Sharing Poems With ChildrenÖÖÖ. some thoughts and ideas from Caren Stuart

I celebrated this past National Poetry Month (April 2003) by offering to visit my sonís second grade classroom to share a poem. The teacher was delighted and the kids enjoyed my sharing so much that I ended up visiting every day in April, May, AND June! My goal was simply to share something I love with the children. I didnít "explain" too much about the poemsÖ just enough for the kids to "get it". As a result of my 5-10 minute visits, the kids were introduced to some poems that I love, they became really excited about poetry as a whole, and I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I HIGHLY recommend sharing your love of poetry with children. I guarantee that teachers will appreciate you, children will embrace you, and youíll be completely delighted with yourself.

Here are some comments on my experiences with sharing poetry with second graders.

  1. Kids love to see grown-ups being enthusiastic and excited. I explained to the kids that I love poetry. I love to read it. I love to write it. And I love to share it. I emphasized that I was NOT going to ask quiz questions after sharing the poems. I just wanted to share something Iím really crazy about. Period.
  2. Before I read each poem, I explained WHY I like the poem. (It might be because of the meter, the way the poem looks on the page, the story behind the poem, the images the poem gives me, itís fun to say aloud, or any number of reasons.) If my reason for liking the poem introduced a new concept to the kids, I took a brief moment to explain that concept. (For example: "The alliteration in this poem makes it fun to say out loud. Alliteration is where the sounds at the beginning of words are repeated. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers is a tongue twister because itís hard to say, but all those beginning "p" sounds are whatís called alliteration." The kids especially liked this example because they were familiar with Peter Piper and now they knew WHY it was so fun to say. They started looking for alliteration in other places afterwards.)
  3. Kids like to participate and contribute when they know they wonít be "scored" on their remarks. After each poem I shared, hands shot up into the air and I called on every child. Sometimes they wanted to say what THEY liked about the poem. Sometimes they asked questions. Sometimes they talked about something that didnít seem to have anything to do with the poem at all, but the point was, the poem triggered SOMETHING in them. When I didnít have TOO many hands in the air, I would ask the class, "What did that poem make you think about?" Almost every child would have an answer and nearly every answer was unique. Time and again this gave me the chance to point out one of the coolest things about poetry: since a poem often doesnít come right out and say EXACTLY what itís all about, the reader can bring his own ideas to the poem and take away something uniquely his own.
  4. Kids like to hear about your personal experiences. I told them Iíd been writing poems since I was six years old. I talked about contests Iíve won, places Iíve been published, opportunities Iíve had to share my work. I showed them certificates of award, rejection letters, and magazines where my work has appeared. I read them poems by people I know and told them about those people. I encouraged them to write their own poems, save copies of them forever, give them to friends and family members and teachers, and read lots of other peopleís poems.
  5. Kids can enjoy "grown-up" poems too. While a lot of the poems I shared were "poems for children", many were not. Before I read any poem, I would explain words the children might not be familiar with or contexts they might not pick up on. (For example: In England at the turn of the last century, many families had live-in nannies to raise the children. These nannies were "nurses" and the childrenís rooms "nurseries". A.A. Milne wrote stories and poems for his real life son, Christopher Robin, peopled with his "nurse", Alice, and his stuffed bear, Winnie the Pooh.)

 

Kids have a natural love of poetry. As adults, we can nurture and encourage this love in children. Following are some ways I found that worked. (Iíve listed some of the actual poems I shared, why I picked them, what I had to say about them, and how they were received.)

"To Any Reader" by Robert Louis Stevenson from A Childís Garden of Verses.

Robert Louis Stevenson was born over 150 years ago in Scotland. He wrote

several exciting books that you may have read or heard of or even seen made into movies like "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "Treasure Island" and he wrote this very famous collection of poems called a "Childís Garden of Verses" which was one of my favorite books when I was a child. I love this poem because it says to me that I can see what someone was seeing or hear what someone was hearing or feel what someone was feeling over a hundred years ago by reading the words that he wrote down.

Kids love having some background for a book, a story, a poem, or an author. They were fascinated to hear that people wrote cool stuff THAT long ago, that book writers can write poems too, that most movies were stories, books, or poems FIRST, and that if a book is really good, it will be published again and again so that you can buy a "new" book that was actually written a hundred years ago or more.

Pretty much anything by Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky.

I didnít know these poets when I was a kid, but now that Iíve had a son, Iíve discovered how fun they are.

I explained that Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky have each written tons of poetry books. Book stores and libraries have lots of great poetry books to check out. With such an emphasis in the schools on computerized fiction and non-fiction reading tests, some of the kids didnít realize that their libraries even have poetry books that are available to them! I explained that some poetry books are collections of poems by just one poet and some are anthologies or collections of poems by many different poets.

Poems by Douglas Florian including "Porcupine" from Mammalabilia, and Inchworm" and "Whirligig Beetles" from Insectlopedia

Douglas Florian is an artist and a poet. He painted the pictures in these books to illustrate the poems. These are shape poems. The words in a shape poem are put on the page so that they actually look like what the poem is about or so that they look like the way the subject of the poem moves.

After explaining what a shape poem is, I showed the painting for the poem, THEN showed the actual poem, THEN read the poem.

"The Wind" by Canaan Taylor in NCPS Award Winning Poems 2002

This poem was written by an elementary school student and won 2nd place in the NCPS Travis Tuck Jordan contest in 2002. Canaan got an award certificate, a copy of this cool book with the poem in it, and got to read the poem to a big crowd at the Awards Day Ceremony in Southern Pines, N.C. I like the poem

because itís a good metaphor. A metaphor is when you show how one thing is like another by saying it IS that other thing, not just that itís "like" the other thing. For example, if I say, "The sun is a big, orange flower", that flower is a metaphor for the sun. I donít mean that the sun has actually become a flower today. Iím just describing the sun as being big and orange the way a flower is.

The kids were excited to hear about another kid winning a contest, getting published, getting an award, etc. They really liked the whole concept of metaphors and started making up some of their own.

"Tornado" by Jamie Powell in NCPS Award Winning Poems 2002

Jamie was a middle school student who won 2nd place in the Frances W. Phillips contest in 2002. This poem is a metaphor AND a shape poem. The title and the shape of the poem give away the metaphor so Iím not going to say the title or show the poem to you until after Iíve read it. Weíll see if you can guess what the poem is ACTUALLY about. Iíll give you a hint, itís NOT about a lion. The lion is just the metaphor for what itís really about.

Hands shot up into the air. The kids were really excited that they could figure out what the poem was about without the poet actually saying it. They were delighted when I showed them the poem on the page and they could see that it did, in fact, look like a tornado.

"How To Eat A Poem" by Eve Merriam from A Childís Anthology of Poetry Edited by Elizabeth Hauge Sword

I love this poem because itís a metaphor and the descriptions are so TASTY!

There were LOTS of opinions as to what type of thing this metaphor actually was. The kids found it hilarious that they had so many different ideas about what Eve Merriam was trying to say. We agreed that she didnít mean eating the piece of paper the poem is written on and we came to the conclusion that it was okay if we didnít all agree on exactly what she was comparing the reading of a poem to. Itís okay if we each have a slightly different take on the poem.

"Buckingham Palace" by A.A. Milne in The Complete Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh

This was one of my favorite poems when I was a child and itís one of my sonís favorite poems. It was written by A.A. Milne who you know best as the guy who wrote the Winnie the Pooh stories. Mr. Milne enjoyed writing stories and poems to entertain his son, Christopher Robin. Many of the stories and poems had Christopher Robin as well as his friends in them. Winnie the Pooh was Christopher Robinís stuffed bear and the "Alice" youíll hear about in the poem was actually his "nurse" or nanny who lived with the family. This poem is about going to see the soldier/guards at Buckingham Palace in England where the King and Queen live. The great thing about this poem is the meter. Meter means the beat or rhythm of the poem. This poem has a marching beat that you can help me with by softly clapping your right hand then your left hand on your legs like youíre making the marching sounds of the Guards . Youíll hear a pause in the words at the end of each stanza (which is like a paragraph in a poem) and the marching will continue for a few beats till I end with "says Alice". Hereís what the poem looks like on the page. A.A. Milne showed us that he wanted us to pause the words but continue the beat by leaving this long space at the start of the last line in each stanza and by skipping a big space between stanzas. See if you can keep the same beat or meter with me while I read and see if you can hear the soldiers marching.

This was by far the kidsí favorite poem of all the poems I shared. They hounded me day after day to do it again. We ended up doing it together several times. Kids LOVE the fun flow of poetry naturally and they were excited to have it identified as METER and to now know to look for METER as a reason they might like other poems as well. Iíve copied the first stanza of the poem below with bold print to indicate where we slapped our legs to mark the meter. I got the kids going with the steady rhythm for several beats before beginning the poem.

(clap) (clap) (clap) (clap)

Theyíre changing guards at Buckingham Palace-

Christopher Robin went down with Alice.

Alice is marrying one of the guard.

"A soldierís life is terrible hard,"

(clap) (clap) (clap) Says Alice.

(clap) (clap) (clap) (clap)

Theyíre changing guardsÖ.. and so on.

I clapped four times between each stanza to keep the same meter going. The kids loved "helping" me keep the meter of this poem and they loved anticipating when Iíd say "Says Alice" and when Iíd start the next stanza.

 

 

"Weíre Loudies" by Jack Prelutsky from A Pizza the Size of the Sun

I like this poem for several reasons. Itís a fun poem to read out loud because itís about being LOUD so Iím going to read it LOUDLY. Jack Prelutsky shows us where to be especially loud by writing the loud words larger than the rest and in bold print (darker writing). Also, he uses repetition which means repeating and itís always fun to repeat yourself. Itís always fun to repeat yourself. Repetition in poetry can help make a point sink in or it can make the poem flow nicely, like a song. This poem also uses a lot of alliteration and alliteration is one of my favorite poetic devices. Alliteration is the repetition (repeating) of the same beginning sounds in different words, like the "p" sound in Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers.

The kids enjoyed my yelling this whole poem. Afterwards, they were anxious to point out the repetition and alliteration they had heard.

"I Sailed on Half a Ship" by Jack Prelutsky from A Pizza the Size of the Sky

I love this poem because it has a lot of repetition, the meter is fun, and the rhyme scheme is interesting. Not all poems rhyme, but for the ones that do, there are LOTS of different WAYS that they can rhyme. Some poems rhyme at the end of every line, some rhyme every other line, some poems have INTERNAL rhyme which means there are words in the middle of some of the lines that rhyme. When you find poems that you like, see if you can figure out the rhyme scheme. The MAIN thing I like about this poem though, is that it got better AFTER I read it the first time. On the first reading, it seems like a nonsense poem but after I read it a few times, I found its secret. If you take something away from the poem, it actually makes sense! Iíll read it the way itís written and see if you can figure out what we can take away to make it make sense.

After I read the poem, there were a few ideas about the "secret" but nobody hit on it exactly so I told the kids if they had time in the next week or so, they could look at the poem in the book and see if they could figure it out. By the next day, it was driving the kids nuts so I gave it away and told them if you take the word "half" away from the poem, it all makes sense. I read the poem without the "half"s and everyone was immensely satisfied. Iíve written the first part of the first stanza below to give you an idea how this worked.

I sailed on half a ship

On half the seven seas,

Propelled by half a sail

That blew in half a breeze.

The next day I shared a poem I had written called "I Only Took a Half a Look". I explained to the kids that I actually saw what I describe in the poem on the way home from school the day before and I was inspired by Jack Prelutskyís poem. I challenged the kids to listen to my poem and see if they could figure out what I saw.

Hereís the poem:

I Only Took a Half a Look by Caren Stuart

It was just a half a day ago,

I saw a half a house, you know,

from just a half a mile away.

I had a half a mind to say-

out loud, "I see a half a house!

In half a parking lot!"

I wondered why a half a house

was there and half was not.

But then I saw that half a house

was on a half a set of wheels

and on the side it said WIDE LOAD.

What things a second look reveals!

It only took the kids a few "off" guesses before they figured out that I was describing a half of a modular home or mobile home on wheels parked in a parking lot. I explained how one of the fun things about poetry is that a lot of times, the poet doesnít tell you EXACTLY what he or she is talking about and you get to figure it out on your own. The kids were excited to hear a poem that I (someone they now knew) had written. They were tickled that I wrote it as a result of reading a poem by someone else (which they had all heard the day before) and they liked the fact that it was about something I had actually seen after leaving school the day before. They were excited to realize that theyíd just heard a poem about something which they too had seen.

Haiku Moment An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku edited by Bruce Ross is an excellent source for a variety of modern haiku

The kids surprised me with their enthusiasm for haiku. I explained haiku simply: as a type of poetry that has a lot of rules but basically, itís a VERY short poem that deals with some aspect of nature or human nature and it doesnít have a title. Naturally, the kids all wanted to come up with titles for the haiku I shared. And everyone wanted to tell "what the poem made me think about". VERY interesting. The kids were amazed that such a short work could make so many people think of so many different things. I was also amazed, and took the opportunity again to emphasize that since poems often donít say EXACTLY what they mean, the reader gets to bring his own interpretation to the poem. As it turned out, the haiku were VERY popular with the class. The kids were VERY excited to be able to translate so few words into such big personal associations.

 

 

 

The time I spent sharing poems with second graders could NOT have been better spent. My own enthusiasm for poetry multiplied after experiencing the enthusiasm of the children.

If you love poetry, share your love with some young people.

I hope this inspires you.

You can inspire others.

Caren Stuart