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September 24, 2012 Focus Poetry: Create Poetry Pros in Less Than Ten Minutes a Day By Julie Ballew
Grades 1–2, 3–5

    National Poetry Month is not until April, but students need access to poetry all year long. It is unlike any other genre of reading, and many of the writing skills we think are specific to poetry can make students’ writing in other genres come alive. Focus Poetry, a program of shared reading, provides multiple opportunities to teach a wide variety of skills in a small amount of time each day. Many teachers at my school have put Focus Poetry into their daily schedules. As a result, students are gaining a deeper understanding of how to read and write poetry. They are becoming poetry pros! Read on to learn how to implement this structure in your own classroom.


    Set Up Your Space

    First, you’ll need some wall space that you can dedicate to Focus Poetry.  It will need to be large enough to accommodate the following elements:

    • A poem, written or typed, large enough for everyone to read
    • A list of poetry skills (to grow all year long)
    • A list of grammar skills (to grow all year long)
    • A list of new vocabulary (to grow all year long)

    Below are several Focus Poetry areas in 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms at my school:

    Focus Poetry Wall   Focus Poetry Wall

    Focus Poetry Wall   Focus Poetry Wall

    Decide Which Skills You Need to Teach

    Take a look at your standards, whether they are local, state, or Common Core standards. What poetry skills are expected of students? If they aren’t in a specific order, you may want to prioritize them and decide which ones will need to be revisited most. Next, search your standards for grammar and/or convention skills that your students are expected to master. Prioritize these as well. The 3rd grade team at my school made the checklist below from our Texas state standards. (Click on the picture to download a PDF.)


    Choose and Chart Your PoemCharted Poem for Focus Poetry

    Once you know what you want to teach, it becomes a lot easier to narrow down the possible poems. For example, if you've chosen to study prefixes and line breaks this week, you would choose a poem (like "Science Fair Project" by Carol Diggory Shields) that provides opportunities to study both of those.

    Write the poem on a large piece of chart paper — make sure the words are big enough that they can be read by the whole class. You will also need to have a smaller version of the poem to give to each student at the end of the week. As the year goes on, they will build a poetry anthology.


    Plan the Week

    One of my favorite things about Focus Poetry is the predictable structure. Each poem is typically studied for one week, and the daily activities stay the same. Plan your week by choosing the skills you will cover in this poem. Here is one possible schedule:

    • Monday: Read the poem together and discuss the author’s purpose and the meaning or theme. This initial comprehension work sets them up to study the poem more closely the rest of the week.
    • Tuesday: Read the poem together and discuss some key vocabulary words. Write these words on note cards so that you can add them to the vocabulary list. (See photo below.)
    • Wednesday: Read the poem together and discuss a grammar skill found in the poem. This could be anything from prefixes to commas. Write the skill on a note card so that you can add it to your list of grammar skills. (See photo below.)
    • Thursday: Read the poem together and discuss a poetic device (stanzas, line breaks, rhyme, alliteration, etc.) found in the poem. Write the skill and a brief definition on a note card so that you can add it to your list of poetry skills. (See photo below.)
    • Friday: Read the poem together and have students respond to it orally or in writing. They might have a discussion about inferences they are making, you could give them a copy of the poem and let them draw a picture of how it makes them feel, or they could highlight the rhyming words. (Student examples are pictured below.)

    Grammar Skills  Poetry Skills  Vocabulary Words

    Poetry Response  Student Response

    Remember, this should take no more than ten minutes each day. The time commitment is small, but the possibilities are endless!


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