Thursday, January 7, 2016

Kicking off our poetry studies...

When I grew up, poetry was all about rhymes, and rules, and patterns.  I remember writing couplets.  And cinquains.  And all sorts of other "rule" poems where the pattern was more important than the message.  Times have changed in my world--and although we READ a million types of poems in my class, we really focus on free verse writing--where we try to capture topics we feel passionately about and express them in a way that helps us make our reader "feel" too. Throughout the unit, we try to "dig deep" into our own thoughts and feelings as well as the thoughts, feelings, and messages of other poetry we explore.

To launch our unit, we begin by having a discussion about where poets get their ideas--and I have to say, I am always flabbergasted by the depth of some of my students' thinking.  We first worked in pairs to do some thinking, then came back and shared out in the whole group.  I jotted everyone's ideas down on the easel and then we consolidated, elaborated, and discussed our ideas.  Check out this amazing list that resulted from our brainstorming.  Pretty impressive, right?

I mean..."Poet sometimes write about their passions, Mrs. A--so others can feel what it is to love something so much."  Ummmm...really?  You are 9.  You know this?


"Sometimes poets might be inspired by something they read or hear."  Inspired?  I asked him to explain what he meant by "inspired" and he explained it so eloquently that there was no need for me to say another word.


"Sometimes poets might want to write about their feelings so they don't keep them inside."


"When you write about your wishes and dreams, it's a way to remember them."

So--needless to say--I was pretty impressed and felt like we were off to a pretty amazing start.  #happiness

So our next lesson involve talking about how to "study" a poem so that we really understand it at a level that is respectful of the time and energy the poet put into writing it.  We talked about how many poets (not all) try to capture their feelings or ideas in very few words--so sometimes we, as readers, need to work a little harder to uncover the meaning.  This is the chart I use with my students.  The ideas are a combination of my own and some other reading I have done about poetry over the years. kick things off, I selected a poem I have used in the past because, at first glance, it seems like a poem about a little girl learning to roller skate.  I ask the students to read it to themselves and--as the first bullet point on our anchor chart suggests--read it several times.  I printed off the poem and glued it to the middle of a piece of chart paper, ready for action!
I kept the anchor chart handy and as we discussed, and I recorded our thinking on the "poem page"...I drew arrows and annotated ideas as we went.  We started adding highlighter to text we wanted to focus on...and the discussions built.  When you start to hear your students making observations like:

"This must be in a city like New York because small towns wouldn't have a 74th Street."


"At first I thought it was weird how we never learned the girl's name--but now I'm thinking that maybe the poet just saw this happen and didn't even know the girl."

which was followed by...

"I think the poet saw this happened and was inspired by the fact that the girl never gave up and had a growth mindset even though she kept getting hurt."

And the discussions continued.  We turned and talked...we debated...we asked questions...and after a while I had a few more things to point out that no one had noticed...
 It took a little prompting...but look what happens when I started highlighting the first words of some of the lines!  The students started going crazy!  We had a little lesson on verbs--and then talked about WHY a poet might do this...
 By the time we were finished, we definitely had decided that this was NOT a poem about a girl learning to roller skate--it was much, much more.  And that, after all, is what we are going for--readers that think.
I'd love to hear your thoughts if you try this lesson--and I even have a little freebie in my store to help you out if you want--with another poem to use...


  1. What a great blog! I would love to see an entire poetry unit that encompasses "deeper thinking", CLOSE readings, along with poems that are 4th grade appropriate...just a hint...
    But then may have already created it and I just haven't found it?
    Thanks for the freebie too! Love your stuff

  2. I love your lessons. I am planning a poetry reading unit to go with my poetry writing unit and this is helpful!!