What first grader doesn't love The Cat in the Hat? Teaching poetry to children in the early years of school develops language skills that the student will carry throughout their life.
Rhyme and Reason
Why should teachers include a poetry unit of study for 1st grade students? The answer is simple. Poetry teaches language in an engaging manner. Poetry allows the reader to develop images of people, places and things through "word pictures." Poetry entertains, instructs, challenges and inspires. First graders are at the perfect stage of development to learn about and write poetry.
Many teachers have an innate fear of poetry. Often, their only exposure was in a high school English Literature class where the canon of old, Anglo male poets held court. How unfortunate that they never had the opportunity to laugh over the nonsense poems of Shel Silverstein, to linger in the imagery of Emily Dickinson or to resonate with the inspired words of Langston Hughes.
A unit of poetry for beginners should be as much fun to teach, as it is to learn. Keep things simple, allow for poetic license and enjoy!
Begin this unit by gathering various poetry books from this suggested bibliography as well as others by different authors for the students to read. Some poems, like "Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening," have been made into children's books. Other poets, like Dr. Seuss, simply write in rhyme. Remember to include books from other cultures so that students understand that poetry is an international language.
- to introduce first graders to the sound and sight of poetic language
- to demonstrate to students the universality of poetry
- to engage students in creating poems
- to inspire and develop creative thinking in students
- to cultivate language skills in students
Lesson One: First graders love rhyme. Begin this lesson by picking a rhyming family with many members, for instance, the "at" family - hat, cat, sat, mat, etc.
Brainstorm with students all the words in this family, writing them on the board as the students respond. Once the students exhaust the options, demonstrate putting the words in sentences where the rhyming word comes last. Example: See the big, yellow cat.
As the students come up with sentences, write them on the board. After everyone has had an opportunity to create a sentence, explain that together, you will put the sentences into three line poems. Ask them to pick the first sentence to start. Add to that sentence until you have three lines. Example: See the big, yellow cat. He wears a green hat. Did he see the rat?
Once done, congratulate the students on writing their first poems.
Lesson Two: After spending time listening to and reading rhymes, present students with the opportunity to write independently a rhyming poem. Tell them that they will write a poem about a dog. With this poetry handout, the students fill-in the blanks with rhyming words that describe a dog. (The first sentence helps them begin their rhyme.) Allow them to draw a picture to go with their poem. Allow students to use two rhymes if they wish.
Lesson Three: Some poetry has a cadence, a rhythm that students enjoy tapping out on instruments. Collaborating with the music teacher, have students tap out the rhythm of a poem using percussion instruments. Have them practice some simple iambic pentameter (i.e., Mary had a little lamb...) before going on to other rhythms. Give a concert for other classes or parents.
Lesson Four: Explain how poems paint pictures in our minds with words. Ask the students to close their eyes while you read them a poem that uses imagery (Fog, by Carl Sandburg, for example). Read it two or three times slowly. Remind the students to keep their eyes closed. They are to picture what you are reading to them. Now, have the students draw a picture of what they "saw" as you read.
Lesson Five: Acrostics and lantern poems help students use their vocabulary and develop their language skills.
An acrostic can be assigned at any time across subject matter. An easy way to start is to have students make acrostics of their own names. Each letter of their name is a new word or phrase.
Eyes of blue
Lantern poems are shaped like Chinese lanterns as each line is centered. The following format is modified from the typical form to help students practice their vocabulary.
- Line 1: a noun
- Line 2: 2 -ly words describing line 1
- Line 3: 3 adjectives describing line 1
- Line 4: 4 -ing words describing line 1
- Line 5: a synonym for, or renaming of noun in line 1
Harvest of Verse
Hold a classroom celebration as the finale of this poetry unit of study for 1st grade. Display students work on the walls, have students demonstrate how to tap out rhythms, recite poems and share which poets the class enjoyed most.
Content is from author's experience.
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