Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5
What to Do: Practice crucial speaking and listening skills by allowing your students to make recordings of their favorite poems. To start, let students listen to recordings of poets reading their own work. (You can find plenty of these poetry readings on YouTube or at poets.org.) Next, let students choose a poem and practice reading it aloud. As they read, students should mark the poem’s signals. For instance, you might ask your students, “Does your voice pause here?” or “Did your reading speed up at this line?” Then, record the poems using whatever means are easiest: audiotape, podcast, video, or simple apps like Audioboo or Voice Memos.
My Week With Shel
Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1; R.4; L.5
What to Do: It takes time to enter a poem’s world. When we reread a poem, we peel back its layers and intensify our understanding and relationship to it. To teach students to take a second—and even fifth—look, try having them “live” with a poem for a week. On the first day, invite students to read the poem aloud. Ask open-ended questions, such as “What picture is the poet painting?” As the week progresses, talk about word choice. For example, you can use the following sentence frames: “In my mind, I see ____,” and “These are the words/lines that give me that image: ____.”
Midweek, focus on the 5W’s of the poem: who, what, where, when, and why. As students reflect on these questions, they can write down evidence to support their understanding on a 5W and H Thinking Map (available here). Later, invite students to consider the “how” of the poem. In other words, how does the poet use poetic devices such as metaphor and alliteration to express meaning? After five days of living with a poem, leave time for class discussion to reflect on the process. Students will likely marvel at how much their understanding has changed!
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5
What You Need: Exemplar poems such as “Autumn” by Emily Dickinson, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, or “Eating While Reading” by Gary Soto
What to Do: Teach kids about craft and structure by remixing their favorite poems. First, show students that all texts—including stories, poems, and dramas—have a structure. Explain that in stories, writers use sentences and paragraphs to organize ideas. In poetry, poets use stanzas. Allow students to read several poems with different kinds of stanzas (for instance, two-, three-, and four-line stanzas). Ask them to talk about why the poet might have chosen that particular structure.
Next, print out a poem and cut out each stanza individually. Mix up the pieces and ask students to put the poem back together by following the sequence of the action. Remind students to look for indicators of order, such as images, actions, or transition words. Reordering the poem will help students explain how the poem’s meaning unfolds throughout the stanzas. You can wrap up your discussion by asking students to explain the importance of specific stanzas—for example, how the last stanza ties the ideas of the poem together.
We’ve Got the Beat
Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5; SL.1
What You Need: Exemplar poems such as “The Echoing Green” by William Blake, “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, or “Fog” by Carl Sandburg
What to Do: Build students’ understanding of key poetic structures by inviting your young poets to flex their writing muscles. To start, review the main structural elements of poetry: rhythm, meter, and rhyme. Explain that rhythm and meter refer to the audible pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem. Read a poem aloud to demonstrate that the regular repetition of a beat, the rise and fall of syllables (stressed and unstressed), and the arrangement from word to word and line to line is what gives poetry its music. Next, explore verse by showing students an example of a poem written in free verse without strict meter or rhyme patterns. Talk about the similarities and differences.
To put students in the poet’s seat, ask them to choose a poem written in rhythm, meter, and rhyme and then rewrite that poem in free verse. Afterward, assign students to small groups to share their masterpieces. Students should explain how modifying the structure might change the meaning or theme of the poem. To expand the lesson, repeat the exercise—this time moving from free verse to rhyme, meter, and rhythm.
Georgia Heard is a founding member of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She received her MFA in poetry from Columbia University and is the author of several books, including Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core State Standards.