A Poem for Every Reader, A Muse for Every Poet

Poetic form is taught throughout most elementary schools and often takes the shape of students writing a collection of poems, with each poem following a different structure and assigned on a different day of the week or month. This focus on poetry often happens in April, National Poetry Month. In my experience, poetry is rarely taught as a selected form of writing; rather, it is relegated to a confined unit of study.

You may have guessed where I’m going with this.

Poetry is a way to express observation, emotion and imagination. And the act of writing poetry requires skill and selection and reduction. This goes far beyond following meter or rhyme scheme. What words are on the page, how they are placed and how often they appear all contribute to what the poet is trying to express or make the reader feel. And these choices are made by the poet for personal reasons, much like the way we should encourage our students to write poetry.

This month, my goal is to provide you and your students with multiple entry points to poetry so that you can discover together the way you connect most closely with poetry. Try out a couple of the ideas listed below and save time to reflect with your students, talking about what they noticed by participating in the activity, what they liked and what they might prefer to do differently. Encourage students to set a goal of identifying at least one poem they connect with this month, something they could share with others.

On that note, let’s explore ways to connect you and your students to poetry.

30 Ways to Celebrate

Poets.org is a fantastic resource for both adults and kids who have an interest in poetry. Their “30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month” is an excellent resource for jumpstarting your April poetry celebrations. Some of the ideas are highlighted below, but others to note are:

  • Challenging students to memorize a poem
  • Playing “exquisite corpse with a group of students
  • Requesting and displaying a free copy of the National Poetry Month poster
  • Chalking poems on the school sidewalks or in strategic places on the playground blacktop

Teach This Poem

Teach This Poem is a weekly series shared through email by Poets.org for teachers of students in grades K–12. The project is curated by Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, the Educator in Residence at Poets.org, and it is completely free. I find the weekly themes to be especially appealing, which include focuses on ancestry, gratitude, identity, mourning, sports and weather, among many other topics. The forms discussed are also ones I don’t often see being shared with learners, including cento, tanka and triolet. Dr. Holzer also provides background on the poetic school or movement from which poem examples appear. It’s a great resource and I find that I learn something new alongside my students.

Poem-a-day

Participating in a Poem-a-day is one of the easiest ways to introduce readers to a wide variety of poems, poets and forms in an easy-to-digest approach. Poets.org has a wide collection of poems for kids that you can access by theme here. You can also check out an anthology of poems at your local library or bookstore. You’ll find other resources online, but one creative approach might be to have your students keep a weekly poetry journal throughout the year. You can then have one student each day read a poem he or she wrote that week. Doing so will not only give everyone a chance to share their own poems but also an opportunity to hear one another grow and develop as poets throughout the year.

Poetry in the Classroom Calendar

The Poetry in the Classroom Calendar from Poets.org is impressive. Each month includes birth dates and selected poems from renowned poets as well as poems that compliment a selected national theme, such as Black History Month, letter writing, and Asian/Pacific American Heritage. The interactive calendar also links to lesson plans and resources for further exploration. It’s a great way to plan ahead and ensure that poetry is included in your weekly lessons.

Novels in Verse

Have your students discovered novels in verse yet? I find the reaction can be similar to that of a student first discovering and falling in love with the graphic novel format. Reluctant readers are often accustomed to the way a novel typically “looks,” so when a story breaks form and can be read in a form or at a pace different from one a student is used to, it can be freeing. I personally love witnessing students read more expressively and confidently when reading a novel in verse over a traditionally formatted novel. Plus, it feels good to fly through the pages and feel a sense of accomplishment after reading for even just 15 minutes.

Here are three recent novels in verse that are perfect for reading aloud to a class or for students to enjoy independently.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
by Laura Shovan

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Alexander’s Newbery-winning novel in verse about 12-year-old twins Josh and Jordan, their time on the basketball court, and the impact of the game on their family and their family on the game is widely loved and easy to read and reread. If this is your first time reading the novel or sharing it with students, definitely don’t miss hearing Kwame read an excerpt of his story and share the one special word he chose and the impact it had on his characters.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

Each of the eighteen students in Ms. Hill’s 5th grade class take turns speaking out about what the impending close of their school means to them. Eighteen voices speak perspective and relationships, humor and insight as the school year’s end draws closer and their work to save a school unites them in a way like no other.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

Grimes takes us through contemporary issues while paying respect to the Harlem Renaissance in original poems as well as works from renowned poets of the Harlem Renaissance. The novel includes original artwork by some of today’s most respected African American illustrators, and the impact of the book’s format and voice is lasting.

Novels in verse are gaining popularity and our readers now have more books than ever in the format to enjoy. Here are over 500 popular novels in verse as curated by the users of Goodreads.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

From the folks at Poets.org, “On Poem in Your Pocket Day, celebrated during April each year, we encourage you to select a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others throughout the day at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks and workplaces.” Make a display with copies of several poems that students in your class or library have selected. Encourage students to select a favorite poem, write a poem of their own or borrow a poem from the display to share whenever someone asks, “Do you have a poem in your pocket today?” It’s super easy to do and it gets kids talking about poetry throughout the day. There’s even a cute song by Emily Arrow that you can learn and share!

There are lesson plans available for grades K–12 through Poets.org to help you and your students connect with poetry throughout the year. And of course there are tons of websites and other online resources and apps devoted to reading, writing and sharing poetry. With so many great entry points for connecting with and celebrating poetry, I cannot wait to hear about all you do with your students!

Connect With Us Online

What poems or poets do you plan to share with your students? Are you already incorporating poetry into your instruction? Be sure to let us know in the comments below or by connecting with us on Twitter at @MatthewWinner and @demco. We’d love to cheer you on as you support your students in learning about and celebrating poetry in April and throughout the year!

Author

Matthew Winner

Matthew Winner

Library Media Specialist and Host of The Children’s Book Podcast
Matthew Winner is an elementary school librarian in Howard County, Maryland. He is the host of The Children's Book Podcast (formerly All The Wonders), a weekly podcast featuring insightful and sincere interviews with authors, illustrators and everyone involved in taking a book from drawing board to bookshelf. He is the author of Asha Went Walking, a webcomic for young readers illustrated by Lorian Tu-Dean, about a girl, her arctic fox companion and her magic bag. In 2013, Matthew was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker and was invited to the White House as part of the Champions of Change program. Visit Matthew online at www.matthewcwinner.com/blog or on Twitter at @MatthewWinner.