Teaching poetry isn’t as difficult as some think. It’s easy to incorporate into a week’s reading activities because the texts are short. Some people make the mistake of teaching the structural elements of poetry first–identifying a stanza, rhyming patterns, types of poetry. Instead, I like to begin with the comprehension aspect of poetry. What is the speaker doing? What does the reader visualize during reading? What is the poet saying about the subject? How does he feel about the subject? Here are some easy steps to make teaching poetry easy.
1. Introduce the Poem
Give a brief introduction to tell students what the poem is about. Is it traditional (old)? Is it humorous? Is it serious? Is it about a dog, or a trip to the beach?
2. Read Aloud
Project the poem on a screen and read the poem aloud to the students while they follow along silently. Be theatrical; it makes the poem more meaningful. Read it a second time, so they can enjoy it again and pick up meaning they missed the first time.
3. Read Together
Read the poem together. Keep the pace a bit slow so kids can keep up and further comprehend the poem’s message.
4. Look at Interesting Lines
Look at interesting words, lines, stanzas. Discuss sensory images and what the reader visualizes.
5. Discuss What the Speaker Is Doing
Discuss what the speaker of the poem is doing. Is he active in the poem, or is he observing something and commenting on it. What is the speaker feeling? Is he happy, sad, excited? Does the poem tell a story or express feelings?
6. Identify Poetic Elements
Now that the kids are familiar with the poem is the time to attach labels to the various elements. Help them to understand the difference between a sentence in prose and a line in poetry. Count the stanzas. Believe it or not, some kids can be confused about what a stanza is. Identify the rhyme scheme. Identify any couplets. Is there repetition? Are there other forms of figurative language? Is it lyric poetry or free verse?
I know we teachers all have to get grades for our report cards. One way to handle this is to discuss a poem in this manner before giving a comprehension quiz on a poem. I have developed several poems with open-ended questions and objective questions over the same poem. After kids are a familiar with poetry, they can work with a partner to complete the open-ended questions. Then, discuss in whole group. Finally, use the objective quiz to assess understanding and get that important grade for the grade book. If you would like sets of these poems with both types of questioning, check out my monthly Close Reading packets. There are four different poems included in each Close Reading packet. You can grab the January packet here.