It is important to precede the formal study of poetry by informally introducing children to it. This can be done in a variety of ways. Using poems for Shared Reading experiences, where the poem will be read multiple times. allows the students to both hear the poem and then read along with the teacher. In addition to noting word choice or rhyming words, the teacher can point out the poet's use of line breaks and space, repetition and imagery, as well as calling the students' attention to the shape of the poem. In this way, "students will begin to understand the difference between poetry and prose and assimilate the many styles of poetic writing" (Steinburgh, p. 19).
A second way to begin to surround students with poetry is by setting up a poetry corner where a particular bookshelf is filled with poetry books and anthologies for children to peruse. At the start of each day (during meeting time is an opportune time), the teacher can read a poem to the class. One of my favorite anthologies is
, edited by Rosemary Alexander. In it are over 600 poems addressing varied themes. After a short time, I have found that my students naturally start volunteering to read a poem they have chosen during this time. I stand nearby ready to help the reader with any difficult words. As poems are read I make xeroxed copies for each student to keep in a special poetry folder. Children ask to revisit favorite poems. Just the other day, Kyle, a student in my class this year, shouted out, "Can we hear the poem again about the kid who tried to use an eraser shaped like a knife to cut his sandwich?" He was referring to the poem, "I Brought A Worm" from Kalli Dakos's book entitled,
If You Are Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand: Poems About School
. The class laughed as I read it again as if it were the first time they had heard it. I also encourage my students to reread poems and then illustrate the imagery brought to mind in the poem.
Children often wonder out loud where a writer gets his/her ideas for a poem. As an introduction to this question, I plan to use Karla Kuskin's poem in her book,
Moon, Have You Met My Mother?
, "Where Do You Get The Idea For A Poem?" which describes all the different times in which an inspiration can strike the writer and how it demands the attention of the poet "until it is written" (pp. 226-227).
To increase the level of delight or pleasure in listening to and learning poetry, a teacher can employ movement and music to help accomplish this end. The first activity will involve creative movement so I have chosen three poems that suggest certain movements and have strong rhythms. Kuskin's poem "Sitting in the Sand" is a short poem taken from the book entitled
Dogs & Dragons Trees & Dreams
. It describes the action of sitting on the shore with hands cupped, attempting to get "a sip of the ocean" (p. 34). The rhythm is quick and the sequence of actions well laid out. Using this poem will be a fun way to begin. The second poem I plan to use is from the same book and is entitled "A Dance." It is longer and the rhythm follows a definite beat. Partners are beckoned to waltz, slip, skip, and glide, ending the dance with "a crash to the floor" (p. 12-13). The third poem, written by Patricia Hubbell, is entitled "Double Dutch" and is taken from her book,
(p. 16-17). This poem describes the movement of a favorite pastime of many of my students, that of jumping rope. The short phrasing and choice of words like twirl, whirl and twist clearly convey the jumping movement of this activity. As I read each poem aloud, line by line, the students will experiment with movements that fit. Once we have decided on appropriate movements , we will put it all together and while I read the lines, certain students will move to the words. I envision this as an ideal small group activity. Each group will have a different poem to move to and to present to the rest of the class.
To extend this idea of movement , in the next activity I will have my students act out the poem. I have chosen two poems which contain several acting parts. The first poem is by Kuskin and is taken from her aforementioned book. It is entitled "The Porcupine" (p. 7). There are two parts to act out, that of the porcupine and that of a person spying nearby. It begins by describing the movements of a rather sad, lumbering porcupine. The surprise comes when he sends out a flurry of quills toward the hiding stranger, laughing at his bewildered victim as he walks off. Well-chosen action words make this poem ideal for acting out. Secondly, I plan to use Hubbell's poem, "Sidewalks," taken from her book entitled,
The Tigers Brought Pink Lemonade
, (p. 27). This poem describes the movement of many different people, some walking while "shoulder-hugging", others walking "arm-in-arm" talking and others eating hot dogs or holding balloons as they move along the sidewalk. Because it has many parts, it will require a larger number of children to present it. I will preface the first reading of the poem by asking the class to listen for parts that can be acted out. Once we have done this, individuals will experiment with appropriate mime-like movements that befit the part. Steinburgh suggests including the whole class by having some act out the poem while the rest provide sound effects (p. 24). In both of these activities the poem is read several times and then can be displayed on large chart paper in the classroom for students to revisit.
A third activity which further extends the use of creative movement when reading poetry involves the use of music technology. One of our music teachers has created a wonderful program where students write stories and then, using the music keyboard and computer, they add musical sounds to the story. The final step is to add movement to the computerized music and act out the story on stage. The children are very proud of their creations. What I would like to try is to have students choose poems they like, put them to computerized music, add suitable movements and then present them on stage. The presentation would involve one student reading the poem aloud while others act out the poem with the accompanying 'music' in the background. This will allow students to really feel the rhythms of the poem. Two poems that would be ideal for using are both by Valerie Worth and are taken from her book,
All The Small Poems and Fourteen More.
The first poem, "Cow" (p. 3) describes very vividly the movement of a single cow across the grass. Music could be aptly used to describe how it "moves like a mountain" with its hipbones jutting out and its hooves thumping until it comes to an abrupt stop. The second poem, "Kite" (p. 90-91) begins with the kite sitting idly indoors seeming only to be dead paper on light-boned wood." It comes to life when it is flown in the sky and wildly moves around like a "wing, having nothing at all to do with string." Music could be created to convey the changing moods of the kite.