Start today, now, tonight. Read poetry to children. It
doesn't matter whether they understand any more than it did
that you talked to them when they were babies. It starts out
way over their heads; but miraculously they learn much
faster than you would expect. There are child development
standards you can use to measure a child's mental growth,
but they are all too reactive not proactive. All children learn
much more than expected and thrive on challenge.
What poems should be read to children? If you want
to grossly underestimate them, read them only children's
poems. If you want to see dramatic results read them a wide
variety and include things beyond their age level and
If you are timid you can start with these simpler
poems that are guaranteed to interest most children: Shel
Silverstein books like The Light in the Attic and Where the
Sidewalk Ends, Mother Goose and other nursery rhymes,
Kids Pick the Funniest Poems and A Bad Case of the
Giggles with poems selected by Bruce Lansky.
Read a lot of children's publications and the poems in
them. Sunflower Petals published by Kansas State Poetry
Society 302 N. 5th St. Atchison Kansas, 66002 is a
publication to read. It periodically publishes many children's
poems as well as adults' poems.
Immerse children in any kinds of poetry that the
teacher enjoys. Read several poems at nap time.
Look for the book, Poetry Writing Handbook by Lipson,
published by TLC Teaching and Learning Company. It
teaches how to introduce poetic forms to middle school age
children and is a good resource book for teachers who want
to learn more about teaching poetry.
Preschool poetry activities:
1. Try making up rhymes.
2. Teacher writes and reads back each child's words.
3. Teacher listens for unintentional poetic word usage by
kids and writes it down.
4. Teacher writes down phrases of ordinary child
conversation and reads it back as free verse poems.
Capture the phrasing that is unique to children.
5. Write the dialogue you overhear between children in short
6. Sensitize children to internal rhyme by making up lines
like: "Crank a bank and thank Frank."
7. Introduce children to nonsense end rhymes and sing-
song patterns: dipedoo just for you wear a shoe
8. Make up new poems about yourself or each other from
the patterns in nursery rhymes and mother goose. Little Jack
Horner sat in a corner eating his Christmas pie. Be tolerant
of very bad rhymes, as having fun is more important than
perfect rhymes at first and probably always.
9. Make up verses of similar patterns for "This Old Man" , or
other children's songs. Be aware that songs are excellent
teachers of rhymed poetry.
With children a little older who understand the
instructions you can use more complex ideas about internal
rhymes and patterned end rhymes such as abba, abab,
aabb. Abba is a rhyme pattern in which the first line rhymes
with the fourth line and the second line rhymes witth the
third. At this stage you can give children forms like
diamante, a form which has centered lines with a short word
in the first line a long line in the center and a short word in
the last line. A diamante can be as many lines as you like
but must fit on one page. Here is an example of an
A glittering jewel
At the top of a Christmas tree
But gives a glow
Of warmth in
As you can see, it looks like a diamond. Don't be too
demanding of meaning or perfect diamond outline.
Think up rhythm patterns by drumming out repeating
patterns on the desk. When you have a pattern, try making a
poem to follow the beat. A limerick is just such a pattern. Try
drumming out the beat of a limerick and then write a
limerick. It is good to learn to write a limerick, as it is a fun
pattern, and teaches children to listen carefully for different
numbers of syllables in a foot.
da-DA-da, da-DA-da, da-DA-da
da-DA-da, da-DA-da, da-DA
da-DA-da, da-DA-da, da-DA
For children about age ten or twelve you may want to
introduce some more complex rhyme patterns such as
sestina, villanelle, sonnet (both forms), concrete shape,
haiku and tanka, As you teach children to write any regular
form of poetry you should first read examples of the form to
them and then try writing one. Definitely check out books
from the library about teaching children poetry. Mix any
other ideas with the ideas given here.
To get examples of poems for older children you may
want to look at school literature books including college
texts. If you know a poet, you may get examples from him or
her. If you have access to the Internet you should look up
different forms to see examples.
You do not need to wait to teach free verse exercises.
Free verse may be included at any point of your work with
children. As with any other form it should be introduced in
examples by reading to the class or having them read if they
are comfortable with that. Have children write parts of
conversations they have heard between adults or other
children. Write poems that sound like the words of the
teacher. They can learn to identify and copy different
people's speech patterns. Many books give lists of ideas
about which to write poems. You can also find these on the
Internet. If you can't find ideas, use any book of children's
poems as an idea book for your own poems. Keep the first
line and change all the other lines to make your own poem.