This post is part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is FUNCTION.
What’s the function of poetry in the classroom? As National Poetry Month comes to an end, this is a good time to to ask this question. Poetry can play many roles and deserves a place in our classrooms every day.
Poetry has always been woven into my instruction, no matter what time of year. When I taught third grade, we began the year studying Mary O’Neill’s Hailstones and Halibut Bones (1961). O’Neill’s “Adventures in Poetry and Color” were perfect for helping my students become more observant and thoughtful about description. Close study of these poems also helped kids solidify their understanding of parts of speech.
Now I work with readers who are considered Tier 3 in the RTI model. They aren’t special ed students, but they also aren’t progressing at a rate that makes it likely they will reach end-of-year benchmarks. Whether we call them struggling readers or striving readers, the bottom line is the same: They need extra help. And I’m lucky to be the person to give them that assistance.
When I was working on my reading specialist certification, one professor urged us to start each lesson with a poem as a way to “warm up our ears.” I didn’t need convincing, but loved the rationale. So each day, my students and I read poems. Poetry is ideal for students who find reading challenging for many reasons. Poetry tends to come as a small packages, which is perfect for beginning readers who get overwhelmed by lots of print.
Another important reason to include poetry that rhymes in lessons with young readers is that these poems give kids a chance to practice phonics patterns in an authentic text. This repetition is key for all learning. Average young readers need “four to fourteen repetitions” in order to “reach a reliable level of word reading accuracy…[but] more than 40 repetitions [are needed] for those with reading difficulties” (Katherine Garnett, “Fluency in Learning to Read: Conceptions, Misconceptions, Learning Disabilities, and Instructional Moves” *) Using poetry ensures these repeated readings will be fun!
I carefully chose poems that are engaging and incorporate the phonics elements we are working on. This allows students experience success with reading right away. Early success not only keeps kids engaged, it increases the likelihood that they’ll want to keep reading. Certain poems quickly become favorites and are soon memorized. These are recited with confidence and pride.
“I See a Cat” by Cindy Chapman (found here) is perfect for beginning readers:
I see a cat.
I see a big cat.
I see a big, fat cat…
You can see the appeal. We also act out the poems, sometimes with props, adding an extra sensory dimension. This increases the likelihood that the students will retain what they’re learning. Copies of poems are always sent home so kids care show off their skills to their families and friends.
Making poetry part of every lesson also helps build vocabulary, science and social studies concepts, and more. The list is really endless, and I haven’t even mentioned comprehension or the emotional impact of poetry. Because we’ve read so much poetry, writing poetry becomes a natural extension (and provides additional authentic practice!).
What is the function of poetry in the classroom? Poetry brings laughter and joy, something we all need, every single day.
Not convinced? Here a few of the hundreds of resources available in print and online:
- “It’s Music to Our Ears: Kwame Alexander and Chris Colderly Explain Why Poetry Matters“
- The Poetry Friday Anthology series, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, published by Pomelo Books
- Awakening the Heart, by Georgia Heard
- “10 Ways to Use Poetry in Your Classroom“
- The Poem Farm blog by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
* Chapter from: Birsch, J. R. (2011). Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, 3rd Edition. Baltimore: Paul H. Brooks Publishing.