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Teaching and Learning

Home  >  Teaching and Learning  >  Reading Workbooks  >  Multiple Skill Levels
Teaching Reading Through Poetry
By Claudia Dybdahl, University of Alaska Anchorage, S

Some readers immediately love to read poetry, but for many a love of poetry is developed. In helping students develop an appreciation and understanding of poetry, there are two fundamental principles to keep in mind. First, poetry must be read aloud. Second, poetry should be enjoyed.
Claudia Dybdahl

Keeping these two principles in mind, the poetry on LitSite is a marvelous collection for readers of all ages. Responses to poetry are personal and will vary from reader to reader. Sometimes one line, or even one word, of a poem is all that a reader relates to, but at other times the reader will want to memorize the poem in its entirety.

Some poems will make us laugh and some will make us cry. Some poems will confuse us, and some will be crystal clear. Forget about the pressure for the "right" response and think about YOUR response. Above all - read aloud and enjoy.

Generic Activities

The ideas below are meant to stimulate the imagination. There are literally hundreds of additional activities that parents and teachers will think of to add to our short list. The list will be expanded as LitSite is used.

  1. Describe one of the pictures that you formed in your mind as you read the poem. Provide as much detail as possible in your description. Note: Depending on the age and interest of the reader, this response may be in the form of a visual display (drawing or other) or in writing.

  2. Teacher or parent or friend: Cut the poem into separate lines. Present the poem in this fashion to pairs of students and ask them to order the lines. After they have finished and presented their work, then provide the original version. Discuss the differences.

  3. Present the poem without the last two or three lines. Ask the students, in pairs, to finish the poem. After each pair presents their work to the group, then provide them with the original version.

  4. Have each student select his/her favorite line from the poem, read it to a listener and tell why it is a favorite. The listener then selects his/her favorite line and tells why it is a favorite.

  5. After reading a favorite poem from LitSite, the student looks through an anthology of poetry to find a similar poem. Similar may mean: topic, type of poem, style, use of figurative language, emotional response, etc.

  6. After reading a poem from LitSite, the student writes his/her response to the poem in a journal. There is no required length to the response, and new readers of poetry may begin with a list of favorite words or images. Responses may also be written that probe the meaning of a poem, or that describe the readers reaction to the poem.

Small Group Discussion

Small group discussion is a way to promote both the enjoyment of poetry and to develop readers' response to poetry. Small group discussion can be structured or unstructured. Sometimes it is easier to begin, however, with some specific questions for the readers to respond to. Try some of these variations as a way to structure the groups. The steps listed are only suggestions, and many variations are possible.

Variation A

  1. Volunteer reads the poem aloud to the group.

  2. Each member of the group reads the poem silently.

  3. Another volunteer reads the poem aloud to the group.

  4. Each group member, in turn, shares an initial reaction (feeling, question, any observation) to the poem. Comments are recorded on chart paper by one of the students in the group.

  5. Open the discussion for all to comment using the recorded comments as a starting point. Note: Students are reminded to return to the text of the poem, as they attempt to resolve differences of opinion. However, with poetry, many differences may not be resolved.

Variation B

  1. Volunteer reads the poem aloud to the group.

  2. Each member of the group reads the poem silently.

  3. Another volunteer reads the poem aloud to the group.

  4. Each group member underlines puzzling words, phrases, punctuation, anything that seems unclear.

  5. Each group member presents one thing that they underlined. Discussion of each point occurs.

  6. Volunteer reads poem aloud again.

  7. Individual reactions to the poem are recorded in journals.

  8. Reactions are shared with group.

Variation C

  1. Volunteer reads the poem aloud to the group.

  2. Each member of the group reads the poem silently.

  3. Another volunteer reads the poem aloud to the group.

  4. Each group member writes a brief paragraph in his/her journal about what the poem means to him/her.

  5. Each group member shares what has been written in number 4 above. Other group members ask questions and discuss.

  6. Volunteer reads poem aloud to the group.

  7. Group discusses the meaning of the poem. What do you think the poem means now? Does this poem have multiple meanings?

  8. On a piece of chart paper, write a single word or phrase that captures what this poem means to you.

Resources for Teachers

  1. Smith, R.J. (1985) Using Poetry to Teach Reading and Language Arts. A Handbook for Elementary School Teachers. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

    Chapter 1, "Types of Poems" is particularly recommended as an introduction to poetry for elementary school teachers.

  2. Sloan, G.D. (1975) The Child As Critic, Teaching Literature in the Elementary School. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

    "Avoiding Verse Vivisection," found on pages 59-60 of this book is a wonderful introduction to the intent of reading poetry as recreation. Sloan begins her passage with the line, "Poems should be respected and enjoyed for what they are - imaginative constructs that are not translatable into utilitarian prose" (p 59). This short passage can be read again and again by teachers and parents, as a reminder that "poetry is delight rather than dissection" ( p 60).

  3. Dias, P. & Hayhoe, M. (1988). Developing Response to Poetry. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.

    This book contains a section by Ken Watson, entitled "Teaching Poetry in Australia" (pp 110-112). Both parents and teachers will profit from reading about the experience of Australian educators. Watson argues that enjoyment of poetry is the primary goal. He further states that small group discussion of poetry that allows for a range of responses has enormous value in developing readers' enjoyment and understanding of poetry.

  4. Lukens, R.J. (1990). A Critical Handbook of Children's Literature. (4th edition). Glenview, ILL: Scott, Foresman/Little, Brown Higher Education.

    Chapter 10 in Lukens book presents basic information on types of poetry, as well as the characteristics of language used by poets. This will be essential reading for parents and teachers, after doing some initial exploration of poetry with children.

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