Pull Kids In with Poetry!

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Kids get pulled into poetry in a heartbeat when I dramatize a silly Limerick from Ireland as I open up a “Poetry Cafe” in class on “You Choose Writing Day,” like you see me doing in my blog pic below.

"And the limerick goes...I'd rather have fingers than toes."

“And the Limerick goes…I’d rather have fingers than toes…”

Lively Limericks are silly poems with just five lines. The one I’m dramatizing in the pic here is by a poet unknown:

I’d rather have fingers than toes;

I’d rather have ears than a nose;

And as for my hair,

I’m glad it’s still there;

I’…be awfully sad when it goes.

If you share this Limerick with your class, pull in the kids like I do after reading the poem by asking them, “What would I be if I lost my hair?” They’ll scream “B-A-L-D” and laugh at the limerick.

Keep your students’ focus on poetry by inviting them

to write their own Limericks. Post the basic Limerick structure on the board using…what else…another Limerick! (Poet also unknown)

The Limerick’s lively to write:

Five lines to it – all nice and tight.

Two long ones, two trick

Little short ones: then quick

As a flash here’s the last one in sight.

Help your students master this poetic form by noting that in Limericks, lines one, two and five rhyme with each other and lines three and four rhyme with each other.

Do all poems rhyme? Of course not, but I’ve discovered that many elementary school children don’t come to class already knowing this. I love to watch eyes light up when kids who struggle with writing hear in my classes that they’ll be free to write free verse – no rhyme – during our week together.

FREE…it’s a word that pulls kids into poetry! The diversity of poetic structures offers something for everyone.

An effective way to explain how students can approach writing free verse is to post a few lines on a board, writing one line at a time and pointing out that a poet can choose to write a SINGLE WORD on a line all alone. “Imagine that!” Add emphasis to the options for writing freely with free verse; you’ll catch and keep kids’ attention. Post these lines, for example:

Seagulls soaring across the sky


Joy is in their flight.

Sharing poetry with your class from countries around the world is a classroom-tested way to introduce kids to different languages, and to the concept of translation.

Children are fascinated by the fact that a poem that rhymes in one language will not rhyme in translation. I share a short rhyme in Spanish and English with my classes to illustrate this concept, as shown below. You can pull your kids into poetry with poems in languages that you want them to master.

Caballito Blanco

Caballito blanco,

Llevame de aquí.

Llevame a mi pueblo

Donde yo nací.

White Pony

White pony,

Carry me here.

Carry me to my town

Where I was born.

In US states that have adopted the Common Core Curriculum, teaching poetry has “fallen out of favor” in the guidelines for upper elementary school grades.

Fortunately, poetry is still a part of the curriculum for the early grades. One can argue that research suggests that exposure to poetry writing helps form a strong foundation for all kinds of writing. I believe this; my experience as a teacher supports this assertion.

As I tell my writing students, “When you write a poem, you paint pictures using words.” The concept of word picture-painting pulls kids in…it applies to writing non-fiction, opinion, fantasy, poetry, etc.

What’s poetry’s special pull? It comes from the heart. Kids respond to this concept, don’t you agree. Even very young children understand that some things are personal. The language that adults use to describe what is personal changes to be age-appropriate, but kids get it.

Poetry allows us to express ourselves. As I explain to my classes, a poem can be about something we feel, see, think, love, hate; poems may be about someone we care about , somewhere we’ve visited, something we’ve experienced. The focus list is endless…another reason why teachers can pull kids in with poetry!

April is National Poetry Month in the US and Canada. Great Britain holds their celebration of verse in October; other countries at different times of the year. It’s safe to say, I think, that teachers around the world can put poetry to work in any month to help kids:

  • develop language appreciation
  • master core writing skills
  • express feelings – joys and sorrows
  • make connections between writing and other subjects under the guidance of creative teachers

Online and library resources abound for pulling kids into learning with poetic reading and writing. Check out teaching activities with poetry. I’ve written a short rhyming poem that you might like to share with students in grades 3 – 5 at the beginning of a school term:

Welcome Students!

What is a dream that inspires you?

What is the path to pursue?

Welcome dear students, come in my door,

Let’s explore all that’s in view.

If your view from the teacher’s desk is a classroom with students who are more distracted than ever before, please download another poem that I’ve written. It’s titled, “Attentionology, Please!”

Going crazy in your classroom? This poem's for you. Attentionology Please!

Going crazy in your classroom? This poem’s for you. Attentionology, Please!

As Nikki Giovanni, one of America’s most popular African-American poets says, “a poem is pure energy.” Exactly. Poetry has the energy to pull kids in. Teachers love that kind of magnetic force. Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting! Don’t miss Mid-Week Focus on Wednesday. Talk with you then, and please, send comments, BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

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Posted in Attentionology for K-5 Teachers
Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Students are having trouble writing connecting sentences between the beginning, middle and end of a story.

Solution: Show toy airplanes, pretending to make them "take off" across notebook paper. Explain to the class that stories, like airplanes, require clear "flight paths."

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