Teaching Poetry To Children
Introducing children to poetry at home or in the classroom through writing activities can be easy and fun.
Poetry draws on two natural tendencies of childhood: imagination and play. The best poets who have written for children have not forgotten this. Shel Silverstien is a great example with his book "The Giving Tree", and we are all familiar with the creative genius of Dr. Suess. Made up words like Lerkim, Grickle-grass, and Gluppity-Glupp play with the tongue and stretch the imagination. These great, funny poets can serve as a starting point with introducing children to poetry, both at home and in the classroom. The next step will be easing them into writing it. These activities can be used by teachers, poets working in the classroom, or parents at home.
When teaching children to write poetry, avoid the dry academics of form and structure. Rhyme and meter have their place, as does knowing a sonnet from a ballad. However, children will quickly lose interest. One activity I have successfully used with third grade kids is cut and paste poetry, an old fashioned version of magnetic poetry. The kids are supplied with glue, a piece of paper, and a pile of words cut from old magazines and newspapers. Have them play around with the words until they come up with their poem. Then the words can be pasted in place on the paper and displayed. It is important that the grown up supervising this activity also create their own poem.
Another twist on this activity is grab bag poetry. Come up with a variety of descriptive words and place them in a paper lunch bag. Have one child pull out six words, lottery style. Then display the words where all of the kids can see them. The kids must use those words to create a poem. Give them a few guidelines, such as the poem must be a minimum of four lines long and contain at least five of the six words. Again, the adult should be creating their own poem. This assignment works well with older kids.
If you must teach form, then teach Haiku. It is a simple Japanese form that can be quite fun for kids to learn. It is a three line poem. The first and third lines are five syllables each. The second line is seven syllables. Generally, the poems are about nature and show some kind of motion. My oldest daughter loves to write Haiku.
When I have gone into the schools to work with kids, I generally observe the same structure. First, I introduce myself. Then I give the kids examples of good poetry. We follow with the writing exercise. The teacher is always asked to participate as well. Finally, I end with an open reading, allowing the kids to share what they have created. The adults participate here, also. I usually begin the reading with the poem I created during the workshop. The reading is voluntary, but usually after the more outgoing students read, the other kids build up their courage.
Allow the children to see what other kids are creating by exposing them to some of the publications that print work by children. Two magazines I recommend are "Word Dance" and "Stone Soup". The Internet is another good resource, with supervision. Bind and staple together their work in a little booklet with copies for everyone involved. I still have the first poem I “published” in a classroom book put together by my sixth grade teacher.
Maybe you will be influencing the next Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman. At least, you will be instilling a playful love of words. When teaching children poetry, remember to center around that playfulness while cultivating imagination. They will surprise you with poetry full of insight and whit only a child can express.