Today, I engage students by having them grab a seat in our classroom meeting place (on a carpeted area of my classroom near my easel) because I want to read them a text. My students, even at 8 and 9 years old, get really excited to hear me read them a story! As everyone settles in, I give the kids a task. I tell them that today, I'm going to read them a special kind of text called poetry. I explain that poetry is different than a literature or informational text. I tell the students that literature and informative text is written in “prose”, which means written in sentences, paragraphs, or we are used to as “regular” text. But poetry is not written in complete sentences all the time. Instead, it’s usually written in short phrases, and the phrases work together to make up parts. I tell the students that as I’m reading this poem to them, I want to them think about which part of the poem is their favorite.
I open up a small book of poems that have been collected online (all are free and available through the public domain) that have been retyped and bound for my students to use. I read the poem “A Sand Witch for a Sandwich” by Emily Sweeney. This is a fun poem for students to hear and it has a catchy rhythm to it that the students enjoy as well. Some students even move along subtly while seated on the carpet to the “sound” of the words as I read.
After reading the poem, I tell the students that they've had a chance to hear the poem and now, I’d like them to take 1 minute and turn to their partner and discuss what part they each liked the most! I let the kids turn and talk to each other and I listen in to their conversations. As I listen in to one of the conversations, I hear the one student say, “My favorite part was the last part, at the end, when the writer laughs because it’s a “sandwich”! Get it? A sand-wich!” The other student says, “That part is funny. I liked the part more toward the beginning, where the writer says that they made a witch out of the sand. I’m going to be witch for Halloween this year, so if I were at the beach right now, I’d make a witch, too!” I can see that my students are using the poetic structure to discuss the poem, and now that they’ve experienced this using of structure, it’s time to label their new learning!
I regain the attention of the class and ask, “Would anyone like to share their favorite part of the text?” A few students share their favorite parts and then I ask another question. “Boys and girls, did you find it difficult at all to describe your favorite part to your partners?” Many of the kids nod their heads in agreement. I say, “If it was difficult for you today, tell us why describing your favorite part was sometimes tricky.” Here are a few of the responses my students offered:
“It was hard to tell my partner my favorite part because he didn’t know what part I was talking about really.”
“I think it was tricky because I wanted to point to the part of the text to show my partner what was my favorite.”
“Well, the poem never said this is the “first part”, or the “second part”, so it was hard to say which part we liked.”
I say to my third graders, “Boys and girls, it is so wonderful that you were trying to figure out a way to better describe which part of the text was your favorite today. You were using the structure of the poem to help you, and the structure has some very special names so that we can, more easily, talk and write about poems after reading them! Let me show you!”
I flip my easel paper over to a new chart that I have previously prepared that has a poem called, “Do Oysters Sneeze?”, written by Jack Prelutsky, on it. I review the definition of “poem”, and point out that anyone that has written a poem is called a “poet”. Then I say, “Look, third graders, do you see how this poem has two parts? These parts are called “stanzas”! They’re called what?” All the student repeat, “Stanzas!” “Right!”, I say. “The first part is stanza one and the next part is stanza 2! Now, if we were going to talk about this poem, wouldn’t it be easy to say, “I like stanza one!” or “I like stanza two!”?” I see a lot of head nods now! “But look at this! I’ve added something else on this poem! Not only does a poem have stanza, but it also has parts called “lines”, called what?” “Lines!” everyone repeats back! “That’s right! Lines are the individual rows of text within a stanza, so here’s line one, and here’s line two!” I point to the lines as I name them. “Something neat about lines is that once they start with line one at the very top of the poem, the lines continue to follow that number order, all the way through the entire poem. So, in stanza one, there are lines one, two, three, and four, and then in stanza two, we see lines five, six, seven, and eight!”
Next, we need to try out our using of these terms, so I say to the students that now I'm going to read them this poem! The poet is Jack Prelutsky and I tell them that I just know they’re going to love this poem-his poems are great, and sometimes really funny! I ask the kids to listen to this poem and as I read, follow the stanzas and lines with their eyes! I read the whole poem, and then I say, “Okay, how about you read this poem with me! Let’s read stanza one together first!” We chorally read stanza one together! I congratulate them on great reading and invite them to read stanza two with me! We chorally read stanza two together! Then I pose the students with a task. I tell them that now I want them to turn to a partner and decide: Which stanza, stanza one or stanza two, shows that the poet is wondering if oysters sneeze? I let the kids talk just for a moment because almost instantaneously hands begin going up! I ask a student to tell us which stanza they found what the words that explain what the poet was wondering about. They identify stanza one and I tell them they're right, we can see it here in stanza one! Then I ask the kids to look at the poem again and find which line says that the poet is wondering whether or not oysters sneeze. Again, hands shoot up right away! A student offers enthusiastically, “In line one is where it’s said! I can see it!” I compliment the student on a job well done and tell the class that they are doing a great job using the words “stanza” and “line” to discuss the structure of this poem! Nice work!
To wrap up today, I ask the following questions of my students:
-What’s a poem?
-What’s a poet?
-What’s a stanza?
-How are stanzas numbered?
-What’s a line?
-How are lines numbered?
At the end of the lesson, I tell the kids, “Nice job today working with this form of text! Tomorrow, we’ll read some more ocean poems!” The students are taking command of the academic vocabulary needed to read and discuss poetry!