Monday, April 6, 2015

PiNt-SiZeD pOeMs

I love poetry and (yay!), April is National Poetry Month!  

I think most people have a deep-rooted fear of poetry and I'm guessing you're already remembering some horribly dreadful class you had in high school where you were forced to read (and harder yet, understand) a bunch of poems you couldn't have cared less about.  Been there.

And another confession... I used to think all poems had to rhyme.  Total rookie.

I actually didn't start liking poetry until I became a first grade teacher.  Now I love it and it's one of my favorite writing units to teach.  And (not lying) most of my children love it, too.  Why?  Because it's the one form of writing that's without strict rules and who doesn't love that?  The more I learned about poetry, the more I wanted to teach it.  For years, I scoured book stores finding amazing books for children that eventually became my mentor texts.  If you're a primary teacher, you need pint-sized poems for your pint-sized learners.  The children need to see poems they can understand and that look like poems they could actually write. 

There's really no sense in planning your poetry lessons until you've settled on some great mentor texts for your specific group of children.  As you consider books to use for modeling, think, Will my students like these poems?  Do these poems look like a style or level of poetry my young writers could emulate?  (TIP: Save rhyming and highly rhythmic poems for reading workshop.  They're great for developing phonemic awareness, but they're rigid in design and difficult for most primary children to write.  In my experience, they tend to keep children from writing creatively.)

Hands-down, my favorite book for introducing writers to poetry is Little Dog Poems by Kristine O'Connell George.  My first graders LOVE this book of poems. Each page is its own poem, but they work together to tell the story of a typical day in the life of this little dog. It's a super age-appropriate way to introduce my students to concepts like:

• choosing a small topic near and dear to your heart
• different forms, shapes, and lengths
• line breaks
• white space
• creative use or lack of conventions (capitalization and punctuation)

Consider beginning with this text because there's no single specific style throughout the book.  Children will see that poems can take many forms.  And because poetry is a genre that is typically shorter than personal narratives, you'll find the children are very prolific writers during this unit.  As a matter of fact, I usually start them out with blank half sheets of paper and they often produce 2-4 poems per writing session.  My struggling writers love this because the size of the paper implies the writing won't be long and labor intensive.

When you're ready to model something new, try acrostic poems.  Silver Seeds by Paul Paolilli is a great beginning choice for this type of poetry.  The common thread throughout the book is nature and each page features a new acrostic poem about something found outside... the sun, clouds, trees, leaves, hills, etc. You'll notice the nice "no rule" feature of this book is that each line doesn't have to have a certain amount of words... it's up to the author and what they're trying to say.

Hi, Koo! by Jon J. Muth is a collection of modern haiku and he explains how the rules of haiku are changing.  No longer does there have to be a certain number of syllables per line... and that's why I like this book as a mentor text.  This book opens up another form of poetry to young writers.  And notice how short and sweet they are.  One of these literally reads:  Eating warm cookies on a cold day is easy.  I agree.  :)

Actually, I don't care what the temperature is.  

This next one is a little bit trickier, but I know some of you have older children and they might get a kick out of these puzzly-poems.  The book is Lemonade:  And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka. Each poem is written using only the letters in the title.  (It's kind of like a "Making Words" lesson!)  On one page, the author drafts it like a puzzle to be deciphered. On the follow-up page, the poem is written out so it can be read easily.

These are a few to get you started, but begin your own hunt.  See what appeals to you, too. If you like a book, it's easier to get your kids excited about it.  If you're starting to plan your lessons, check out our Pinterest board where we've been collecting ideas to help you teach and celebrate poetry.

Do you have a favorite book or idea you use when teaching poetry?  We'd love for you to share it with us.  If you have a minute, leave a comment below.

Happy teaching!  :)


  1. We "dabbled" in poetry the week before Spring Break….we read some poetry and they loved some of Shel Silverstein's work. One titled Bandaids was a favorite! We brainstormed a list of all the things that make us say ouch. They chose the ones that were meaningful to them and created a "list" type poem. Then they made a huge bandaid out of construction paper (pinterest idea) and published their poem on it. I gave them each two bandaids to put on their face! They held their big bandaid/poem and I snapped their picture…priceless. :-)

    1. Robin... That sounds really cute. Do you have any pictures or samples? Maybe (in all your spare time, I know) you could do a quick mini-blog-post so we can see them. I bet they're adorable!

  2. What a great post. I LOVE the last idea of creating a poem using letters from only one word...CLEVER and fun!

    1. Christina... I think they're clever, too. I haven't tried them with first graders, but I think older children would have fun with it. I'd love to see some samples if you end up trying it out. :)

  3. Let me try this again... (My first comment got lost.) My dear friend Andrea, you know that I am not a fan of poetry. However, after reading this blog post, I have decided to give it another try. You are so inspiring. I sure am a lucky ducky! Seriously, the book about the story that is played out with little poems sounds ADORABLE! Plus, I really do love no rules. I think you have convinced me. Thank you!

    1. Oh my gosh! :) I know how much you hate poetry. The fact that you might even try it out again literally gave me goosebumps. Michele Hipolito was the one who introduced me to "Little Dog Poems" and the kids love it. I bet one of the first grade teachers has it... maybe Kara... if you want to take a look at it.

  4. Hello,
    I write for Scholastic Teacher Magazine and my next article for is all about K-1 poetry lessons. I'd love to feature an activity from this Poetry post. Your blog is very creative and fun and I think teachers everywhere will love it!

    If you could give me permission to feature your activity/answer the questions below, I'd be much obliged. I’m on a tight deadline and, as such, would appreciate your response by Wednesday, 11/30.

    •Activity/link to activity
    Full name (as you’d like to see it published):
    • Grade you teach:
    • School where you teach and city/state:
    • Would you like for me to include your blog’s name (and link to it in the online version of the article)?
    • Anything you’d like to add about the activity: Also, if you could include a picture of the activity and a photo credit, I would be much obliged.

    Of course, feel free to email me if you'd like to share these answers via email.

    Thanks a million!

    Warmest Regards,

    1. Hi Milagros,

      Thank you for your interest in this blog post. You're welcome to use the content and ideas in this post in your article in Scholastic Teacher Magazine.

      I do not have a separate link to an activity and all the relevant photos are contained in the blog post above. My full name is Andrea Knight and I'm a retired 1st grade teacher from Virgil Mills Elementary School in Palmetto, FL. If you need additional information, I can reached by email at Thank you.