Using Poetry in the Classroom
What thousands of teachers have been trying for many years, was recently accomplished by one young poet: Amanda Gorman reawakened the world to the power of poetry.
Teaching reading, writing and use of poetry in the classroom can be a powerful tool to help students of all ages realize their own voice, their own stories. It seems almost an oxymoron to find poetry on the NFL website, but this is the text to Amanda Gorman’s poem recited at the Super Bowl: https://www.si.com/nfl/2021/02/07/amanda-gorman-super-bowl-lv-poem-video
You can read the text of the inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, here: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/20/politics/amanda-gorman-inaugural-poem-transcript/index.html. Using this text, you can invite students to describe their own, personal hill.
Canadian poet Shane Koyczan also has incredibly powerful texts. You can find some of his poems here: https://www.shanekoyczan.com. My favourite is ‘My Voice’. These are all to use with older highschool students but listen to the texts first to use your own judgement on suitability for your classroom. You can use these poets to demonstrate how they bring their own experiences to their writing, then invite students to try the same by looking at their own lives. Does their poetry rhyme? Free verse is a great way to write poetry that does not use rhyme but focus on the words themselves, using rhythm and sometimes alliteration.
Kindergarten poetry can be as simple as enjoying the rhythm of words with books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault. ISBN 0-590-43889-1 Your students can chant, dance, shout out loud and clap to this book.
A lovely new board book to share with the youngest children is My Heart Beats by Rina Singh, ISBN 978-145-98256-80. This read aloud text uses rhymth and words in my languages to describe a beating heart. A good Valentine read for preschool and early childhood ed classes.
Great in a global classroom is We All Went On Safari, A Counting Journey through Tanzania by Laurie Krebs and Julia Cairns. ISBN 1-84148-119-X You can read, chant out loud, even dance to this book. And then invite students to come up with their own sights in their own neighborhood of things to spot and count. This book includes numbers in Swahili. You can add numbers in any language that your students might speak.
Edward The Emu by Sheena Knowles is one of my all-time favourite examples of telling a rhyming story. Fun to read with all ages and again to use it as a springboard for your own classroom writing about favourite animals. ISBN 978-0-06-443499-7
Crossing over from primary to intermediate students, use wonderful poetry books by Jack Prelutsky such as A Pizza The Size of the Sun, or It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles, Something Big Has Been Here and of course There’s No Place Like School, Classroom Poems. One of my favourite Dr. Seuss’ books was finished, after his death, by Jack Prelutsky: Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, a hilarious poem about a principal who is worried about the students passing their test. As he worries, the school librarian tells the students:
“We’ve taught you that the earth is round,
That red and white make pink,
And something else that matters more,
We’ve taught you how to think.”
Here is a band new boardbook: The Sun Is A Shine by Leslie A. Davidson. ISBN 978-145982-6267. This rhyming story shows natural elements around the world, seasons, animals, diversity. It also includes the words for ‘thank you’ in Ojibwe, French, Arabic and many other languages.
For teaching the writing poetry, here are some of my favourite titles:
Fly With Poetry and Leap Into Poetry by Avis Harley, ISBN 1-56397-798-2. Both of these books use incredible techniques that show the joy of playing with language.
I Did It Because…, How A Poem Happens by Loris Lesynski. ISBN 978-1-55451-017-7
Pass The Poetry Please by Lee Bennett Hopkins ISBN 0-06446199-8
Poems Please! Sharing Poetry With Children by David Booth and Bill Moose, ISBN 0-921217-22-6
And finally, my own book entitled The Power of Poems, The Joy of Teaching Poetry, ISBN 978-1-934338-89-6, Maupin House
Have fun using poetry to reinforce the joy of playing with language.
Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author who conducts live and ZOOM author visits to schools around the world.