Thursday, December 5, 2013

Introducing Poetry: Lines and Stanzas

Back at the start of November, I noticed that there were only 14 teaching days in December. 14 days! Instead of introducing nonfiction, as I usually do this month, I decided to squeeze in poetry. In many ways, poetry is the perfect topic for a month in which schedule changes are the norm. (Only 15 minutes of reading class because of a holiday show/Santa's workshop/artist visit? Let's read a poem!)

I like to start poetry with some informal reading. Yesterday, students had some time for free reading of poems in the morning. One student found the poem "Candy Cane" by Valerie Worth in a book of holiday poems (specifically, Christmas Poems selected by Myra Cohn Livingston). She brought it to Morning Meeting to share with the class. Here are the first two stanzas:

Candy Cane
Hot wintry
mint, striped
round with
fire and snow.

Sweet icicle
that melts
and burns
and chills...

Of course this poem sparked discussion. How can a candy cane by hot? How can it burn and chill? Luckily I had a bag full of starlight mints--close enough to a candy cane--that I could hand out to the students. We talked about how our experiences with the mints were similar to the poem, and how they were different. Along the way, I was also able to listen to what kinds of language students were bringing to the classroom. How were they describing the poem? I only heard the word "stanza" once, which told me that this was not a well-known concept in the room.

Today, we explored the idea of lines and stanzas. We looked at poems with short lines, long lines, and multiple stanzas. (I used the PowerPoint in the Poetry Unit for Poetic Structure, but you could easily do this with any poems.) This is so important because students need to know how to navigate a poem. Once they know about lines and stanzas, we can quickly talk about how to get to a particular spot.

After a whole group lesson, we did a carousel activity. Students rotated to different poems that I had around the room and described them--title, lines, stanzas, and a picture to represent the main idea. I watched to see if they could record the title of a poem with quotation marks (some used parentheses instead!) and listened to their conversations to see if certain words came up. I hoped to hear alliteration, personification, and simile....but I didn't. When I introduce them, students may recall what they've learned before. At this point in time, however, students don't have access to these words to talk about poems. Good to know! And finding this out from a busy, talkative activity is so much nicer than learning it from an assessment.

Finally, students had some free time. Some chose to escape from poetry and go right back to their independent reading books. (The Amulet series is hugely popular in my room right now.) Others started to try writing some poems. (Alas, many jumped right into acrostics...looks like I'll have to break out the book Silver Seeds to talk about meaningful acrostics.) Still others read from their poetry collections, a book of poems that I have put together to use as our core resource for our poetry unit. All in all, it was a nice start to our precious few days of focusing on poetry.

Other Poetry Posts
Having Fun with Poetry

Poetry Picture Books for Making Inferences

Student Poetry Conferences

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