For Lower Elementary Students
Regardless of their experience with poetry, remind students of a few “big ideas.” Explain to them that:
- Poems take a look at ordinary things in a fresh, new way.
- They can tell a story or capture a feeling with very few words.
- Sometimes they rhyme, but they do not have to.
- Poets sometimes write or gather a number of different poems all related to the same important topic.
A fun type of poem for your youngest students is the concept or definition poem. Color is certainly a concept that young learners can understand: Show Mary O’Neill’s classic book Hailstones and Halibut Bones. Ask a few students to share their favorite color. On chart paper, record ideas from the group about what they think of when they think of the color words listed. Read O’Neill’s selections about the same colors your students chose.
Over several days, share all of the poems in O’Neill’s book. Gradually point out that O’Neill not only includes images of things that display the color but feelings and emotions that might be represented by a particular color.
After each color poem, check your brainstormed list. Were any of the student’s ideas the same as O’Neill’s? Did she generate more or fewer ideas than the students? Do some of the students’ ideas explain the concept (give a mental picture) better than others? Why?
After finishing Hailstones and Halibut Bones, read Joyce Sidman’s Red Sings from Treetops: a Year in Colors. This book is a contemporary look at color with updated illustrations that today’s students will enjoy. Sidman explores the concept of color in different seasons and through four of our five senses.
To use O’Neill’s work as a model, challenge students to pick a color and generate a list of images and feelings for it. Tell them not to worry about rhyming. Create a simple template. Begin with the question “What is ____(color)?” Put lines below for a simple list of phrases. Compile a class book with each contribution.
Similarly, with the same type of template, you can create class poems or individual poems to explain other topics or ideas, perhaps related to your curriculum. Begin with “What is ______?” (springtime, the sun, a community, money, family, etc.) Create your list. End with “That’s what ____ is!”
To use Sidman’s work as a model, have the class decide on a color, then split the class into four groups—one for each season. Work cooperatively to generate a poem to be shared (and compared) with the other groups’ poems.
Fisher, Aileen. The Story Goes On. ISBN: 1-59643-037-0.
This picture book is one longer poem about a topic often studied and familiar to many young learners—the cycle of life. Colorful, childlike illustrations and an engaging text drive home the points that poets look at things with fresh eyes and that poems are about things that matter.
George, Kristine O’Connell. Fold Me a Poem. ISBN: 978-1-415-59322-6
This is an interesting collection of poems all about animals created with origami paper. They provide great examples of poems that tell a simple story with just a few well-chosen words. Be prepared to provide origami paper and simple instructions for students to create with origami afterward!
Gilchrist, Jan Spivey. My America. ISBN: 978-0-06-079105-6
This short, illustrated poem is a celebration of place. Read it and discuss the poet’s big idea. Use it as a template for students to write their own poems that celebrate their community, state, or country of origin.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. You Read to me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short stories to Read Together. ISBN: 0-316-36350-2
This is the first in a series of several books that Hoberman created for two voices, especially for beginning readers. Verses are color-coded so they are easily followed, with a third color for verses done in unison. Students will easily relate to the topics and feelings and experiences of the poems, and the rhyming pattern helps make the text accessible. Fun to perform for others! Consider pairs of students sharing during April over the intercom as part of daily announcements, or as a podcast on your classroom webpage.
O’Neill, Mary. Hailstones and Halibut Bones: adventures in Color. ISBN: 0-385-24485-1
Scieszka, Jon. Truckery Rhymes. ISBN: 978-1-4169-4135-4
If you think students no longer know or appreciate Mother Goose rhymes, this book will help! Scieszka takes classic nursery rhymes, songs, and tales and breathes new life into them with a truck theme that will engage even your toughest poetry critics. A few titles include Peter, Peter, Payload Eater, Little Dan Dumper, and Rock-a-bye Mixer. Great fun!
Sidman, Joyce. Red Sings from Treetops: a Year in Colors. ISBN: 0-547-01494-5.
For middle elementary students