Growing Young Poets
My first aim is to turn children on to poetry, so I usually begin by sharing a poem/poems I believe they will like. (The authors Caren Stuart suggested, Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein, are great or choose one of your own favorites.) I may read one poem that rhymes and one that does not and ask the children how the poems sound different. The students are quite responsive and their comments usually lead us to the conclusion that some poems rhyme and some do not. This also clues the students in to listen to the sounds of poetry as we continue reading and writing poems.
Secondly, I want to get young people involved with poetry as I show them that poems paint specific pictures by using strong verbs and clear images. Thus, I try to select a poem that the students can act out with me and as we say the words and perform the actions, the poetry becomes a part of them. For instance, I frequently use the well- known "Fog" by Carl Sandburg:
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
We act out the poem together. Then we talk about the specific picture of fog Sandburg creates. I ask them why Sandburg uses "cat feet" rather than "dog feet". Depending upon the grade level of the class, I may introduce the term metaphor, and we talk about Sandburg’s using the cat’s movements as a metaphor for the fog’s movements. The children love this acting out, and they never tire of doing the same poems over and over. In fact, after performing "Fog" a few times, the students can say the words alone, and they don’t forget them. "Fog" becomes a part of their personal poetry repertoire. (If you wish more help with the acting out of poems, consult Allan Wolf’s books listed on the Bibliography.)
After reading and acting out poems, I introduce some plan for writing a poem, and we write together and/or separately. I emphasize and re-emphasize creating a specific picture, using strong verbs, and employing all the senses. I am going to give a sketch of a few of the approaches I have used in working with grades 1-8, and you can adapt these to your own situations, adding or deleting as you choose. Remember to use your own expertise and your own personality as you seek to excite the children with your enthusiasm for poetry.
Lesson 1: Bubbles ( All thanks for this idea goes to Ellen Johnston-Hale who first
used it in my classroom years ago. It still works with all ages.)
I may start the class by quoting Carl Sandburg’s poem, Bubbles :
Two bubbles found they had rainbows on their curves.
They flickered out saying:
"It was worth being a bubble just to have held that
rainbow thirty seconds."
Then I proceed to blow bubbles until they float all around the classroom. I ask the students to watch the bubbles carefully. Of course they can see how two may merge into one, how some pop immediately, how one lone bubble may drift up next to the ceiling and outlast all others.
Next, I ask them to give me some good strong verbs that show what the bubbles are doing. We make a long list together, and the students keep adding to this.
I ask them what the bubbles remind them of, and again we compile a list.
I ask questions using each of the senses and create a list of their answers: What do the bubbles sound like, taste like, feel like, smell like, look like?
When we have completed our lists, we write poems. If the students are not familiar with poetry, we talk about how a poem is written on the page, and we examine some examples together before we actually begin our writing.
Often, especially with younger children, we write our first poem as a group poem. Sometimes students will go ahead and write a poem on their own after we finish our group poem. If the students are at ease with poetry, they may want to just write their own poems immediately.
After writing time I always ask, "Who wants to share your poem?" In an elementary classroom hands shoot up, so many times more hands wave in the air than the time on the clock allows for reading.
(See next page for a "Bubble" poem students have written.)
A round balloon
Floating in the sky,
Sparkling in the air,
Glistening like the sun,
Drifting like a bird,
Floating like a boat at sea,
Climbing like an astronaut in space,
Taking off like a dirt bike
Soaring off the ramp,
A big round rainbow
A multicolored sphere
A parachute falling
A hot air balloon,
So pretty in the air,
Like a huge volcano
With a soft
Fourth Grade Class of Mrs. Monica Williams
Cool Spring Elementary School
October 28, 2002
Lesson 2 : I Can Picture Poems (Again I thank Ellen Johnston Hale for many of the
specifics in this plan.)
From day one we talk about how poems create word pictures. On the first day when I am using this approach to writing poems, I try to act out a poem whose words show us a clear picture. The little children love "The Little Turtle" by Vachel Lindsay, page 28 in Allan Wolf’s It’s Show Time and/or My Dog by Marchette Chute, page 29 in the same book.
I tell the children that we are using a video camera to zero in on the turtle, and we must take an exact picture of that one action or moment. In the Little Turtle we see the turtle "swimming in the puddle and climbing on the rocks."
When it is writing time, I tell the students they may focus on a person, object, or a pet. Taking a picture of a pet is a favorite because so many children have pets they love. I encourage them to zero in on a specific moment or a specific action of that person, object or pet and make me see it. I remind them that they also need to use all of their senses to do this well. I need to hear, smell, feel, and possibly even taste to "see" this pet, object, or person clearly.
Before we begin writing, I read aloud some examples of "I Can Picture" poems that my former students have written. This helps to jumpstart student poetry writers better than any other method I have discovered. (See student poem at bottom of page.)
Some students have a poem completed before I finish reading the models. At the end of writing time, we again share.
An "I Can Picture" Poem
I can picture us, you and me,
Sitting on the pier,
Just watching the pond water glimmer
In the mid-afternoon sun.
I look you in your big brown eyes,
And you lick my face,
From my chin to my red hair.
Then I wipe off my slobber covered face,
With my dog hair covered shirt.
I look you in your big brown eyes again,
But you know by now ,
I don’t want to be licked again.
We stand up and walk the long walk,
Back up the hill to the house.
Taylor Loftis , Grade 7
Lesson 3: The Use of Extended Metaphor
From the beginning I work with the students on becoming familiar with the names of the poetic devices such as simile, metaphor, and personification by naming them as we find them in poems we are reading for fun. However, I find that the students do some of their best writing when we work with the extended metaphor.
You might begin this lesson by just helping the students grasp what a metaphor is. You might ask how they would tell someone what the sun is just by completing the phrase , The sun is …… Write some of their word pictures on the board and repeat them. Tell them that they have just created metaphors for the sun, for a metaphor is showing how one thing is like another by saying it IS the other thing. Then read and/or give the students copies and have individuals read different stanzas of An Indian Summer Day on the Prairie by Vachel Lindsay aloud:
In the Beginning
The sun is a huntress young,
The sun is a red, red joy,
The sun is an Indian girl,
Of the tribe of the Illinois
The sun is a smoldering fire,
That creeps through the high gray plain,
And leaves not a bush of cloud
To blossom with flowers of rain.
The sun is a wounded deer,
That treads pale grass in the skies,
Shaking his golden horns,
Flashing his baleful eyes.
The sun is an eagle old,
There in the windless west,
Atop of the spirit-cliffs
He builds him a crimson nest.
Discuss the different metaphors for the sun used in each stanza of Lindsay’s poem and then have the students write their own metaphor poem of the sun.
You might want to wait until your next lesson to continue your study of metaphor and then go on to the extended metaphor, using some of the following suggestions:
If we have learned "Fog" earlier, we go back and remember how the cat’s movement is a metaphor for the fog’s movement. Then I read them "The Toaster" by William Jay Smith:
A silver-scaled dragon with jaws flaming red
Sits at my elbow and toasts my bread.
I hand him fat slices, and then, one by one,
He hands them back when he sees they are done.
I first read this poem without telling the students the title and have them guess the title and tell what led them to this conclusion. Then we discuss the way the metaphor "the silver-scaled dragon" fits the toaster. I ask what this poem shows them that the sentence, "The toaster toasts my bread" does not show them. If they have difficulty with this question, I ask, "Which makes a better picture in your mind, the poem about the toaster or my sentence about the toaster?" Of course I then ask, "Why?", hoping to lead them to the conclusion that the poem shows the toaster while the sentence simply makes a statement or tells about the toaster. This poem is also a good place to point out personification, the toaster "sits at my elbow" and "He hands them back…"
You can find some other good examples of poems using extended metaphors which you can read and discuss in NCPS Award Winning Poems 2002: The Wind , P. 61 and in Pinesong Awards 2003: Friends, P. 61 and My Mind, P. 62. You may have some better examples of your own you want to use. Just read and discuss them. Then the students will be ready to write. You will be amazed at some of the results.
The wind is a comb
Brushing the tops of trees,
To the perfect side
Blowing the leaves all around,
Almost like getting stuck
In the point of the bristles,
Following whichever way
The comb moves.
Cool Spring Elementary School
Other Brief Suggestions:
2. Colors: You can write all kinds of poems centered around colors. You might first
read aloud Dr. Seuss’s My Many Colored Days and go from there. Even first
graders can come up with different colors for different days. You might say that
each line has to have a different color in it. Let the children use their imagination
to take this wherever they will, but be there to make suggestions and offer
guidance if they get stuck.
For a different approach on using colors in poetry, you
might look at Carl Sandburg’s Bluebird, What Do You Feed On? which is given
under the heading Apostrophe. You might read the poem aloud and ask,
"What are the different kinds of blue in this poem? Why is each one used? Can
you write a poem using some different descriptions of the same color?" Try it.
singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with them. Ask who they are talking to in this poem/song. Then ask if the star can talk back or answer them. Of course they will say, "No." This is an apostrophe. This simply means that someone writes a poem in which he/she talks to someone or something who can’t answer back. You might read William Blake’s The Lamb to older students and discuss this with them:
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, wooly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
( Stanza 1 of The Lamb by William Blake)
You might share Carl Sandburg’s Bluebird, What Do You Feed On? with the students and then discuss the use of apostrophe in this poem:
Bluebird, what do you feed on?
It is true you gobble up worms, you
And your bill picks up corn, seed,
This is only part of the answer.
Your feathers have captured a piece of
Your wings are burnished with
It is not a worm blue nor a bug
blue nor the blue
Of corn or berry you shine with.
Bluebird, we come to you for facts,
Information, for secret reports.
Bluebird, tell us, what do you
You might write your own poem using an apostrophe. Write a poem in which you talk to your pet or to some other creature in nature. Share this with your students. Then have them write a poem in which they talk to their pets or to something or someone else who can’t answer them. Have a good time together!
or I’ve Been Working On the Railroad. Have the students write their own words to the song. For instance with Row, Row Your Boat notice how all the words have one beat or syllable. List as many one-syllable action verbs as you can. Then take one of those verbs and create a line of poetry in the same style as Row, Row Your Boat . Work as a class on your first stanza. Sing it together. First graders love this, and you are introducing them to rhythmic, rhyming poetry. (Thanks to Giggle Poetry at www.gigglepoetry.com. This web site has some clever ideas. It gives a good lesson plan on "How to Write Poems About Feelings.")
After the class has written its own "Recipe For A Poem", you may want to share Jane Kurtz’s Recipe For A Poem:
Drop something amazing into the pot.
Look around. Grab some verbs.
until your pan is full of shimmering,
Shake in some drops of what you’ve touched,
seen, smelled, heard.
What about something you’ve tasted?
Imagine it on your tongue.
but you know how bad
you feel when someone makes you mad_
like a raging waterfall_
and how your skin tickles
when your dog
licks your fingers
or what the slime is like when he slobbers on a ball.
Decide which words stay in, which come out.
Move sentences around.
By now you might know what you want to write about.
Stir the stew gently with a spoon of polished stone.
Let it stir.
Serve up a delicious poem.
(You might even choose to use the above poem as the introduction to
poetry for your class. Do whatever you choose with the poem. It has
all kinds of possibilities.)
6. Use any of the forms of poetry and work on these one at a time:
Acrostic, Concrete or Shape Poem, Haiku, Couplets, Cinquain, Limerick, etc.
Telephone : 704-878-9129
www.sleepycreek.org/poetry (The North Carolina Poetry Society Web Site -
You’ll find all kinds of goodies here. Explore
www.gigglepoetry.com (Good, practical fun ideas that work well especially
with younger children)
www.poeticpower.com (Poetic Power Plugs)
www.poetryalive.com (Click on Just4Fun page and Poetry Research. Also,
find information on performance poetry in Allan
Wolf’s books which you can order here.)
www.poetryexpress.org (Excellent! From writing to revising to definition of
www.poetryzone.ndirect (Excellent specific activities)
www.scholastic.com (Go to Teacher Resources and click Poetry. Write
poems with Jack Prelutsky or Karla Kuskin.)
http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/biochildhome.htm (Index to Internet sites for children’s authors and illustrators; some include Teacher Resource File. Look for the name of the children’s poet you are interested in.)
http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/poechild.htm ( An excellent source for all kinds of help with teaching children’s poetry, even suggested lesson plans.)
http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/pfleischman.htm (An example of a Teacher Resource File on a specific children’s poet.)
RESOURCES : BOOKS
Allen, Cindi Nolan. Take A Bite Out of Rhyme (Grades 4-6).
Hawthorne, NJ: Educational Impressions, 1989.
Ellermeyer, Deborah and Judi Hechtman. Perfect Poems for Teaching Phonics K-2.
New York, New York : Scholastic Professional Books, 1999.
Scholastic Professional Books
P.O. Box 7502
Jefferson City, MO 65102
Fletcher, Ralph. Poetry Matters : Writing A Poem from the Inside Out.
Mass Market Paperback, February, 2002.
Janeczko, Paul B. How To Write Poetry. New York, New York:
Johnson-Hale, Ellen Turlington. Tell Mrs. Zimmerman Melvin Left.
Can be ordered from Ellen Johnson-Hale
4221 Lazy River Drive
Durham, NC 27712-9555
Morice, Dave. The Adventures of Dr. Alphabet: 101 Unusual Ways to Write Poetry
In the Classroom and in the Community. New York, New York: Teachers
And Writers Collaborative, 1946.
Teachers and Writers Collaborative
5 Union Square West
NY, NY 10003-3306
Tannenbaum, Judith. Teeth Wiggly As Earthquakes. (Writing Poetry in the
Primary Grades.) Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers, 2000.
Stenhouse Publishers www.stenhouse.com
Koch, Kenneth. RoseWhere Did You Get That Red? Teaching Great Poetry to
Children. New York: Vintage Books, 1973.
Koch, Kenneth. Wishes, Lies, and Dreams. New York: Vintage Books, 1971.
(Both of the above books may be ordered from Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 5 Union Square West; NY, NY 10003-3306.)
POETRY BOOKS/AUTHORS FOR CHILDREN
A Child’s Book of Poems. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1969.
Bagert, Brod. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong :
Chicken Socks and Other Contagious Poems, 1993.
Elephant Games and Other Playful Poems to Perform, 1995.
Let Me Be the Boss - Poems for Kids to Perform, 1992.
The Gooch Machine - Poems for Children to Perform, 1997.
(Bagert books may be ordered from:
Boyds Mills, Press, Inc.
815 Church Street
Creech, Sharon. Love That Dog. NY: Scholastic, Inc., 2001
Dakos, Kali. If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand Poems About School .
NY: First Aladdin Paperbacks edition, 1995.
Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise Poems for Two Voices. NY: The Trumpet Club,
Fleischman, Paul. Big Talk Poems For Four Voices.
(Both Fleischman books may be purchased from Amazon.com.)
Hopkins, Lee Bennett - Any of his anthologies or collections.
Milne, A.A. The Complete Poems of Winnie the Pooh.
Prelutsky, Jack (Any books by Prelutsky) :
The New Kid On the Block
Something Big Has Been Here
The Dragons Are Singing Tonight
A Pizza the Size of the Sun
It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles
Silverstein, Shel (Any of Silverstein’s books) :
Where the Sidewalk Ends
A Light In the At
Talking Like the Rain - A Read-to-Me Book of Poems. Boston: Little, Brown, and
The Real Mother Goose. Chicago: Rand McNally and Company, 1944.
The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury (edited by Jack Prelutsky). NY:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
READ ALOUD BOOKS THAT CAN RE-ENFORCE OR BE SPRINGBOARDS FOR POETRY
Base, Graeme. Animalia. NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1986. (Good to use when
Geisel, Theodor S. (Dr. Seuss). My Many Colored Days. NY: Alfred A. Knopf,
Geisel, Theodor S. Oh the Places You’ll Go, 1990. (A great springboard for poetry)
Hoberman, Mary Ann. You Read to Me I’ll Read to You. Boston: Little, Brown,
and Company, 2001. (Very short stories in poetry form to read aloud together.)
Rabe, Tish. The Song of the Zubble-wump. NY: Random House, Inc., 1996.
(Based on the television series "The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss".)
CONTESTS STUDENTS MAY ENTER
North Carolina Poetry Society Student Contest - Go to the web site www.sleepycreek.org and click on Student Contests or contact Libby Campbell .
(Contests for grades 3-college age.)
North Carolina Poetry Council - Check the North Carolina Poetry Society web site and this information will be posted when available. There are contests for elementary , middle, and high school students. Usually, entries are due in June.
Creative Communication- Go to www.poeticpower.com for contest information.
(Contests for K-12)