Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.1.2
What You Need: Shout! Little Poems That Roar, by Brod Bagert; Pocket Poems, by Bobbi Katz; white paper; pencils; chart paper; light-blue construction paper; skinny markers
What to Do: “Kids love poetry: the tongue-twisting words, the alliteration, the onomatopoeia, the rhyme, the rhythm,” says Nancy VandenBerge, who blogs at First Grade W.O.W. and is a first-grade teacher at Dr. E. T. Boon Elementary in Allen, Texas. She hosts a poetry unit during National Poetry Month and has her students write different types of poems to reinforce emergent literacy skills.
To begin, VandenBerge shares Shout! Little Poems That Roar and Pocket Poems, and asks students to think about the features of the poems, such as rhyme, pattern, tone (e.g., silly, serious), white space, and shape, and to write some of the things they notice. (For younger children, you can write these down.)
She then tells students they will work on shape, or concrete, poems about the rain, explaining that they are created by writing the words in the shape of the subject of the poem. Students brainstorm adjectives that describe rain, and VandenBerge writes these on chart paper and tells them that each line must have an adjective followed by the word rain (e.g., cold rain, hard rain).
When they have drafted and edited their poems, she has each student draw a large droplet shape on light-blue construction paper. They then rewrite their poems around the edges of their droplets with skinny markers.
Match That Rhyme
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.2.A
What You Need: One Is Not a Pair, by Britta Teckentrup and Katie Haworth; chart paper; index cards; clip art
What to Do: The playfulness in rhyme can truly captivate your littlest learners. And teaching poetry is the perfect way to reinforce rhyming conventions and other literacy skills, preparing children for more serious poetry study.
Before you start the lesson, come up with several sets of rhyming words, such as chair and hair, book and hook. Write the words on one side of an index card, leaving the other side blank. Place images of the items above the written words. Make six to 10 sets.
Begin the lesson with a read-aloud. Choose a book with a rhyming convention, such as One Is Not a Pair. This matching book showcases the concept of pairs in beautifully illustrated scenes. During the read-aloud, ask students to recognize which item does not have a pair. Have them take note of the words that rhyme.
Next, on a piece of chart paper, write out a few of the rhyming words from the book. Ask students why the words rhyme. Their answer should be that the words or just the endings of the words sound the same. Explain that many times words that rhyme are found in pairs or patterns.
Then, divide the class into groups of two or three. Hand out a set of cards to each group. Have students lay the cards in three or four rows and take turns flipping over two cards to find the matching sets of rhyming words.
After finding all of their matches, encourage students to choose a rhyming word out of the sets and come up with an additional two or three words that rhyme with it. Have each group share their rhyming word sets.
Vertically Challenging Poems
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.4
What You Need: Little Dog Poems, by Kristine O’Connell George; Silver Seeds, by Paul Paolilli; blank paper cut into halves; pencils
What to Do: One of the many advantages of teaching poetry to your youngest learners is that it gets them to think outside of the box while writing. Andrea Knight, a retired first-grade teacher who taught at Virgil Mills Elementary School in Palmetto, Florida, often used freewrites and acrostic poetry to get her students thinking and writing in new and interesting ways.
Knight would begin by introducing Little Dog Poems, her favorite book on poetry, to her students. Each illustrated page hosts a poem, but the poems thread together to tell the tale of a day in the life of a dog. “Consider beginning with this text because there’s no single specific style throughout the book. Children will see that poems can take many forms,” says Knight, who blogs at Planning in Paradise.
After reading aloud, Knight would hand out half sheets of blank paper and ask students to freewrite two to four poems. She found that struggling writers reacted positively to the poetry freewrite, as the size of the piece of paper implied the writing wouldn’t be long or labor intensive.
Knight then introduced acrostic poems by reading Silver Seeds. The book’s theme is nature, with each page featuring an acrostic poem about the outdoors: “Dawn,” “Shadow,” “Sun.” She explained to students that acrostic poems are based on a word, written vertically, with each letter being the starting point for that line.
Next, students would form groups to work together on their acrostic poems. They chose short nouns or verbs—bear, bird, walk, dance—for their poems, and each student focused on one of the letters and brainstormed adjectives and descriptive words or phrases to create the group’s acrostic.
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.1.4
What You Need: Copies of select poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up, A Light in the Attic, and other books of poetry by Shel Silverstein; sidewalk chalk
What to Do: During National Poetry Month, Melissa Novoa, a first-grade teacher at Anthony Elementary School in Florida, celebrates beloved children’s poet Shel Silverstein’s work by hosting an author study. She begins by sharing selected Silverstein poems such as “A Light in the Attic” and “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too.”
Novoa then has children buddy-read Silverstein’s poems. (She creates anchor charts with the poems and illustrations to further engage students.) She asks each child to choose his or her favorite Silverstein poem and read it aloud, if possible (if not, she or a volunteer will read it), and to explain why the chosen poem is a favorite.
Lastly, Novoa, who blogs at Frugal in First, has students participate in a sidewalk chalk “Shel-ebration.” She takes them outside to the schoolyard and has them write or draw elements of their favorite poem on the ground. They are encouraged to be creative while writing; some create shapes out of the words or draw on or around the poem.
“They have a blast, and our whole school is able to enjoy reading the poems,” she says.
Photo: Courtesy of Nancy VandenBerge