Finding Material For Poetry Mini-Lessons  

by Wendy Buchberg and Sandy Rouleau

Whether you incorporate regular, daily inclusion of poetry into your primary language arts program or are planning a special unit to highlight poetry as a reading and writing form, two major tasks face the teacher: finding good sources of poetry for young children and deciding just what it is about the poetry that can be taught to beginning readers and writers. We hope the series of articles in this folder has been and will continue to help you in both of these areas.

How do you decide WHICH POETS to teach? First grade teachers Christine Duthie and Ellie Zimet have compiled this list of suggested poets ideal for use with primary children:

Arnold Adoff
Dorothy Aldis
Lena Anderson
Frank Asch
Margaret Wise Brown
Marchette Chute
Lucille Clifton
Beatrice Schenk de Regniers
Eleanor Farjean
Rachel Field
Aileen Fisher
Eloise Greenfield
Mary Ann Hoberman
Lee Bennett Hopkins
Leland Jacobs
Karla Kuskin
Nancy Larrick
Dennis Lee
Myra Cohn Livingston
David McCord
Eve Merriam
Lillian Moore
Jack Prelutsky
Joanne Ryder
Shel Silverstein
Marilyn Singer
Valerie Worth
Charlotte Zolotow

(from Duthie and Zimet, "Poetry is Like Directions for Your Imagination," The Reading Teacher, September, 1992.)

While not an all-inclusive list, these names reflect some of the best of what is available today for young readers and will give you a starting point for developing your own collection of favorites. All these poets have anthologies of their own which you can find at your local library or bookseller. In addition, they are often included in thematic poetry anthologies edited by others and appear regularly in professional teacher magazines.

How do you decide WHAT to teach? Although there are basic poetic conventions you'll want to share with your students in mini-lessons and invite them to experiment with, the sequencing of these topics may best be based upon the interests and needs of your particular students. Duthie and Zimet suggest that an important first mini-lesson is simply to recognize that ALL POETRY DOES NOT RHYME and to look at some non-rhyming examples. Acknowledging this ensures that the children will feel free to write their own poetry without feeling constrained by having to rhyme.

The next mini-lesson which will help to make poetry feel more accessible to your young students deals with REPETITION. Particularly if you use the "hanging poetry library" we described in September's article in this folder, students can graphically identify repetitions you highlight in different colors on the poetry charts and can easily access that same technique in their own poetry writing.

Duthie and Zimet comment that each year, the interests of each new class spark them to review and revise not only the content and sequence of their mini-lessons, but also the poetry selections they use to exemplify each lesson. Below is a sampling of daily mini-lesson topics they used one year:

  • Brainstorming for a topic
  • Rhyming vs. non-rhyming
  • What is a poetry anthology?
  • Three types of poetry: "things around us," "images," "feelings"
  • Focusing on a single image
  • Repetition
  • Sound words
  • Lining
  • Saying common things in an uncommon way
  • Alliteration
  • Invented words
  • Shape of poetry (free form)
  • Stanzas
  • Couplets
  • Refrains
  • Choosing more interesting words
  • Titles
  • Indexes and tables of contents
  • Different kinds of poetry anthologies
  • Compiling a poetry anthology
  • Anthology titles

(Duthie and Zimet, 1992)

As important as the content of a poetry mini-lesson may be, the heart of the lesson actually comes at the end, as the teacher extends an invitation to the children to experiment with the day's feature in their own writing. The teacher might, for example say to the group, "Maybe you'll want to use alliteration today in your own writing. You might also want to look over some poems that you've already written and see if you want to add alliteration as a revision." You will find over and over a direct correlation between the mini-lesson topic and the children's writing that day.. (Duthie and Zimet, 1992)

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