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Grades 1-2: Poetry Month Activities

Improve students' phonics, fluency, and vocabulary skills with these engaging poetry activities.
 

By Timothy Rasinski
  • Grades: 1–2

New Poetry Picks

• Hi, Koo!
by Jon J. Muth. $17.99.
From the author of Zen Shorts comes a book of 26 masterful haiku with equally beautiful illustrations.

• Firefly July
selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. $16.99.
This selective anthology contains short poems from Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, and others.      

• The Poem That Will Not End
by Joan Bransfield Graham, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker. $17.99.
The perfect combination of craft and humor, the book’s storyline follows a narrator who can’t stop writing poetry.

• Poem-mobiles
by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes. $17.99.
Two notable children’s poets share inventive poems about cars. 

Partner Poetry Breaks

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.1.4; RF.2.4
What You Need: A set of poems to be read by two students (try You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by Mary Ann Hoberman and, for advanced readers, Partner Poems for Building Fluency)
What to Do: Like a good dessert, certain poems are meant to be shared. Assign pairs of students to choose poems to read. Over the course of a week, give students 10 to 15 minutes per day to rehearse their poems. (Start by reading the poems while students follow along.) The next day, display the poems on a document camera and read them chorally. Encourage students to practice at home with their parents or to read the poem along with a recorded version. Once students are able to read their poem with appropriate phrasing and expression, allow pairs to visit various classrooms and offices in your school to share their poems. Students will love the opportunity to show off their fluent poetry readings to a captive audience.   

Word-Family Reading

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.1.3; RF.2.3
What You Need: A daily rhyming poem, a chart
What to Do: Rhyming poems are natural texts to use when practicing word families. Place an age-appropriate rhyming poem on a chart for all students to see. Read the poem and discuss its content. Then focus on the rhyming words and the word families embedded within them. (For example, in the “Jack Sprat” nursery rhyme, you’ll find frequent use of the -at and -ean word families.) List the word families and corresponding words from the poem on a chart or whiteboard. (Students can also record these words in their own word journals.) Then have children brainstorm other words that contain the focal word families. Challenge them to include multisyllabic words. During transition times, students can chorally read the word lists and the poem. Later, encourage students to write their own poems using some of the rhyming words on the list.

Word Harvesting

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.4; RL.2.4
What You Need: A daily poem from which to “harvest” interesting words,a chart, a bell or chime
What to Do: Share a daily poem with your students by reading it to them or inviting them to read it chorally with you. Explain that poets often choose interesting and unusual words for their poems. Call on volunteers to point out five to eight words from the poem that they think are out of the ordinary. Write these words on the classroom chart while students record them in their journals. As you do so, discuss the meaning of the words. Throughout the day, chorally read the words with your students to reinforce the terms they harvested from the poem.

Encourage students to use the words in their own written and oral language throughout the school day. You may wish to assign one of your students to be the “Word Wizard” for the day. Allow him or her to carry a chime or a bell. Whenever the Word Wizard hears one of the words from the chart being used in oral language, he or she should ring the bell to draw attention to the word and the student using it.

Sketch Talk

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.7; RL.2.7; SL.1.1; SL.2.1
What You Need: Poems using imagery, drawing paper, pencils, markers  
What to Do: Invite students to close their eyes as you read a poem aloud. When you’re done, have them open their eyes and talk about the images that developed in their minds when you read the poem. You might discuss the overall scene, a particular character, a figure of speech (e.g., “raining cats and dogs”), a symbol, or a theme. Remind students that it’s likely each of them will have developed a slightly different image—and that’s okay!

Tell your students to quickly sketch their image on a sheet of drawing paper. When they have completed their drawings, students can display them for the class. Allow classmates to comment on and interpret each drawing before the artist explains it to the class. Set ground rules for discussion and see to it that students follow those rules. The text discussion that results from these sketch talks will lead students to deeper levels of meaning and comprehension.

Synonym/Antonym Switch

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.1.4; L.2.4
What You Need: A children’s poem or song, markers, a chart
What to Do: An easy way to expand children’s vocabularies is through the substitution of words found in poems or songs. By switching out known for unknown words, you’ll help students form powerful connections between the two terms. Begin by writing a poem or a song on a chart. Practice reading or singing it together. If you wish to focus on synonyms, underline a word and write a synonym underneath it. (For example, in the nursery rhyme “Jack Be Nimble,” you might substitute the word brisk for quick.) Read or sing the poem or song using the variation, and ask students how the switch changes the meaning of it, if at all. Also, invite them to decide if the new word changes the rhyme or the way the poem needs to be read. You might repeat this same procedure with antonyms, or even prepositions, on another occasion. Because the text remains constant and you begin with familiar words, students will learn to recognize and understand the meanings of new terms.


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Timothy Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University, where he helps direct a clinic for struggling readers. Rasinski is the coauthor of many books, including Phonics and Fluency Practice With Poetry and Partner Poems for Building Fluency. He is also an elected member of the International Reading Hall of Fame.

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  • Subjects:
    Literature Appreciation, Vocabulary, New Teacher Resources
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