We are absolutely in love with all the librarians and teachers who work day in and day out to put exciting stories into the hands of sometimes-not-so-excited kids, and this National Poetry Month we want to put together some ideas for how to celebrate poetry with young readers! If you’re on the fence about whether or not to bring poetry into the classroom, check out this excellent post from 2016: “4 Reasons to Start Class With a Poem Each Day.”
Between several national poetry organizations, there’s a lot out there already to help out: we have a few resources in the Teachers’ Lounge, and the NPM poster from the Academy of American Poets this year also features clickable images that lead to classroom prompts and lesson plans. We also highly recommend the Poetry Society’s resources for teachers, including lesson plans that incorporate award-winning poetry by young poets. If you are looking for books to help you integrate poetry into your classroom, try the Spoken Word Workbook, edited by Sheri-D Wilson, or Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Jane Burroway.
Here we’ve rounded up a few more popular poetry activites to get kids reading, writing, and loving poetry in April and all year round! These activities are generally geared towards younger readers; high school students may be more interested in these recommendations, or the Young Poets Network, an online platform for young poets up to the age of 25 with articles, challenges, prompts, advice, and more. There is also this fantastic guide outlining one teacher’s implementation of starting class with a poem: “A Poem a Day: 30 Poems for Secondary Students.”
And now, let’s make a poetry party!
Organize a poetry-palooza for a group of young readers to engage them with the many sides to poetry. Participants can read a poem aloud — original or not — to the others, or they could distribute their favourite written poem–again, original or not. But there’s more to poetry than the poems! Encourage young readers to write fanmail to their favourite poets, or take the fun even farther away from poetry and hide poems around the room (book spine poetry, anyone?), or have other poetry game stations for participants to engage with.
Poetry Play Stations
Poetry play stations use different techniques to encourage young readers to craft poems. Here are some great stations to include:
Erasure poetry: Using a page of existing text, use a black marker to complete cross out sections of the text — the words or phrases that remain can be strung together to form an original poem! Part of the beauty of erasure poem is how the entire page looks when completed, blacked-out sections and all.
Found poetry: Found poetry is very similar to erasure poetry — well, erasure poetry is a kind of found poetry — but with a little more freedom. Again using an existing text, participants select words or phrases from the text that they think will make a great poem: using the found words and phrases, they can play with line breaks, stanzas, and other ways of construction an original poem from the found text!
Book spine poetry: This is a great poetic experiment that takes over Twitter every April — using as few as three or as many as… well, as many as you can stack, create a poem using the titles of books as they appear on the spines. These make excellent photos and are great for sharing on social media!
Magnet poetry: A classic! Choosing words from a pile of individual words to string together an original poem. This could be from a magnetic poetry set, but you could also simply prepare an assortment of words for participants to choose from.
Dear Poet is a multimedia education project from the Academy of American Poets that invites young people in grades five through twelve to write letters in response to poems written and read by some of the award-winning poets who serve on the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors. They prepared a specialized lesson plan to help teachers implement this program into their curriculum–which is free to use–but the program can also be adopted to include Canadian poets. If you would like to write to Canadian poets, we recommend any of the poets featured in the 2016 or 2017 Poem in Your Pocket Day booklets! Letters can be sent to the League office or emailed to email@example.com.
Poetry as response
One of the most exciting things about poetry is how it can engage with other art forms: other texts, yes, but also art in completely a completely different medium. For students who are already interested in writing, encourage them to write a response poem to a scene from a movie or play, or to a painting or photograph; students for whom writing doesn’t come naturally may be interested in doing the opposite, crafting a response in another medium to a pre-selected poem.
Reading poetry aloud can be a groundbreaking moment for engaging with a poem — I still remember having to read e. e. cummings’s “somewhere i have never travelled” out loud to myself several times before being able to wrap my head around the rhythm, sentiment, and energy of the poem. Similarly, hearing a poem out loud can also shine a different light on the words. It can be terrifying to read original poetry in front of others, but there are other ways to share! Students can read classic poems, or their favourite contemporary poems, or even try reading song lyrics out loud with no musical backup. Poetry in Voice is a charitable organization that encourages Canadian students to fall in love with poetry through reading, writing, and recitation, with an online anthology of classic and contemporary poems and comprehensive teaching materials on their website, all free of cost. They also run a nation-wide student recitation competition, which awards over $75,000 in travel and prizes annually.
Finding the right poems
Of course, the hardest part is not usually finding fun ways to teach young readers — all you teachers and librarians are already experts in that field. The questions is, what poems do you choose? The annual Poem in Your Pocket Day booklet is a great place to start, with age-appropriate poems from a variety of poets across Canada and the US. Some of our favourite poetry meant for young readers include Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee (yes, that Dennis Lee!), Dr. Seuss, Louis Carroll’s Jabberwocky (or, for that matter, any of the songs and poems from the Alice books), and Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. For 2017, the Academy of American Poets prepared a great online anthology of poems suitable for young readers as well — delightfully, it includes more than one poem about cake.