Do you provide opportunities for your students to engage in poetry activities, so they can gain an appreciation and understanding of the genre? April is National Poetry Month, which reminds teachers of how important it is to read, discuss, write, memorize, and recite poems, not for a month, but throughout the year. Furthermore, children learn the structures and patterns of poems. Like books, poems help them to understand the world around them.
I wanted to include poetry lessons for first grade, but I felt frustrated. Moreover, I didn’t know how to engage the students in poetry. Some of our reading anthology books ended with a poetry unit, but with limited time, I looked at those units as “extras” and skipped them. Have you had the same frustrations?
I searched for fun and simple ways to engage my students in poetry activities. Consequently, I found inspiration from my friend, Jane. She loves poetry, is a talented artist, avid reader, and has been a school librarian. I interviewed her to find out how she became interested in reading poetry, in the hopes that she could help me with any ideas for how to get children interested in poetry.
Interview About Poetry
“Just you and me, Little Poem, mí amigo.”J. Johnson
Jane artfully wrote this poem at the top of her responses to my interview questions. This interview informed and inspired me. I hope you’ll find the information useful and it inspires you, too!
Questions and Answers
I first started reading poetry in high school. I had a job at a small restaurant, and on my breaks, I would go into the small independent bookstore up the street, and peruse the poetry section. I discovered e.e. cummings, and fell in love! I bought every paperback book of his poetry with my tips. Then I started reading Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. Poetry became an open door to other academic subjects, and I began to develop intellectual confidence. In addition, I was artsy, so I began putting poems in my collages. Poetry and art became lifelines to me in the time of adolescent uncertainty.
I think children will be open to poetry as soon as they are exposed to it. My suggestion is to start reading poems to children when they are babies! Read the same poems to them over and over, so the rhythms and rhymes become familiar. Then poetry becomes comfortable for them before they can intellectually fear it.
I read both fun and classic poems to the students I work with. I want them to be exposed to both forms. For fun, I read Douglas Florian, Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and Bobbi Katz. The classic poets I choose are Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Rita Dove for starters.
I hold 2 events during National Poetry Month for students in our library.
First, Poetry Café, in which students memorize a poem as their ticket to attend the Poetry Café. I decorate the library up to look like a café, and I have volunteers who listen to the students recite their poems. It’s a magical day.
The 2nd event is “National Poem in Your Pocket Day.” This is a national celebration of poetry that simply asks each person to carry a poem around and share it that day. I print up age-appropriate poems on bright colored paper for all students and staff and pass them out that day. We read them to each other, and encourage the students to take the poems home and read them to their families. This year the date was April 26th. The students love this event, and many come in asking for additional copies of a poem that one of their classmates read to them. The whole point of the event is to read poetry, so this exposes the students to more poetry. I have plenty of extra copies available, and I love their enthusiasm!
Finally, I’ll share a few of my all time favorite poems for children:
First the rain came down to soak us,
And now, before the eye can focus,
Oh dear, this poem is very weak,
It can hardly stand up straight.
Which comes from eating junk food,
And going to bed too late.R. McGough
“Stay!” said the child.
The bird said, “No,
My wing has mended, I must go.
I shall come back to see you though,
One day.”N. Lewis
You can see how Jane incorporates art with poetry at Nomadic Notebook: Jane-Art. Similarly, your students can create paper collages and add poems for a creative art activity.
3 fun and simple ways for engaging your students in poetry activities:
The interview motivated me to try these fun and simple ideas to engage my students in poetry activities, so I could strengthen their poetry skills. You can try them, too! They’re easy to implement.
1. Read poetry to your students throughout the school year.
Read poetry, so your students become familiar with the structures and patterns of the genre. You can start with these poetry books for kids.
Poetry Books for Kids List
- The New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelutsky
- Poetry for Kids: Robert Frost by Robert Frost
- National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry compiled by J. Patrick Lewis
- Giant Children by Brod Bagert
- A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis
- Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart by Mary Ann Hoberman
- One Leaf Rides the Wind by Celeste Mannis
- Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems by Paul B. Janeczko
- Poems Out Loud! First Poems to Read and Perform by Laurie Stansfield
After, I read poems regularly to my students, they asked the librarian, “Where can I find the Shel Silverstein books?” Do you have funny poem books?” “Where can I find the poem books?” Most importantly, my students started to check out poetry books out of the library.
Firstly, I found that poems can be read at any time of the day, therefore, it’s easy to integrate poetry into your curriculum. Secondly, begin simply. Read poems for a few minutes each day – when class starts, after lunch and recess, and at the end of the day. After that, continue to read poems throughout the school year. I began with fun and funny poems for kids. Laugh-eteria: Poems and Drawings by Douglas Florian became a class favorite.
Consequently, students asked me to read poems when we had extra time as the year progressed. Further, I added a “Poetry Books” section to our class library with a special basket of poetry books I had read to the class. The children giggled as they reread Laugh-eteria with partners. A sure sign that they enjoyed the book.
2. Poetry Café Activity
Set the room up like a café, so you can engage your students in a simple and fun way. Arrange the classroom as plain or as elaborate as you want. First, cover the desks or tables with tablecloths. Then, include a menu of poetry readings. After, place a centerpiece at each table. For example, I used red and white checked tablecloths and placed flower pots on each table. Have students recite or read their poems in front of the class. It’s helpful to use a microphone, so all students can hear the readings. Above all, have fun as you celebrate poetry in the classroom.
Expand the Poetry Café Activity:
- Invite parents to the readings.
- Compile the poems into a booklet to give to parents. Keep a copy to place in your classroom library.
- Do the activity as a grade level. Students can listen to children in other classrooms read their poems.
Use Emily Writes by Jane Yolen to encourage your students to write their own poems. The author describes Emily Dickinson’s early attempts to find words that rhyme and how she used nature and everyday things she encountered for her inspiration. Similarly, your students can use their own experiences for inspiration.
3. Celebrate A Poem in Your Pocket Day
People usually celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day the third week in April, but you can pick any day for this activity. Have your students write poems and/or use poems written by well-known authors. Give your students opportunities to practice reading the poems, so they feel confident as a reader of their poem. During Poem in Your Pocket Day, students carry the poems around in their pockets, so they can read the poems to as many people as they can throughout the day – family, friends, classmates, and school staff. As a result, it’s a fun day of promoting an appreciation of poetry in a simple and engaging manner.
Introduce Poem in Your Pocket Day with the book, A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara. Mr. Tiffin’s class prepares for Poem in Your Pocket Day with an author visit. Afterwards, his class reads and writes different kinds of poems. “Messy business” is how the poet author describes the process of writing poems, so students can relate to the unpolished process of poetry writing. Most importantly, the book helps the children understand the significance of the day.
Poem in Your Pocket Day Extension Activities
- Older students can read their poems to younger students.
- Encourage the school staff to keep poems in their pockets to read to students.
- You may even want students to memorize and recite their poems.
To sum up, children love this poetry celebration. For instance, I had one student continue to bring his poem in his pocket each day and proudly read his poem to classmates on the playground.
In addition, if you want some printables to use, Poetry and Poem in Your Pocket Day has poetry lesson plans, templates, and writing paper for kids to help you celebrate the day.
To sum up, any one of these 3 fun and simple ways for engaging your students in poetry activities will peak your students’ interest and appreciation of poetry:
- Read poetry books throughout the year.
- Set up a poetry café.
- Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day.
After I used these poetry activities, I no longer felt frustrated when it came to engaging my students in poetry. I hope these activities inspire you to read and write poetry throughout the school year with your students.