In my first grade classroom, my literacy block consists of a 10-15 minute shared reading block, followed by 3 15-20 minute center rotations. A daily objective is introduced during the shared reading block, using materials that are accessible to all students (usually a Big Book). During this time, the teacher introduces and models the daily objective, and then invites students to practice using the class book. After this whole-class activity, the students then move through a rotation of literacy activities in which they practice the daily comprehension objective with a variety of materials, including familiar big books, familiar trade books, their own independent reading books (at their independent reading level), a book on tape in a listening center, and with the teacher in small focus groups.
I intend for this format to be used in the instruction of this unit, but these strategies can be adapted and incorporated into any other literacy block format. Poems will be presented over a period of a couple of days, so that students can become very familiar with the poem, but each day will focus on a different instructional objective. For example, the first day might focus on the alliteration, the next day on rhyming words, the next day on rhythm and tone, and so on. Depending on the group of students, multiple objectives could be introduced on the same day, or may be repeated over a couple of lessons. After a poem is introduced during whole-class instruction, students will receive a copy of the poem to keep in a poetry folder, and the poem will be displayed in the pocket chart center, where students can review the poem and engage in a task, whether it be to mix up the lines of the poem and put them back in order, cover up words and figure out what word is missing, and depending on the students, maybe even remove and change parts of the poem. Students will also be immersed in the poetry genre by having access to a wide variety of poetry books in a poetry center, listen to poems recorded on tape in the listening center, and study poems instead of leveled texts with the teacher in instructional focus groups. This unit will culminate in student presentations of poetry, and so one center will allow students to record and then listen to themselves reciting the poem of their choice so they can perfect the elements of sound that they will be learning. Other options could include setting up a poetry writing center and a "make your own poetry" center with magnetic words and cookie sheets.
I have designed this unit to span approximately one month, to take place in the beginning half of the school year when students are still developing basic pre-literacy skills like letter-sound correspondence, one-to-one matching while reading, and the concept of rhyme. However, it can be adapted to any time throughout the year based on how the district curriculum can be adapted to make room. (Ideally you will return to using poetry at various points throughout the year!) In this time period, the teacher will present 8-10 poems to the class, another 3-4 to small focus groups, and provide access to many more poems throughout the literacy block. The culmination of the unit will be a presentation, during which each student will choose a poem to present to the class. Students will explain why they chose their poem, and then demonstrate their understanding of sound techniques used in poetry by performing their poem with proper expression and rhythm. Students may choose from the poems originally presented by the teacher, or may select a poem found on their own. While this unit will not address writing poetry, it would be a great idea to instruct the class in the writing of poetry either at the same time or shortly after this unit is introduced, as students will be connecting with poetry and may feel the desire to express themselves through the same techniques they are practicing identifying and reading.
Before beginning this unit, the teacher should already have exposed students to songs and poems from the first day of school. While I will not go into detail about songs to be used in this unit, they can often be interchanged with poems, especially for the lessons on rhythm and rhyme. Songs are a wonderful way to introduce students to poetry, as they essentially are poems set to music. Studying songs with students will help students develop the skills they will need to attend to the various elements of poetry that will be expanded upon throughout the unit. For example: the beginning of first grade is the perfect time to teach students songs about the days of the week, colors, numbers, etc. At this time, as the song is being taught and repeated daily, the teacher should put the words up where they are easily accessible to students so that students begin to connect the words being sung with the written word. Songs are even easier than poems for students to remember and therefore will become some of their first independent reading materials.
When choosing poetry for this unit, a number of factors must be considered. I find the two most important factors to be potential student interest—the poems must be accessible and relatable for students—and that the poems contain the literary elements intended to be taught. Because as reading teachers we are always prioritizing making meaning, the poems must also have a worthwhile theme and/or purpose. That being said, there are endless amounts of resources available to teachers of poetry, and the most important thing is to choose poems you feel the students will connect to and be able to make meaning from. This was aptly noted by Flora J. Arnstein, who wrote about her success using poetry in the elementary classroom:
"Now, the poems must be immediately intelligible. It must be related to the children's familiar experience. It must be simple and genuinely felt. And, not least in importance, it must be one that appeals to the teacher in its own right, one that she, too, may genuinely enjoy."
As adult readers of poetry, we find poems we enjoy and identify with, and the same will be true of students. Of course, there is no way to choose poetry that appeals to every student, but hopefully you will use a wide enough range of poems that are accessible to young learners and each student will come away with a number of poems that speak to him or her.
Each whole-class lesson should take on the following format. I would have the whole class on the carpet in front of an easel on which the poem is displayed, but alternatively students could be at their desks and the poem on the overhead projector and/or each student provided with his/her own copy of the poem:
1. Teacher presents a poem to the class, noting the title and the author.
2. Teacher reads aloud the poem to the class, pointing to the words with a pointer as s/he reads the words. Then the class reads the poem together multiple times.
3. Teacher explains daily objective to students.
4. Teacher models how to identify the day's objective (alliteration, onomatopoeia, repetition, etc.) and provides a few examples.
5. Teacher gives students the opportunity to identify a number of examples if possible. Students turn to a partner or group to discuss and find examples.
6. Students come back and share what they have found with the class.
7. During the literacy centers that follow, students will practice the daily objective with a variety of poems available on photocopies, poetry books, poetry on audiotape, and/or poetry written out onto sentence strips in a pocket chart.
8. At the end of the literacy centers, students come back and share what they have found. You may choose to provide them with a graphic organizer such as the one in Appendix A, blank paper, sticky notes, or any other materials to help them organize their findings.
I intend for this unit to be taught in a series of approximately 10 lessons, with the following sequence, although it is up to you as the teacher to decide if you need to spend more or less time on any given concept. Needless to say, while the focus for a particular lesson may be one sound device, the other devices previously taught should be returned to for practice. I intend for the lessons to be supplemented with other activities to take place during literacy centers, phonics/skills block, interactive read-aloud, writing, and any other time of day deemed fit for poetry practice. Each of the poems used in these lessons should be provided to students to be placed in a poetry folder, so that students can refer back to these poems, practice reciting them, and have them available when choosing a poem for their final presentation. Students will also store their graphic organizers and other poetry materials in these folders.
Lesson one: Alliteration
Lesson two: Onomatopoeia
Lesson three: Rhyme (with emphasis on similar spelling patterns)
Lesson four: Rhyme (with emphasis on different spelling patterns)
Lesson five: Rhythm
Lesson six: Rhythm, continued
Lesson seven: Repetition
Lesson eight: Tone
Lesson nine: Tone, continued
Lesson ten: Choosing a poem and preparing for final presentation
Assessment: Final presentation and analysis of poem
As mentioned earlier, I intend the final culmination of this unit to be a presentation during which each student chooses a poem to recite to the class (either by memory or with the help of the poem in front of them, depending on abilities/needs). Students must be guided throughout the process of preparing their poems for performance over a period of about a week or two. The first step will be students' choosing a poem. Again, explain and emphasize for students that it should be a poem that they enjoy and will continue to find pleasure in reading again and again. Next, have a conversation with each student about what s/he likes about the poem. Have each student fill out the graphic organizer in Appendix B using their poem. This can also serve as an assessment tool to evaluate student learning during the unit.