I love poetry. Love it. I have Emily Dickinson and Carl Sandburg as bookends on my living room table. The teenager me kept a journal is full of collected poems: Maya and E.E. I memorized Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? and felt very proud of myself.
So no one found it more surprising than me that when I started teaching, I avoided poetry like the plague. I loved poetry, but I had no idea how I would go about teaching it, or, even scarier, get my students to write it. I was sure of a few things when I thought about introducing poetry to my class. First, they would never get it. I could just picture the cloudy expressions and kids whispering, “Whatttt?” And, boys. Forget about it. They would hate it; I just knew it. How could my fourth grade boys who were only interested in sports and video games possibly want to know how fog and little cat feet were a good comparison?
Fortunately, the online educational community I am a part of was saying just the opposite. As April neared, more and more Twitter chats were devoted to poetry (I had nothing to tweet). Post after post on my favorite blogs were success stories of poetry reading and writing (I was starting to feel left out). And I started to realize that there should be a place for poetry in my classroom (Only took me 12 years).
It is now the first of May, and I am happy to report that our notebooks are bursting with poems and poem ideas. After reading and analyzing a few of my favorites, like To a Daughter Leaving Home and ones recommended to me on Twitter, like Foul Shot, we jumped into writing some of our own.
Our first big project was a pair of poems related to our shared reading. While reading Gorillas by Seymour Simon, students collected words and phrases about Silverbacks which they then arranged into free-verse poetry. After that, they did the same type of work while listening to our current read aloud The One and Only Ivan. I loved the idea of the contrasting poems side by side about wild Silverbacks and Ivan, a Silverback in captivity. I would love to explore this pairing of nonfiction and narrative-inspired poetry more, possibly working it into my science or social studies centers.
Following that project, we devoted our attention to writing friendship poetry. I shared a poem that I wrote for a friend on my blog, and decided to share it with my students as well. In my poem, I made comparisons between food and friends. I invited my students to think of topics they could use for the theme of their poems. Some students compared friends to elements in nature, while others wrote that friends were like books or even video games. This work proved to be a little trickier for some students, especially when I asked them to follow the format of my poem: three stanzas with five lines each. In the end, I found that almost everyone wanted to share their friendship poems aloud, and many beamed with a pride I hadn’t seen all year during writing. We share some of our poems below.
Even though April is over and state assessments are looming, we are continuing our poetry reading and writing next week using William Carlos William’s This is Just to Say. I am excited to see what creative and funny false apology poems my students will compose, and I will be sharing more of our writing in an upcoming post.
A world of thanks to my colleague Renee who has been trying to reform my poetry avoidance for years. And to all of the wonderful teachers, poets, and bloggers who inspired me with your tweets, articles, and poetry: I thank you for leading me back to the words that I loved all along.