April: National Poetry Month
Did you know that? Old hat for Brave Writer fans, right?
One of the funny things about being in the “hot seat” for writing and language arts is that I’ve become a confessor of sorts. Mothers like to corner me at conferences or in the hallways of our co-op to ask me their questions and to tell me their guilty tales of failed writing attempts. One question I get frequently is: “How do I teach poetry? Do I have to? I’ve never liked it and don’t understand it. Truth is: we never read it.”
If that’s you, if you’re wondering how to give a lesson in poetry to your kids when you never spent much time with it yourself, I’ve got some ideas for you! April is obviously just the right month to tackle it.
- Start small. Short poems are easier to read and process than long ones. Nursery rhymes, haiku, sonnets, limericks, riddles, and any poem with two or fewer stanzas are good candidates.
- Read children’s poetry. Especially pick humor. Jack Prelutsky is one of our favorites. You can’t go wrong with Shel Silverstein either. Head to the library, go to the children’s poetry section and scan the offerings. If you laugh, take it home with you.
- Read the classics, but in a children’s poetry anthology. My favorite book is Read Aloud Poems for Young People (edited by Glorya Hale). This book organizes poems by all the greats into easy-to-use categories (seasons, country, family, etc.).
- Check out one poet at a time. I love the books that feature one author, such as Rudyard Kipling or Lewis Carroll.
Tips for successful reading (do a few of these each time you read, not every time):
- Definitely steep tea and offer treats.
- Take time to read poetry aloud.
- Remember: you may dislike a poem just like you may dislike a song. It’s not unsophisticated. It’s simply your reaction.
- When you like a poem, read it twice. You get more out of it on the second reading.
- Don’t feel obligated to generate meaning from the poem.
- Pay attention to the rhyme and enjoy how it feels to make it happen.
- Notice alliteration (words that start with the same sounds) and assonance (words that have the same vowel sounds).
- Copy a line that you liked into a copy book.
- Use a line as a prompt for a freewrite.
- Read several poems from one author and see if you can detect any habits (likes humor, writes about nature, always uses an alternating rhyme scheme, alliterates).
- Jot down a short poem and put it in your pocket. Pull it out later in the day to reread and see how it hits you then.
Whatever you do, enjoy poetry. It’s not to be worked over like a convict. It’s to be savored in your mouth like a chocolate kiss.