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Meggin McIntosh

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Teachers - Poetry For Children - 8 Suggestions For Experiencing Poetry
by Meggin McIntosh   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, January 22, 2009
Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2009

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There are so many ways to experience poetry. Nodelman (1992) offers eight suggestions on how to do so. For each of his suggestions (used as subheadings below), I will provide writing activities that I have used with children to provide them with the opportunity to experience poetry.

There are so many ways to experience poetry. Nodelman (1992) offers eight suggestions on how to do so. For each of his suggestions (used as subheadings below), I will provide writing activities that I have used with children to provide them with the opportunity to experience poetry. It should be noted that I approach poetry with children in the way suggested by Purves and Monson (1984, p. 91), i.e.,

To ease people into poetry, should be thought of as language at play: play with words, sounds, type faces, punctuation, syntax, images, metaphors, and ideas. It is serious play, of course, but still play, and play should produce pleasure.

1. Paying Attention to the Words Themselves

Is the following a poem?

A couple of flute students wondered if their teacher found it more difficult to play the instrument or to teach them to play it (Nodelman, 1992, p. 114).

Or, is this a poem?

A tutor who tooted the flute Tried to tutor two tooters to toot. Said the two to the tutor, "Is it harder to toot or To tutor two tooters to toot?" (Carolyn Wells in Nodelman, 1992, p. 114)

I show these two examples to students and let them react to each. Students recognize that both selections "say" the same thing--on one level. However, they also recognize that the way it is said is what makes all the difference.

Next, I let students choose a poem from one of the poetry books we have in our classroom--or one that they find at home or in the library. They do a rewrite--taking the perfectly wonderful words of the poet--and making them plain and unmemorable. Each student displays the before and after version of the poem--and the point is made that we need to pay attention to the words themselves in poetry.

2. Paying Attention to the Patterns Words Make

The late Eve Merriam's poetry is a delight. One that I use to illustrate the patterns that the words in poetry make is her poem "A Nanny for a Goat." It begins

A nanny for a goat, an over for a coat, an under for a wear, a case for a stair.

Once children see the pattern that the words make, they rack their brains to come up with as many compound words as possible, and then to make those compound words into lines for a poem based on Merriam's idea.

Another great activity to bring this idea home to children is to choose a definition from the dictionary that is appropriate to my students' level, and write it as if it were a poem. Then, students choose any word, find its definition, and display that definition so that it appears to be a poem. It is great fun, and lets students pay attention to the patterns words make in poetry.

3. Paying Attention to the Pictures Words Make

Concrete poems are familiar to many teachers, i.e., poetry that looks like the topic it is addressing. Since giraffes are my favorite animal, I like to show Valerie Worth's poem "Giraffe." I display it on the overhead projector (and yes, you can still find them in many classrooms) - out of focus so that the words are not readable. I ask students what animal seems to be represented. I may get a number of guesses - but eventually, if not right away - someone says, "giraffe." Then I bring the words of the poem into focus and we enjoy the poem and its shape. Students are anxious to try their hand at writing and designing a poem where the shape and the words work together.

4. Paying Attention to the Patterns of Pictures Words Make

"In a sense, the poet distills meaning in brief and vivid phrases. Economy and suggestion evoke our response" (Lukens, 1990, p. 187). When listening to poetry, images are created by the words. It is not hard to get kids thinking about dinosaurs. Hopkins' 1987 book, Dinosaurs, is a "must have" poetry book, as far as I'm concerned. One of the poems included in this volume is "What if..." by Isabel Joshlin Glaser. She describes dinosaurs thusly:

...bumbling and rumbling And groaning and moaning And snoring and roaring And dinosauring....

I read this out loud several times until the images in my students' minds begin to take over their bodies and they are "snoring and roaring and dinosauring." Next, after a discussion of how words can evoke images, the students are ready to try it for themselves - with excellent results!

5. Paying Attention to the Voices Words Create

There is a wonderful tape that accompanies Jack Prelutsky's book, New Kid on the Block. The poet performs his poetry in ways that even an avowed non-poet cannot resist. The only trouble I've ever had with the tape is having it worn out by students who play it over and over. One selection that I enjoy using to help students pay attention to the voices words create is "I'm in a Rotten Mood Today." I play the poem all the way through once, then play it a second (and sometimes third) time while students complete a special response sheet I created (contact me if you want a copy). After completing the task sheet and comparing answers with other students, they are ready (and willing) to write a poem that uses different voices.

6. Paying Attention to the Stories Words Tell

I ask my students if they've ever wondered how to bathe a bear. Then, I read Jane Yolen's poem by that name:

  1. Be sure the water's warm.
  2. The bubbles fill the tub.
  3. The rubber duck is there.
  4. Find bear cub.
  5. And quickly mop the floor.
  6. Say: "Don't forget to scrub."
  7. Feel for plug--and pull.
  8. Dry bear cub.

Next, we create a whole story around this poem. We talk about a poet's ability to use very few words (in this case, 36 words), yet convey a whole story into our minds. I challenge the students to do the same using 36 words or less--and they do!

7. Paying Attention to the Meanings Words Express

I have always been intrigued by collective nouns. Ruth Heller's book A Cache of Jewels serves as the opener for my lesson on the meanings that words express in poetry. After I've established the concept of collective nouns with my students, I share poetry from two different books: A Bundle of Beasts (Hooper, 1987) and Beasts By the Bunches (Lowe, 1987). In each book, the authors have written poetry that was suggested by the collective noun of a group of animals. For example, both include a poem about a "crash" of rhinoceroses. Hooper's poem ends

....They climb the stair, and sway, and stop, Then balance bravely at the top-- The end, of course, is obvious, And though it seems preposterous, The crash is of rhinoceros! (p. 31)

The premise of Lowe's poem is that rhinos have bad eyesight,

...and thus when they meet with the rest of the gang, they're known as a crash (with a boom and a bang).

I have a list of collective nouns ready to display--and the children write poetry that springs from the meaning suggested by the collective noun--just as the authors mentioned above did.

8. Paying Attention to the Patterns of Meanings Words Make

One of the most original volumes of poetry to emerge in recent memory is the Newbery Award-winning Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices (Fleischman, 1988). The poems in this book are to be read aloud by two readers, each taking one side of the poem. Children love to perform these and then enjoy working together to create their own poems that demonstrate their understanding of the patterns of meanings that words make in poetry.

WOW! how much fun can you have with your students as you all experience poetry. This article includes just a sampling. For more ideas that are ready for you to use right away, just access my website Owning Words for Literacy ( where you can obtain ideas you to enhance students' vocabulary knowledge and literacy skills.

For ideas you can use FOR YOURSELF to increase your overall sense of peaceful productivity, go to my website Top Ten Productivity Tips (

(c) 2008 by Meggin McIntosh, Ph.D., "The Ph.D. of Productivity"(tm)

Through her company, Emphasis on Excellence, Inc., Meggin McIntosh changes what people know, feel, dream, and do via seminars, workshops, writing, coaching, and consulting.

Web Site: Emphasis On Excellence

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