classroom and put my students in teams. They receive a chart with headings of all of the figures of speech and poetry terms that we have learned (similes, metaphors, alliteration, onomatopoeia, personification, repetition…). The students must read through the picture books until they find examples and complete the chart.
Truck Duck and Dunk Skunk by Michael Rex (rhyming)
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type and Giggle, Giggle, Quack by Doreen Cronin (onomatopoeia, personification)
Emily by by Michael Bedard and Barbara Cooney (combine with Emily Dickinson poems, metaphors)
Once Upon a Twice by Denise Doyen and Barry Moser (combine with e.e. cummings poems)
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle (repetition)
Jamberry by Bruce Degen
Any Dr. Seuss
Short Stories: I ask students to write an epilogue to this short story. In their epilogue, they must include similes and metaphors that describe sunshine and rain in the same style Bradbury uses in his short story. Spoiler Alert– this story may make you cry.
All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury (figurative language all over the place)
Chapter Books: The Sharon Creech books, particularly Hate That Cat, are great ways to introduce all of the figures of speech. Incorporate the poems that the main character mentions as part of your reading. Creech includes copies of the poems at the back of the book. Write your own version of the “Love That Boy” poem by Walter Dean Myers. We wrote “Love That Book” poems.
Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Betty Bao Lord (similes)
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman (poems for two voices)
For Laughing Out Loud by Jack Prelutsky
The Random House Book of Poetry for Children compiled by Jack Prelutsky
Sharing the Seasons compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Fog by Carl Sandburg
Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson