by Toni Czekanski, Intermediate/Middle Trainer
How do we understand a genre or form of writing? By reading it! These days genre study is a part of just about every reading and writing workshop, but what about poetry? Does it have to wait for a special time of year (poetry month) or be slotted in between short stories and feature articles? Why not consider making poetry a part of your reading and writing workshops all year long – every week?
Here’s how it might look: First, find as many poetry anthologies as you can put your hands on…look in your own classroom, the school library, and your town library. Then introduce your students to them…read a few poems every day, put the anthologies around the classroom…invite students to browse through them during reading workshop. Take a few days just to get to know what poetry looks like. Then, as your students become more familiar with the texts, ask them to select one or two poems that they really like…poems that speak to them in some way: they like the way they look, they relate to what they say, they love the rhythm or rhyme of them.
Students can share these poems by reading them aloud to one another, and even take time to copy them into their own personal poetry collections. Make some blank books for them, ask them to copy the poem exactly as it appears, and then put art materials around the room so that students can decorate the page with colors, patterns, or illustrations. Watercolors, markers, crayons, and colored pencils all work well to add color and form to the page. What a wonderful way to spend a poetry workshop! Guiding Readers and Writers: Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy (2001) by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell describes the four stages for getting started with poetry workshop on page 417. Check this page out to help you think about how to begin.
Once students have copied the poems into their books, they might practice reading them aloud, either alone or working with a partner or small group to prepare them for public reading. This can take place in front of the whole class or in small groups. Poetry is meant to be read aloud…students can sign up to perform their poems at different times during the day, or at the beginning of poetry workshop time (this replaces reading or writing workshop once a week, or once every other week). Remember, they are still reading! As they read more and more poems they begin to understand how poems work, and get exposed to the many forms that poetry takes – and will soon begin writing poetry of their own (see our next blog entry).
There are several books that are helpful in getting started with reading poetry. One of my favorites is Wham! It’s a Poetry Jam Discovering Performance Poetry (2002) by Sara Holbrook. This book contains some great poems for sharing, and gives easy to follow directions for reading poems with partners, in groups, or alone. But don’t be limited to the poems in this book – any poem can be performed. Think about setting up time for your students to meet with partners or small groups so that they can practice reading the poems they have chosen…no need to memorize them. After they are comfortable with how their voices sound, ask them to think about what their bodies might be doing to add to the meaning of the poem…will they face their audience and maintain eye contact, or turn their backs? Will they move around the room, stand, or sit? What will help bring the message home? Using just their voices and bodies is enough. Remember this is not a play, it’s a poetry reading.
The next step is noticing how poetry works, naming what they notice, and taking the first steps to writing poetry of their own. In the next blog entry we will talk about how to get started with writing poetry. But first, enjoy some time reading poetry with your students and encouraging performance. It opens doors to understanding, connects with ideas and themes, and leads shared reading experiences! The more time they spend reading poems, the better they will understand how it works. If you have let poetry workshop slip away, because of other curricular demands, take this opportunity at the beginning of the year to invite your students to a wonderful world of enjoyment. Get started with poetry workshop – forty-five minutes a week will help them become better readers and writers…just wait!
Part Two of Toni’s poetry workshop blog post will be posted next week!
Fountas, I.C & Pinnell, G.S. (2001). Guiding readers and writers: Teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Holbrook, S. (2002). Wham! It’s a poetry jam: Discovering performance poetry. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong: Boyds Mills Press, Inc.