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Last year was the 20th anniversary of the publication of my first book, Poems That Sing To You. I forgot to celebrate.

As my daughter would say: "Woopsie."  And on that note, why don't I take this golden 21st anniversary opportunity to share more ways to help children read and develop as lifelong readers and writers.

Recently, I have been reflecting on this article that my mom and I wrote this article together years ago.

In "Language and Literacy: The Poetry Connection," Dorothy S. Strickland and Michael R. Strickland explain that immersion in poetry provides a positive experience for students that provides scaffolding for later poetry exploration and experimentation. By reading a variety of poems in read alouds, independent reading, and group sharing, students begin to play with poetic ideas and forms naturally. The article explains that "many teachers still argue that there is value in highlighting certain literary devices or aspects of a form as one way of knowing and appreciating literature. When students discuss various characteristics of a form, it helps inform their own writing and familiarizes them with common terminology needed to talk about language, literature, and literacy. Familiarity with the structure and terminology of literacy facilitates students' abilities to communicate with others about what they know. In addition, such familiarity can deepen students' personal responses and interpretations of literature." In this lesson plan, students explore a wide range of poetic forms and devices in order to gain the kind of grounding understanding of poetic elements that Strickland and Strickland recommend.
For millennia - even before Homer started reciting The Iliad and The Odyssey - we humans have been telling one another poems. Even today, children and adolescents often spontaneously make up poems to tell one another, in jump-rope rhymes, insults and comebacks, riddles, and other verses. What is it about poems that so appeals to us?

On the other hand, many adults today feel turned off to poetry, never venturing to scribble a verse and rarely listening to it, except when tuning in to a song's lyrics. What happened to make us so wary of poems?

Why Poems?
Poems intrinsically appeal to us because of their rhythm, their rich imagery, and and their ability to extract the pot-liquor from the boiling cauldron of our experiences. Here's an example: Fog by Carl Sandburg. Click here for the full text of the poem.

How does Sandburg do that - capturing the essential images and impressions of fog in twenty-one small words? To be honest, we can't tell you exactly how he does it. Perhaps we have to admit that - like electricity - it seems to happen as if by magic.

The secret to the magic isn't in the topic he chose. In the many anthologies containing Sandburg's poems, you may find a wealth of other poems about almost any classroom topic you and your children can think of. For instance, you may find Sandburg's poem in Jack Prelutsky's (1983) anthology, The Random House book of Poetry for Children (p. 96), New York: Random House.

Prelutsky's anthology also includes poems on ferns, wind, George Washington, smells, boa constrictors, Halloween, being rude, basketball, waking up, cockroaches, the taste of purple, feeling frightened, a hog-calling competition, family members, unicorns, toasters, flying, and so on - even poems on the whole universe.

Why have poets written about so many different topics, expressing so may different feelings and points of view? Because poetry can work like a magnifier, to enlarge the very small and bring it into view, or to focus sunlight on something to intensely that it catches fire. Throughout this book I hope to inspire you to incorporate poetry into every aspect of your curriculum, adding its distinctive insights to whatever you teach.

Why do so many of us avoid writing poetry and teaching poetry to our students? I don't know for sure, but I suspect that for too many of us, our early love of poetry was drilled out of us by teachers who felt obliged to teach us poems that we didn't love - and that they themselves didn't love, either. The key to teaching poetry is - as you might have guessed - your enthusiasm for an enjoyment of the poems you share with your students. If you relish a particular poem, your enthusiasm will infect your students, and they'll enjoy it, too.

Throughout my staff development sessions with teachers and my blog entries, I make many suggestions for poems, teaching strategies, and ideas for extending poetry concepts across the curriculum. Please feel free to take whichever of these suggestions appeal to you and to modify or to reject altogether any that don't speak to your heart and soul - or that just seem foreign to your own teaching style. Try to remain open to trying new things, but recognize when your guts are telling you, "This poem doesn't work for me," or "My students and I don't have fun with this activity," or "What were they thinking? My students and I could never do that!"

I have come up with a basic format for introducing poetry to your students, which I believe is effective. Give it a try, and see whether it works for you and your students, then adapt it to suit your needs. First of all, immerse your students in the sounds and the language of the poem or poems you are introducing. Next, encourage your students to explore the poem, considering how it's put together and how it might be modified. Finally, encourage your students to experiment with the kind of poem you introduced, perhaps creating a class poem or creating individual poems similar to the poem or poems they explored previously.


Strickland, Dorothy S., and Michael R. Strickland. "Language and Literacy: The Poetry Connection." Language Arts 74.3 (March 1997): 201-205.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    Join us at Young People's Pavilion for a journey through children's literature. And follow this discussion on Twitter

    by The Book Bear on Fri May 17, 2013 at 04:01:03 PM PDT

  •  The image of this book on the screen in no way (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Book Bear

    reflects my experience of it. Louis Untermyer's Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense shaped my inner world when I was a child and continues to this day. It is over-sized and lays flat neatly so you can lie on the floor or the grass and just be in it. Looking at picture-book illustrations and looking at the words of the poems made me a very good speller, and when it comes to poetry, puns, and humor spelling and grammar count, but they are best learned by example, not just by being told what they are.
         And I did spend a lot of time just looking at this book and others, memorizing them so I could say them to myself when walking home. But I also did not own a stereo until I was 13 (got a transistor radio when I was 9 but that was basically for baseball...) We are what we feed ourselves, though, and I did not have a background soundtrack the way today's youth do.
         Meanwhile the painted illustration of Fidgety Phillip pulling the tablecloth off and the soup and everything all running together is worth the price of the book alone. Yet it also contains some important life lessons. Re: Miss Muffet and the Spider

    The moral is this:
    Be it Madam or Miss
    To whom you have something to say:
    You are only absurd when you get in the curd, but
    you're rude when you get in the whey.

    My favorite new morality tale is Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
    Thank You, Moe Willems for giving us the metaphor we can translate to the teen years as Friends Don't Let the Pigeon Drive Drunk.

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