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Developing a Poetic Ear


Submitted by:  Miriam Lowenstein  

I think it is very important to provide a rich source of poetry in the classroom library. This requires both books of poetry and recordings of poetry readings.  If you can get tapes of authors reading their poetry, that is great.  If funds are limited--aren't they always--I tape myself reading various poems.  This exposure to the sound of poetry is in addition to the read-alouds of poetry that I do at least twice a week.

I have the kids read aloud to the class also, and when they become more accomplished, they also record readings of their favorite poems that they wrote, or by other poets.

We also compile a booklet of favorite poems to be a part of the class library.

There is a series of books on poetry that I think are wonderful. They are published by the Sterling Publishing Co.  They are picture books with lovely watercolor-type illustrations, each book is about a separate poet.  A two page biography about the poet is at the beginning of the book.  The poets featured include:  Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edna St. Vincent Milay, Robert Frost, and Edgar Allen Poe.

I really like the idea of illustrated poetry for the kids who don't think poetry is for them.  After all, the first books they learned to love were picture books.  The illustrations helped them listen and learn to love the language accompanying the pictures.

Writing any genre should be accompanied by an immersion in reading the genre, not just an example or two.


Lesson: Six-Room Image Poem

This lesson is from Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard, published by Heinemann.  This book is a must for any teacher of poetry to children. If you only had one resource for teaching poetry, I would choose this one.

I like to open a unit with this because it exposes the children to the possibilities of free verse.  Most sixth graders (and fifth also) think of poetry as rhyme.  This lesson allows them to create free verse that sounds very grownup and important without thinking too hard about how to write it. It is a wonderfully freeing exercise.  You, as the teacher must do it also! But don't be the first to read your results.  Let the kids go first.  I had one student who promised that she hated free verse and would never write it, and she amazed herself and the class.  What a moment!

Here's how it goes:

Materials needed: paper and pen

Draw the grid you will be using on the board or have it on the overhead. Some students get confused and can't visualize how they should arrange their writing on the paper and spend their time on that instead of capturing thoughts!

I'm sorry I don't know how to do a graphic for illustrating this. Draw a line vertically in the center of the paper dividing it into two wide columns.  Then draw two lines across the page that divide the entire page into a total of six blocks--two squares under two squares, under two squares--six squares.  They should be large enough to do some writing in each square, so tell (and show) the students how to use the whole page.

Tell the students that you are all going to take a journey, each to a different place.  The boxes on the paper represent the rooms you will enter. Even though each box is a "room", the room can be an outdoor scene.

As you enter each room, number it and jot down what is supposed to be observed there.  This is for those who want to go back at the end and add more, or those who didn't have time to finish.

In the first room, they are told to think of something that they have seen that is "amazing, beautiful, interesting, or that has stayed in your mind." Tell them to close your eyes and try to see all the details of this scene. Give them 1-2 minutes. Then, write all the details you can--full sentences not required.  Just write your description in the box, don't try to write a poem.

In room number two,  look at the same image as the first room but just focus on the light in the scene.  I ask them, is it bright or dark, shady, dappled sunlight, indoor light (lamps or fluorescent or candlelight)?  You may describe colors here.  They get up to five minutes to do this.  The timing is conditional--when they start getting restless, move on regardless of how much time.

In the third room, focus on the sounds.  Are there voices? What kind? Soft or loud? Friendly or scary? Can you hear sounds of nature or the weather?  Are there sounds of the city?  Which ones? If it is silent, is it peaceful or scary? Lonely or peaceful?

In room number four write any questions you have about the image.  What do you want to know more about? What do you wonder about?

In room number five, write down any feelings you have about this image.

In room number six, look over the five rooms and select one word, or a few words, a phrase, a line, or a sentence that seems important.  Write this three times in room six.

Give some time to look over the rooms. They can be arranged in any order, some can be eliminated.  Just select lines and create a poem. Then have some students share their poems in progress.  They can work on them at home and be expected to present a poem the next day.  Some will ask if they can start over and I say, "Of course."

You can have them elaborate on the poem by adding metaphors and sensory details.

This is one formula poem that I don't see as too much like a formula.

Georgia Heard has so many other great ideas about how to get kids writing poetry and loving it!  Get her book.