Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Writing Poetry Like Pros

Created October 7, 2010

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Writing Poetry Like Pros

"I taught reading poetry and writing poetry as one subject. I brought them together by means of 'poetry ideas,' which were suggestions I would give to the children for writing poems of their own in some way like the poems they were studying. We would read the adult poem in class, discuss it, and then they would write. Afterward, they or I would read aloud the poems they had written.

"When we read Blake's 'The Tyger,' I asked my students to write a poem in which they were asking questions of a mysterious and beautiful creature."
-- Kenneth Koch, American Academy of Poets,
Excerpts from Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?

Poems, classic and contemporary, make good company for your students. They can also serve as the inspiration for some terrific writing. Using poems available through EDSITEment resources, you can make poetry an exciting teaching and learning tool in your classroom.

Guiding Questions

How can a poetry idea in a poem inspire a new poem? Who are some "classic" American poets who can inspire student writing? Who are some contemporary poets who can inspire student writing?

Learning Objectives

  • Name classic and contemporary American poets and at least one poem by each.
  • Explain one poetry idea at work in a classic or contemporary poem.
  • Explain the poetry idea at work in one of their own poems.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review each activity in this unit and any poems you choose to use with your class. Prepare copies of poems and assignments as appropriate for your group.
  • The first two activties are complementary and are structured in the same way. In Activity 1, students prepare a performance/reading of one or more published poems, learn a little about a classic American poet, and then use the assigned poem as a model for their own work. In Activity 2, students work with contemporary poems. The poems vary in level of difficulty; you might want to take this into account when assigning poems for performance. Feel free to use one section or both as best suits your curriculum. Any of the writing assignments could also stand alone.

    There are six poetry selections in Activity 1 and five in Activity 2, allowing for as many as eleven student groups. The variety and number of writing assignments allows you to be flexible — for example, eleven groups can work simultaneously, or five groups can be assigned both a classic and a contemporary poet to study.

    In Activity 3, students attempt the assignments other groups undertook. Group presentations can be adapted to create a class poetry reading in Activity 4.
  • You can locate a poetry idea in any poem you use, and the poetry idea can be the basis of student poems. Every poem has the potential to lead to a writing assignment.
  • Poems, both student-written and professionally published, should always be the focus of this unit. However, information about a poet's life will resonate more with students when they are interacting with the poet's work through their own performance and writing.
  • If students are beginners at poetry writing, it's best to emphasize each poem's strengths when giving feedback. Encourage students to share, and after each reading, try to point to something in the poem that worked. Rather than saying, "That was very good," offer more specific comments that show you did a close reading of the work. You might say, "I could really picture the guinea pig when you described how...." Such comments show respect for the work, and that's important to model for the class. Additionally, you will begin to see students looking for the same elements you praise and attempting to include similar elements in their own work.

    A group can perform a poem simply by dividing the reading among group members. Alternatives include: using a combination of group and individual voices, having one or more group members read while others act out the poem as it is read or strike appropriate poses to demonstrate specific lines or images. Works of art such as paintings and photographs can also be incorporated into performances.

    Some delightful examples of choral performance of poetry (with complete instructions) may be found in Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Sid Fleischman. Consider doing some of these as the students prepare to design their own readings. (And, if you study insects as part of your curriculum, it's also a great source of poems you can use!)
  • Consider putting some classic, contemporary and student-written poems on big charts. It will make them easier for the class as a whole to see. It would also be fun to have the poems on long butcher paper rolls placed in the halls. Students could read the poems as they walk back and forth to their classrooms. Feature a poem a week on a bulletin board or elsewhere.
  • Be on the lookout for opportunities to use poems in other content areas. Poems can help establish an anticipatory set. Before your first activity on weather, for example, read aloud Eve Merriam's Weather, available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website of the Academy of American Poets. Poems have content that can motivate discussion. For example, read brief selections from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride," also available on the Academy of American Poets website, and ask students to analyze how well the lines relate historical fact.
  • Specific sources of information on each poet are listed within the activities below. In addition, the EDSITEment-reviewed website Internet Public Library offers links to reference books with general biographical information on individual poets. You can also locate websites for many poets through Author's Websites, a link from Internet Public Library.
  • Obtain background information on poetry for children and on finding a poetry idea for classroom discussion or a potential assignment by visiting these areas on the EDSITEment resource Academy of American Poets:
  • Some of the poems listed below have accompanying video and/or audio links. You will need RealPlayer software to utilize the video/audio files. Before the activity, check to be sure you have the most recent version of RealPlayer and that the files work on your computer. You can download RealPlayer Basic free of charge from Real Networks.
  • Refer to the complementary EDSITEment unit All Together Now, designed for students in grades K-2. In that unit, poetry ideas serve to inspire collaborative poems. Much of that unit can be adapted for older students.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Interacting with Classic Poetry: Five Classic Poems

Divide your class into small groups selected to balance the talents of the students within each group. Assign each group a dramatic reading of a poem (in which every group member should take part in some way) and a writing assignment modeled on the poem, to be completed by each student. When introducing its reading, the group should share some information about the poet. At least one poem written by a member of the group should also be performed. Groups can include in their reading additional student work or more of the assigned poet's work as the teacher permits. (Note: The instructions below are directed to students.)

Group 1
"To J.Q." (page 11), by Paul Dunbar, available on the EDSITEment resource American Verse Project.

  • Performing the Poem
    This poem is a series of questions and answers; you should communicate that structure in your performance. For example, the whole group could read the questions together while individuals could recite the answers.
  • Poetry Assignment
    Write a poem that is a series of questions and answers. If you like, make the questions (and/or the answers) fantastical. Don't worry about making the poem rhyme, but do make sure that no line has more than about 10 syllables.
  • Sources of Information on Paul Dunbar

Group 2
"Birches," by Robert Frost, available on the EDSITEment resource Academy of American Poets

Group 3
"The Negro Speaks of Rivers," by Langston Hughes, available on the EDSITEment resource Academy of American Poets

Group 4
"Paul Revere's Ride," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, available on the EDSITEment resource Academy of American Poets

  • Performing the Poem
    Remember that this poem tells a story. Help the listeners understand what happens.
  • Poetry Assignment
    Write a poem that tells a story, especially a story from history. Feel free to begin with, "Listen my children and ..." as in this example about Rosa Parks:
    Listen my children and we will discuss
    Someone who refused the back of the bus.
    Feel free to let the poem rhyme or not rhyme, but keep the poetry lines short!
  • Sources of Information on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Group 5
"The Donkey," by Theodore Roethke, available on the EDSITEment resource Academy of American Poets

Group 6
"I Hear America Singing," by Walt Whitman, available on the EDSITEment resource Academy of American Poets

  • Performing the Poem
    Whitman writes that many of the individuals in the poem are "singing." Help the listeners understand the difference between, for example, the way the carpenter or the shoemaker "sings."
  • Poetry Assignment
    Write a poem in which you imagine many people in different places engaged in activities all at the same moment. Make sure that, like Whitman, you tell exactly what each person is doing (The carpenter ... measures his plank or beam / The shoemaker ... sits on his bench). Feel free, instead of professions, to identify people by name. They could be celebrities or people you know (if you have permission to include them). What is each doing at four o'clock in the afternoon, for example?
  • Sources of Information on Walt Whitman
  • Video/Audio of a Poem by Walt Whitman
    From Song of Myself, available on Favorite Poem Project, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library
Activity 2. Interacting with Contemporary Poems

As in Activity 1, divide the class into small groups selected to balance the talents of the students within each group. Assign each group a dramatic reading of a poem, in which everyone should take part in some way, and a writing assignment modeled on the poem, to be completed by each student. When introducing its reading, the group should share some information about the poet. At least one poem written by a member of the group should also be performed. Groups can include in their reading additional student work or more of the assigned poet's work as the teacher permits. (Note: The instructions below are directed to students.)

Group 1
What Will You Be?, by Dennis Lee, available on the EDSITEment resource Academy of American Poets

  • Performing the Poem
    Help the listeners appreciate what makes the poem funny.
  • Poetry Assignment
    Write a poem in which every line begins with, "When I grow up I'm going to be a ..." It's okay if what you're going to be is silly. Rhyming is fine for this poem.
  • Sources of Information on Dennis Lee

Group 2
"Catch a Little Rhyme," by Eve Merriam, available on the EDSITEment resource Academy of American Poets

  • Performing the Poem
    Help the listeners appreciate the rhymes in this poem.
  • Poetry Assignment
    Write a poem in which each pair of lines rhymes (rhyming couplets) while telling a silly story where one event leads to another. Feel free to start the first line with, "Once upon a time I ..." and the second line with "but ..." You can continue the, "I ... but ..." pattern through the whole poem if you like. End the poem with a pair of rhyming lines that begins with, "In the end ..."
  • Sources of Information on Eve Merriam

Group 3
"Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens," by Jack Prelutsky, available on the EDSITEment resource Academy of American Poets

  • Performing the Poem
    Help the listeners appreciate all the things the chickens were doing during the dream and the surprise when the dreamer awoke.
  • Poetry Assignment
    Write a poem that tells about a dream (real or imagined) you had. Feel free to begin with, "Last night I dreamed of ________. There were ________ everywhere." Then follow with many lines beginning with the same word, such as "they" or "I."
  • Sources of Information on Jack Prelutsky

Group 4
"Jumping Rope," by Shel Silverstein, available on New York Times online, a link from the EDSITEment resource American Academy of Poets (Note: New York Times online requires free registration.)

  • Performing the Poem
    Bring some of the rhythm of a jump rope into your performance.
  • Poetry Assignment
    Write a poem about something of yours that got broken or changed in some way. The poem can be rhymed or unrhymed. Feel free to begin with, "This started out..." such as:
    Dad Parked the Car on My Bike"
    This started out as my bike
    Now it can be whatever you like.
    This bike is now a mess of metal.
    Somewhere in the middle, you'll find a pedal.
    This bike is now kaput, retired.
    Underneath that wire, you'll find a tire.
    Though I would not ride it on the turnpike
    This hunk of junk was once my bike.
    Or, you can repeat the line as Silverstein does. (Note: If you're artistic, you might want to include a drawing like Silverstein's that helps the reader appreciate the humor.)
  • Sources of Information on Shel Silverstein

Group 5
Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About, by Judith Viorst, available on the EDSITEment resource American Academy of Poets (Note: New York Times online requires free registration.)

  • Performing the Poem
    Everyone has worries. Help the listeners appreciate the worries in the poem. Then surprise them with the ending. What was the real purpose of spending all that time listing worries?
  • Poetry Assignment
    Write a poem that is a list. It can be a list of worries, or complaints, or excuses, or anything. Don't worry about making the poem rhyme. Try to write a last line that says something about the whole list. Maybe you can even surprise the reader like Judith Viorst did.
  • Sources of Information on Judith Viorst
Activity 3. You Can Do It, Too

At this point, everyone in the class is an "expert" on a particular poetry idea, having written and performed a poem using that idea. Now give all student groups the opportunity to hear about the various other group assignments and to try their hand at some. Have students explain the poetry idea and share some poems that use it.

Now there are even more poems to share and perform!

Activity 4. Hey, We Can Put on a Show!

Each student group prepared a performance of a poem and shared at least one student-written poem. All of the readings combined can make a poetry reading.

As a class, find ways to tie together the different group readings and to develop appropriate transitions between performances. Consider having groups include poems from non-group members — written in Activity 3 — in their performance. Add other poems and performances as desired.

The students should prepare a handout, letter or some other kind of advertisement to distribute to other classes to heighten interest in having your class bring its performance to them.

Extending The Lesson

  • Have your students create individual poetry anthologies including students' original work, favorite published poems and illustrations. With technically savvy classes, consider having students build a Web page for their poetry using an HTML editor rather than composing a paper book.
  • Incorporate poetry into your curriculum by encouraging some cultural explorations based on poems. For example, what elements of African-American history and culture can students find in work by Langston Hughes or Paul Dunbar? How does New England as a place or setting come through in "Birches" and "Paul Revere's Ride"? Some kind of investigation along these lines might work well for advanced students or in developing an interdisciplinary unit.
  • Students can consider the poetry ideas in song lyrics. Through the Children's Music Web, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library, students can locate lyrics to children's songs. Students may want to bring some of their favorite song lyrics to class to share (with the teacher's permission).
  • Now that students have experience with the concept of poetry ideas, challenge them to find poems on their own that embody specific poetry ideas and to create their own poems based on the idea. The published poem and student-written poem can then serve as models for other students who might want to try the assignment.
  • Invite a local poet to come into your classroom to share with the students and listen to their work. Thanks to Kenneth Koch, poet-in-the-classroom programs are widespread.
  • Look for ways to use poetry throughout the curriculum. For example, do you do any science lessons on ecology and the problem of waste disposal? Then Shel Silverstein's "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out" might be a good starting point for discussion.
  • Once your students are experienced poets, consider a field trip to a local art museum. Give students the opportunity to react to art with poetry.
  • Students can complete further research on the lives of the poets referenced in this lesson.
Selected EDSITEment Websites

Academy of American Poets
New York Times
American Memory Project
The Library of Congress
American Verse Project
The Internet Public Library
Author's Websites
The Bookhive
Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Page
Children's Music Web
Favorite Poem Project
Shel Silverstein

Other Resources:

Recommended reading from the American Academy of Poets

  • Carr, Jan, Beatrice Schenk deRegniers, Eva Moore, and Mary M. White, editors. Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child's Book of Poems. Scholastic, 1988. (Grades K-5; 160 pages)
  • Dakos, Kalli. If You're Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand: Poems About School. Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Simon & Schuster, 1990. (Grades 1-8; 64 pages)
  • Greenfield, Eloise. Honey, I Love. Illustrated by Diane and Leo Dillon. HarperCollins, 1976. (Preschool-Grade 3; 42 pages)
  • Hoberman, Mary Ann. A House Is a House for Me. Illustrated by Betty Fraser. Viking, 1978. (Preschool-Grade 4; 44 pages)
  • Lansky, Bruce, editor. Kids Pick the Funniest Poems. Illustrated by Stephen Carpen. Meadowbrook, 1991. (Grades K-8; 105 pages)
  • Lee, Dennis. The Ice Cream Store. Illustrated by David McPhail. Scholastic, 1991. (Preschool-Grade 2; 56 pages)
  • Prelutsky, Jack. The New Kid on the Block. Illustrated by James Stevenson. Greenwillow, 1984. (Grades K-4; 160 pages)
  • Prelutsky, Jack, editor. The Random House Book of Poetry for Children. Illustrated by Arnold Lobel. Random House, 1983. (Grades K-5; 248 pages)
  • Schwartz, Alvin. And the Green Grass Grew All Around: Folk Poetry from Everyone. Illustrated by Sue Truesdell. HarperCollins, 1992. (Grades K-4; 148 pages)
  • Service, Robert W. The Cremation of Sam McGee. Illustrated by Ted Harrison. Greenwillow, 1987. (Grade 4+; 30 pages)
  • Silverstein, Shel. Where the Sidewalk Ends. HarperCollins, 1974. (Grades K-8; 166 pages)
  • Taylor, Clark. The House That Crack Built. Chronicle, 1992. (Grade 4+; 30 pages)
  • Thayer, Ernest L. Casey at the Bat. Illustrated by Barry Moser. Godine, 1988. (Grade 4; 32 pages)
  • Viorst, Judith. If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries. Atheneum, 1981. (Grade 3+; 56 pages)
  • Westcot, Nadine Bernard, editor and illustrator. Never Take a Pig to Lunch and Other Poems About the Fun of Food. Orchard, 1994. (Grades K-4; 62 pages)

Recommended reading from The Bookhive, a link from Internet Public Library

  • Fleischman, Sid. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. Illustrated by Eric Beddows. Harper & Row, 1988. (Grades 4-6)

Recommended reading from Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Page, a link from Internet Public Library

  • Bryan, Ashley. ABC of African-American Poetry. Atheneum, 1997. (ISBN 0689812094)
  • Foster, John. Another First Poetry Book. Oxford, 1988. (ISBN 019917119X)
  • Foster, John. Another Second Poetry Book. Oxford, 1988. (ISBN 0199162298)
  • Foster, John. Another Fourth Poetry Book. Oxford, 1989. (ISBN 0199171254)
  • Janeczko, Paul B. The Place My Words Are Looking For: What Poets Say About and Through Their Work. Atheneum, 1990. (ISBN 0027476715; Grades 4+)
  • McCord, David. One at a Time. Little Brown, 1986. (ISBN 0316555169; Currently out of print, but available in many libraries.)
  • Merriam, Eve. Fresh Paint. Macmillan, 1986. (ISBN 0027668606; Currently out of print, but available in many libraries.)
  • Worth, Valerie. All the Small Poems and Fourteen More. Illustrated by Natalie Babbitt. Farrar, 1994. (ISBN 0374302111)

The Basics

Time Required

2-3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
  • Literature and Language Arts
Skills
  • Analysis
  • Poetry analysis
  • Poetry writing
  • Role-playing/Performance
  • Writing

Resources

Media