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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Building a Passion for Poetry

No, I haven't misread my calendar; I do know that April, not May, is National Poetry Month. But now that standardized testing is over for most of us, what better way to explore words and language than through some picture books?

While I'm a huge fan of Prelutsky, Viorst, Silverstein, and the other "giants" of poetry, I'd like to share some authors, titles, and series which might be new to you. These are guaranteed to get kids excited about reading and writing poetry!

A great place to start is with the Graphic Poetry series from Brightpoint Literacy. The sixteen books in the series provide a number of components which help students and teachers alike enjoy and analyze the poems with confidence and understanding. In Pat Mora's Same Song/Maestro, for example, each poem is preceded by an introduction which points out important aspects of the poem students are about to read. The poems are first presented line by line with illustrations, and then as a whole. At book's end, both poems and their common theme (in this case, characterization) are discussed in detail, and some questions for discussion are included. A short feature autobiography of the poet rounds out the book.

In this format, poetry is visual, nonintimidating, and comprehensible (finally!). In other words, the graphic format combats all the complaints I've heard from students who claim that they hate poetry.

If you're seeking a resource for older students, I'd suggest Enslow's Poetry Rocks! series, aimed at middle school and up crowd. You can check out an interactive version of Not the End, But the Beginning at Enslow's site. These volumes are specially designed to get older students in touch with the emotion and meaning of classic poems. Discussion questions, author bios, and selected poem titles are included.

Other great poetry resources? The Words Are Categorical series from First Avenue Editions (Lerner Publishing) teaches students about parts of speech through clever, funny, rhyming verse, as well as some cool cat cartoons. In Lazily, Crazily, Just a Bit Nasally, for example, students learn about adverbs through such lines as
Adverbs sometimes
tell us where,
Like these are here
and those are there.
Often they
will tell us when,
Like this is now and
that was then.
Adverbs sometimes
tell us how,
Like, "Carefully remove this cow."
They let us know
how often too
As in the phrase,
"I seldom chew."

Author Brian Cleary, whose website contains related games and activities, makes parts of speech fun and memorable.

If you're seeking a good teacher-oriented resource for teaching poetry writing, Ralph Fletcher's Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem From the Inside Out helps students move beyond the Humpty-Dumpty rhymes of simple poetry to creating poems that express emotions and capture moments. Although I said it's a resource for teachers, it's actually written in the first person, speaking directly to older students. Some writing clubs and schools have purchased this inexpensive paperback as a student resource. Fletcher's anecdotes, similes for writing, and short exercises make it an enjoyable read. (For a terrific book of poetry models, based on writing topics, check out Fletcher's A Writing Kind Of Day: Poems For Young Poets. Fletcher speaks in a young writer's voice, reflecting upon metaphors, battling writer's block, or connecting one entry to the next).

If you're like me, you love to give students some historical context when teaching literature. The Poetry Basics by Creative Education is a series of hard bound, picture book size titles which provide the history of a specific poetry form. Valerie Bodden's Limericks, for example, traces the form and rhyme scheme all the way back to the 1600s, although the term "limerick" wasn't used until the 1800s. And of course, its most famous proponent, Edward Leer, is given a good bit of ink. The remainder of the book is dedicated to the "how" of the poem, helping students to understand what makes it work. Important literary devices (such as portmanteaus and nonce words) are also discussed. All around, an important series for getting kids into poetry. (Other titles in this series, all written by Valerie Bodden, include Haiku, Concrete Poetry, and Nursery Rhymes).

Recommended Sites

While there are tons of sites about poetry, I'm limiting my recommendations to those which assist students in their own writing.

My top pick is Instant Poetry Forms, which allows students to enter prompted words and verses in order to form (you guessed it!) instant poetry. Some of the forms are purely creative and student-centered, while others allow students to enter researched information (such as data on an early explorer) to create nonfiction verse. An excellent way to encourage your poetry-phobic students (usually the boys!). Each prompt generator includes an example of a finished poem in that style, so students can get a good idea of how the finished poem might sound.

Once students have entered their responses in the prompts, the push of a button publishes the poem. This poem can then be copied and pasted into a word document and further edited, or combined with a free online illustration program such as Sumo Paint.

Another interesting poetry site, although not nearly as diverse and robust, is Scholastic's Poetry Machine which walks students through four poems types: limerick, haiku, cinquain, and free verse.

ReadWriteThink, a fantastic site created by IRA and NCTE, has a number of poetry creators (writing machines) which walk students through the process step-by-step. Teachers can find fully detailed lesson plans for poetry as well, adapted to several grade levels. Students can choose acrostic, diamante, riddle, and shape poems.

Bruce Lansky and Meadowbrook Press have teamed up to create Giggle Poetry, a site not to be missed! Plenty of chances to read, write, and even rate poetry. PoetryTeachers is the sister site, created just for teachers, tutors, and parents. Tons of ideas!

For more lesson plans, check out Ken Nesbitt's poetry lessons at his Poetry4Kids. At the home page you'll find plenty of other resources including a rhyming dictionary and poetry contests.

Need more ideas? Check out this set of Interactive Poetry Tools and Lesson Plans. Why reinvent the wheel?

Have more poetry sites and books you'd recommend? Leave a comment below, or email me directly.