Getting Started with Poetry  


by Wendy Buchberg and Sandy Rouleau

WELCOME, FIRST GRADERS! (or Kindergartners.....etc.)
Get ready!
Get set!
For September brings
New friends,
New books,
So many new things.
 — Author Unknown

We begin using poetry on the very first day of school during our morning meeting. So many kindergartners and first graders expect to learn how to read on that first day of school...... With a short and simple poem like this, they can memorize it and "read" it to Mom and Dad that first night!

Each week, we teach one or two simple poems, like the one above, to the whole class. At the beginning of the week, the children are introduced to the poem on lined chart paper at the easel. We print it neatly in manuscript, skipping lines, sometimes highlighting repeated words or sounds in a different color. (***Recruit a parent volunteer with excellent penmanship for this job. It can be done at home and is perfect for a parent who is unavailable to help during school hours. Once you cultivate sources of poems, you can send home a month's worth at a time.)

Start by slowly reading the poem aloud to the class, pointing to each word as you go along. Different teachers we've observed have different tricks which heighten interest and help young students focus on the words and sounds. Instead of using your finger, a pencil or a traditional pointer, whip out a small sparkly children's baton as a "magic wand" that sweeps across the page, making each printed word come alive. Or, try drawing or cutting out out a magazine picture of a human eye, paste it to a small oval of poster board and attach to a tongue depressor...when you tell your students to "keep your eye on the words," this special eye can help them keep pace.

Once you've read the poem once or twice in this manner, let the students join you in "reading" it aloud. At this point, they may merely be memorizing, but that's fine! Repeated experiences with the printed chart will help to develop one-to-one correspondence of spoken word to written word. Call students up to the easel and let them try to find the elements you want to teach in the charted poem. For example, in the "Welcome..." poem above, you can have students point out capitals and lower case letters and demonstrate the difference in reading the lines with periods and those with exclamation points. New sight words to emphasize might include "September," "friends," and "new".....and of course, the rhyming words can be pointed out. Some children may be able to explain the commas, too. That's a tremendous amount of language learning packed into six short lines!

Each day in your morning meeting or other whole-group time, spend a few minutes reviewing the poem, continuing the word-pointing procedure. Let children develop vocal expressions, sounds, even gestures and body motions to give the poem life. During free reading time, keep the poem up at the easel and encourage children to borrow your special pointer to "play teacher" and practice reading the poem. A related independent or cooperative activity might be to write the words or lines of the poem on index cards or sentence strips and let children arrange them in the order that matches the chart. The enjoyment of sharing the poems with classmates, learning to read them independently  —  even if it seems like mere memorizing at the outset  —  can be an integral part of a beginning reader's experience with printed words.



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