Beyond Acrostics & Haiku: Teaching Poetry

We are quickly approaching the month of April, which means that a lot of us are gearing up for our poetry unit. Me? I've actually already taught it! My poetry writing unit is my scope & sequence to be taught in January, and I'd love to share what worked for me... and what didn't.

Poetry is SO much more than rhyming verse, acrostics & haiku! I love teaching students the beauty and power of words and language, and I feel like forcing students to write certain types of poems can actually hinder the creative process. So instead of starting my unit teaching the different types of poetry, I focus on teaching students to write thoughtful, meaningful poems. Here are some of the things I do!
Poetry is SO much more than rhyming verse, acrostics & haiku! Check out this post to learn ways to teach your students to focus on the beauty and power of words.

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1. Read Poems First!

One of the first things I do before my students write poems is that we is read poems. Lots of poems. I immerse my class with poems. By reading poems, students become aware of the flow and form of poems. Although we all love Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, I try my best to not focus too much on rhyming, funny/silly poems. Poetry is a genre that allows writers to share their big, strong feelings, and I don't want my students to associate poetry with only humor. Some of my favorite poetry books/poets are: Silver Seeds, anything by Douglas Florian (Mammalabilia, Handsprings, and he has a bunch of seasonal poetry books), Red Sings from Treetops, Mirror Mirror (this is also fun when studying fairy tales), A Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets, Poems to Learn by Heart... and so many more!

I like to project the poems with my document camera (or you could make photocopies) so that my kids can see the poem while I read it aloud. I read it a few times aloud, and then there are a few things you could do with the poem: I like to hold a whole-class conversation about the poems. Or you could do word study, vocabulary, or fluency work with it, depending on the needs of your class.

I started doing this about three weeks before my poetry writing unit, but next year, I want to dedicate my one of my Read Aloud days per week to do this, starting at the beginning of the year.

2. What Exactly IS Poetry?

It's really important for kiddos to understand that poetry is a completely different genre than fiction or nonfiction. This is the finished anchor chart I used with my class this year, but it was definitely a work in progress throughout the whole unit.
Poetry anchor chart that lists the elements of poems. ALL Poems Have... Some Poems Have...
On Day 2 of my unit, we began to build this anchor chart. We started with the definition and making the list of what ALL poems have. They came up with the first three, but I had to supply the last two: white space and line breaks. They came up with rhythm, repetition, and rhyme themselves, and we added them to the SOME Poems Have side. As we learn the characteristics and elements of poetry, we add them to the list.

3. Options, Options, Options!

This year, I went to the Dollar Spot and scooped up as many different kinds of papers as I could find. Giving students the option to choose papers of all shapes, sizes, and colors can assist with the creative process, and sometimes even spark an idea for what to write about! Here is what my poetry writing station looked like this year:
Poetry Writing Station: Give your students the option of using paper of many different shapes, sizes, and styles. It helps with the creative process!
My kiddos also had the option to write in their Writer's Notebooks.

4. Idea Generation

Coming up with topics to write poetry about is tricky. So we make lots of lists of people, places, things, and ideas that are important and special to us. We also make lists of things that make us happy, sad, scared, or angry. Topics that give us big, strong feelings often spark the best poems. I also love to write poems about every day objects and see them in a new way. One of my coworkers brought me a hot chocolate from Starbucks one morning, and it sparked the BEST poem!
TEACHERS! Model writing poems in front of your class. Show them that anyone can write poetry!
Click HERE for a freebie poetry ideas graphic organizer!

5. Look at Your Subject in a New Way

The beauty of poetry is being able to look at ordinary things in extraordinary ways. I like to take my kids on "field trips" throughout the school so we can study our subjects. We've been to the playground, cafeteria, and our favorite place, the courtyard, so we can get up close with our subjects.
Take your students on a field trip around your school to give them ideas for writing poetry.

6. Boil Down Extra Words

Even though we teach kids to write phrases or even single word lines, they still gravitate to writing complete sentences... or at least in third grade they do! I'd bet if you're a primary teacher, your kiddos would have an easier time with this, haha! So I teach my kiddos to read through their poems and cross off the extra words, helping them to choose precise words with intention.

7. Share Your Poems!

Poems are meant to be shared. To be read aloud. I bought these 8-pack of blank books from Target in the Dollar Spot ($3 per pack) for my students to publish their poems. Our poetry anthologies had a Table of Contents, at least 5 published poems, and an "About the Author" at the end.
These $3 packs of blank books from the Target Dollar Spot are the perfect place for students to make a poetry anthology!
Here are a few poems that my students wrote. They BLEW my mind!
Examples of poems written by children. These are from third grade students! AMAZING!!
Third graders wrote these! Can you believe it?! And the amazing part is that all four of these poems were written by some of the lowest readers in my class! DISCLAIMER: I did write the bottom two for one of my loves, but I just copied her drafts :)

We also took a day to share our poems with our writing partners and then those who wanted to were able to sit in my teacher chair with the microphone and share their favorite poem they published.
Poems are meant to be read aloud! Give your students the opportunity to share their poems with their friends and loved ones.
Poems are meant to be read aloud! Give your students the opportunity to share their poems with their friends and loved ones.

So Do You Teach The Various Styles of Poetry?

Yes I do, but not until the end of the unit. We focus on the words & the elements of poetry as well as the revision process first, and then I show students several types of poems. We spend a few days discussing typical rhyming patterns for poetry, acrostics, haikus, and shape poems, but our main focus is on free verse. I encourage my students to think of their subject first, rather than choosing a type of poem and then trying to make it work. Nothing drives me more crazy than an acrostic poem with the student's first name and then a random adjective for each letter...

I hope some of these ideas have given you some inspiration for your own poetry writing unit! What is your favorite thing about teaching poetry to your students? Let me know in the comments below!

For more poetry ideas, check out my Pinterest Board:

1 comment

  1. Thanks for creating this post! It encouraged me to take a leap into free writing poetry, and my class are LOVING IT!!!!! You rock!
    180 Days and Counting


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