Reading and Writing Poetry With Elementary School Kids
Children can learn so much from poetry! By listening to it, and reading it themselves, they absorb the rhythms, sounds, and nuances of language. Writing poetry is wonderful for children, too. I'm not suggesting we expect our elementary school-aged kids to write a Shakespearean sonnet. What I'm advocating is that we include poetry in our children's reading and writing activities. By focusing on reading other poets and learning to be poets themselves, children will develop many skills they'll need as older writers -- skills like writing tight, using imagery, and distilling the essence of what they want to say into a few carefully chosen words.
I believe writing poetry should come after we've read lots and lots of poetry with children. Starting from when they're young, we should incorporate poetry into family read-aloud time. It makes good sense to build on this by introducing kids to some poem pre-writing activities. For instance, if we're reading a rhyming picture book aloud, we can pause before the final word in a stanza or line and ask children to supply the rhyming word. When we're sharing a poem with our kids, we can point out where the poet has used words to create a memorable image -- for example, about clouds. Perhaps we'll find a time to re-visit that image when out walking with our kids, and look up at the cloudy sky. This also helps children make connections between what they read and the real world.
As I said in Introducing Poetry to Kids, it's simple and fun to start with a rhyme or poem our kids know; something easy we can change the words to. It doesn't even have to make sense, especially with nursery rhymes. For example, we could take Baa Baa Black Sheep and change it a little. Keep the basic rhythm and find two rhyming lines to suit a new story:
Baa Baa Brown Sheep, Why do you look funny? Well my doctor told me, It's because I ate some honey.
Elementary-aged kids often use rhymes and chants for their play, but they love to learn more! Skipping games, claps and chants may not be great poetry, but they help develop children's sense of rhythm and rhyme. I wrote about this in Let's Use Rhymes and Chants with Kids. Having kids make up their own rhymes, chants, even war cries is a wonderful way to introduce a short creative writing activity that's poetry-related. If you're interested in helping your kids learn more playground games, check out my free PDF booklet Literacy in the Playground.
Poetry doesn't need to rhyme, but playing with rhyme is loads of fun. It also helps beginning readers develop phonemic awareness. Rhyme games like hink pink, or simply leaving the rhyming words out for kids to supply when we chant or read a poem aloud, are both simple, enjoyable ways to put rhyming fun into our parents' toolkit. Why not suggest your children create their own booklet of rhymes, or collected rhyming words and games? Mini-books of loved poems or child-created poems are another excellent idea.
Let's not forget collecting words and imagery. Hunting for words and collecting them is just as much fun as being a rock hound or toy collector! Kids can write out what they find on paper scraps and keep them in a treasure box or use a special poet's journal. I like to encourage students to savor words by saying them aloud in different ways. Once we introduce kids to poetic devices like alliteration, simile and metaphor, it's fun to collect those examples too.
As kids develop as readers and writers, there are many more poetry activities that might spark their innate creativity. One I love is to share creating haiga with children. A haiga is a combination of a haiku and an image, and it's a really accessible poetic form for elementary students. Read more about it in Poetry with Kids - Creating Haiga. I also love what some apps offer kids. Check out PicLits, or Read Write Think's Word Mover app for fun ways children can develop their own blank verse poems.
Activities revolving around reading and writing poetry motivate our kids to play with language and enjoy it. They also develop many of the crucial literacy skills they need for school, and for life.
Do you read and write poetry with your elementary school-aged kids? Why not share your thoughts with others on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page!