For Middle Elementary Students
Middle elementary students often have had a lot of practice looking for text-to-self connections in their reading. They are ready to hear lots of poetry that they can relate to their own experiences, and perhaps try experimenting with one or two simple poetic forms. They also love humor, and lots of it!
Jack Prelutsky’s Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme is a great choice to begin a unit of study around poetry. In it Prelutsky shares several poems by different poets on a common topic—dogs, food, birthdays, bugs, friends, etc. Styles vary, and many are funny. In addition, Prelutsky provides what he calls a “poemstart” for each topic. He begins a poem on the topic but leaves room at the end for students to finish it. Sidebars provide tips and suggestions about how students might proceed.
Ask students to generate a list of things that they might write poems about. Remind them that writers and poets write about what they know. Share a number of the sections of Prelutsky’s book. Do any of Prelutsky’s topics appear on the student-generated lists?
Ask students to listen to several clusters of poems and think about what the poems have in common.
Ask students what they noticed about the poems.
Introduce the “poemstarts.” Solicit suggestions for finishing one or two as a whole class. Then challenge students to complete one on their own. The “poemstarts” can provide writing prompts for several days in a row, either as part of your Morning Message or Writer’s Workshop time.
Continuing the Study
Immerse your students in lots of poetry throughout the month. Put baskets of poetry books and anthologies in your classroom library and encourage students to read them during independent reading time.
Some things for them to think about:
- The placement of words on the page
- The use of white space
- Voices used (who is the narrator?)
- The use of rhyme (Is it used or not? What effect does that have on the poem?)
- Do they prefer poems that are illustrated, or do they prefer to create images themselves in their mind?
Use the suggested titles below to build mini-lessons around particular techniques used by poets, and to encourage experimentation during writing time. Help for trying out different poetic forms (limerick, cinquain, etc.) is available here. A number of fill-in-the-blank templates for a variety of poems are available here.
Cyrus, Kurt. Hotel Deep: Light Verse from Dark Water. ISBN: 0-15-216771-4
Clearly, Cyrus has lots of knowledge about the sea and its creatures. Remind students to tap into their prior knowledge and expertise when deciding upon topics for their own poems. This book is beautifully illustrated and Cyrus has lots of fun with the placement of words on the page. Many become a part of swirling, whirling, currents or the hide-and-seek landscape of the ocean.
Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. ISBN: 0-06-021852-5
Students who may be familiar with Hoberman’s You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You series will enjoy this volume. Each poem about a particular insect is written for two voices. Solo parts are arranged in columns, and words that appear in both columns are to be read in unison. It takes practice to get used to the format, but the poems make lovely performance pieces if you have students motivated to practice.
Fletcher, Ralph. Moving Day. ISBN: 978-1-59078-339-9.
Many students have had the experience of moving to a new place. In this collection, Fletcher covers so many of the feelings children experience around moving, and there’s lots to discuss here. The book is also a great example of how one broad topic—“moving” can be used to generate lots of different poems. Fletcher covers boxes, cleaning, bubble wrap, selling the house, defrosting the freezer, good-byes, etc. This is a great mentor text for students who get “stuck” on always writing about the same thing. Encourage them to find all the small moments and different parts of the thing they like to write about so often.
Good books, Good Times! (selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins). ISBN: 0-329-15966-6
This book is a celebration of books and reading. Read one or two during April just before Reader’s Workshop or silent reading. Written by many poets, it may spark interest in a class anthology of poems. What is one thing the students could all get excited about and contribute a poem about it? Science? Physical education? Art? The class pet? School traditions?
Graham, Joan Bransfield. Flicker Flash. ISBN: 978-0-329-33103-0
Use this book and the one below for fun with shape poems or concrete poetry. Each poem is so different, and Graham is a master at the placement of words on the page to suggest the shape of what the poem is about. This is a fun one to share together as a whole group, or during partner reading. Great for kids who are visual thinkers.
Afterwards, students can try creating some of their own. For those who need more support try the shape poem generator at ReadWriteThink.org.
Graham, Joan Bransfield. Splish Splash. ISBN: 0-590-69173-2
Hines, Anna Grossnickle. Pieces: a Year in Poems and Quilts. ISBN: 0-688-16964-3
Poems about the seasons of the year with visually stunning quilts as illustrations.
Lewis, J. Patrick. A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme. ISBN: 0-8037-2579-5
Latitude and longitude, the Poles, Magellan, Aurora Borealis, etc. are “explored” through Lewis’s poetry. Each poem has a different style, and many have an interesting format. Lots of connections to social studies here. Grab a globe, or go to Google Earth and have some fun researching places to write poems about!
The Place my Words are Looking For: What Poets Say about and Through their Work (selected by Paul B. Janeczko). ISBN: 0-02-747671-5
Thirty-nine amazing poets have some of their work represented here. Besides some excellent examples of poetry for your students, the book also gives a glimpse into the process poets use. Each poet reflects in a few paragraphs about their writing, or the back story of the poem that’s represented.
Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme (selected by Jack Prelutsky). ISBN: 0-375-82286-0
Singer, Marilyn. Fireflies at Midnight. ISBN: 0-689-82492-0
This is an excellent collection of poems about animals. Each is uniquely suited to the animal. Use over a period of days with mini-lessons built around how each poem was crafted.
Turner, Ann. Mississippi Mud: three Prairie Journals. ISBN: 0-06-024432-1
Told from the perspective of three different children, this series of poems chronicles one family’s move out West in pioneer times. It’s another great example of the many small moments that can be captured around one general topic.