Thursday, March 8, 2018

Teacher Tips + the Poetry Friday Roundup

Cole Stivers

"I am not a teacher, but an awakener."
          – Robert Frost

Wake up! Wake up!
It's time for Poetry Friday!

We're focusing on poetry in the classroom this month at Today's Little Ditty. Last Friday I interviewed Nikki Grimes about how best to incorporate poetry into middle and high school classrooms. Today I'd like to talk about elementary classrooms, as well.

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education:
Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

Many thanks to Renée LaTulippe for featuring me at No Water River last week! I'm honored to be included in her extensive Poetry Video Library, reading two poems from The Best of Today's Little Ditty, Volumes 1 and 2. Besides being great little collections, however, I wonder if people realize how useful these books can be in the classroom.

Available in paperback ($9.95) and Kindle ($5.95) editions at

The 2016 edition even has a separate section called "Using Poetry in the Classroom." It includes information about Poetry Friday, plus a few websites that are particularly helpful when it comes to incorporating poetry into lesson plans. Along with No Water River, there's Sylvia Vardell's Poetry for Children, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's The Poem Farm, Laura Purdie Salas's Writing the World for Kids, and Margaret Simon's Reflections on the Teche.

I quite like this recommendation that Janet Wong gave me for the back cover of the 2016 edition:
How to build your skills as a children's poet? Read anthologies! The Best of Today's Little Ditty is a great tutorial because each section contains several poems written from the same prompt. Maybe you'll find the best thing of all: that you write like no one other than yourself.

Janet's words apply equally well to student poets! Since I've become more active as a poet-teacher, I realize first hand how useful— and versatile the DMC challenges are. During last week's Poetry Friday rounds, I came across Jone MacCulloch's post about student revision. The form she was using with her elementary students (some as young as kindergarteners) was adapted from Helen Frost's March 2017 challenge to write a specific type of ode poem. Wouldn't you know, I used the same challenge when I was working in a high school classroom the week before!

Here's the group poem the high schoolers and I worked on together:


You feel hazy today,
yet crisp like winter air.
I hear your suffocating silence.
When I look, you disappear 
into the pea soup thickness of memory.
What secrets are you keeping?

But enough about my experience in the classroom. Today I've invited a number of more experienced teachers and poet-teachers to contribute their own simple and practical tips for successfully engaging, inspiring, and otherwise connecting students with poetry in fun and meaningful ways. (The tips are for teachers of all age groups unless otherwise noted.) With National Poetry Month right around the corner, it's a terrific opportunity for all of us to refresh our tool bags with some new approaches to poetry education.

From Ed Spicer:

If you want students to love poetry, you have to read poetry to them regularly. Tuesday was my poetry day in first grade. We wrote poetry, read poetry, figured out patterns, counted syllables, and more. Every Tuesday! The whole year! But poetry and rhyming words and alliteration and word rhythm, etc. snuck their way into Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays too. I cannot imagine teaching writing without poetry, but the reasons why are too many to include here. My first graders loved poetry, in part, because I love poetry. Part of the reason I love it so much is because it accelerates the learning and thinking process in young minds. It builds flexibility, empowers students, and fosters empathy, which is essential for instilling kindness.

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education:
Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

From Christie Wyman:

Poetry Tip for Kindergarten (could be PreK through 1st Grade, though)

Select a “Poem of the Week” that the class studies in-depth. In addition to a large shared reading copy on a chart to interact with all week, provide an individual copy for their poetry notebook with space for illustrating and writing a response sentence or two. Ask students to draw the image created in their head when listening to and thinking about the poem.

While this "tip" isn't anything original, I think it's a powerful language routine of sorts. Many teachers have a poem of the week, but they often ask students to circle sight words and/or sounds. While we can certainly focus on these skills in a whole group setting, I love to keep the integrity of the poem as a whole. This imagery-focused task isn't often done, from what I've seen. The conversations that stem from this work are amazing!

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education:
Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

From Heidi Mordhorst:

Here's my list of "beginner poetry concepts" and a couple of poems that help kids K-2 grasp each idea.

1) Poets choose to write about one small thing.
"Rain Song" by Langston Hughes or "Ode to Watermelon" by Pablo Neruda

2) Poets choose words that sound good together. 
"Hey, Bug" by Lilian Moore or "Fish" by Mary Ann Hoberman

3) Poets choose where to put their words. 
"My Mouth" by Arnold Adoff or "Balloon" by Colleen Thibaudeau

4) Poets create strong feelings.
"Night Comes..." Bernice Schenk de Regniers or "Keepsake" by Eloise Greenfield

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim
Agency for American Education:
Images of Teachers and Students in Action.
From Margaret Simon:

Read a lot of poetry. Find the ones you love. Collect words, mimic form, write, write, write. Then share. Poetry is meant to be read aloud and shared with people you trust. (This could be written in a poem form. Ha!)

From Linda Baie:

Using previous years' student poems, encourage students to read what others wrote in the past, to see they could do it, too. Then read published poems from all kinds of books. Sharing their favorites—poems and sometimes just a line—and why, helps students "see" the poetic in all its variations. They read and explore, begin to choose what they like and want to attempt themselves.

From Mary Lee Hahn:

Ask yourself, "Can I accomplish this (task, standard, teaching point) with poetry?" Such a question gave me and one of my teaching partners the perfect Black History Month project: Our students have studied the poetry of 8 Black poets, 2 per week for 4 weeks.

From Sylvia Vardell:

And I would offer a corollary to Mary Lee's mantra.... when you plan a lesson or unit or gather a list or set of books, ask yourself, "Did I remember to include poetry?" Adding a poem or book of poetry is always a good idea and broadens the literary models kids experience and enabling cross-genre connections. Plus... FUN!

One more thing: OBVIOUSLY, I would want to recommend the "Take 5" approach for sharing poetry! It's a simple, pedagogically sound approach that teachers can lean on and children participate in. In a nutshell, first (1) the teacher reads the poem aloud with a bit of pizzazz (a prop, movement, visuals), (2) then the students join in to read the poem aloud with the teacher (e.g., chiming in on a key word, repeated line, or final line), (3) then you pause to chat about the poem (e.g. what does it remind you of or make you wonder), (4) then you focus on one key skill (e.g., rhyme, alliteration, similes or connect with a related picture book), and finally (5) follow up with ANOTHER poem that is similar in some way or for contrast or just for fun. Voila! Instant poem lesson in five minutes!

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education:
Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

From Buffy Silverman:

Bring a little nature inside. It can be something as simple as tree leaves, a fallen stick, shells, a feather, a stuffed animal, or photos that you clip from a magazine. Use your nature items to brainstorm a list of words, memories, sensory items. Have students "steal" strong verbs, nouns from a poem that you read aloud (I've done this with Joyce Sidman's "Welcome to the Night.") Choose some words/memories from your list. Borrow some words from a classmate's list. Start to write.

From JoAnn Early Macken:

Inspiration is all around us. You can find it in two simple steps: Slow down and pay attention. And if your senses are sharp, the second one might be enough!

From Laura Purdie Salas:

Write poetry WITH your students! It's intimidating, but SO valuable. Talking through your process aloud as you write in front of students gives kids tremendous insight and courage. It also can help create a real feeling of trust, exploration, playfulness, and authenticity in writing. (Also, they will soon suggest ways to improve your poems, so it leads naturally into the next step of them writing their own poems.)

From Irene Latham:

I like to start with a poetry acrostic—

and then we look at examples to illustrate each line. After we write together, I ask students to use the acrostic as a checklist to prompt revisions. When we share our poems, the acrostic also gives students a framework for providing feedback to peers.

From Amy Ludwig VanDerwater:

To encourage students, here is a little tip that has always helped me.

If you write a poem, read it out loud. Then ask someone else to read it out loud. Listen deeply to your words in the air, and you will know where to revise.

From Janet Wong:

When teaching revision, I tell students just to try to make Draft 2 “different, not better.” For instance, if Draft 1 rhymed, use zero rhyme in Draft 2. If Draft 1 didn’t use repetition, pick a favorite word to repeat a few times in Draft 2. If Draft 1 was 10 lines, cut it in half for Draft 2. Then take your favorite parts from Draft 1 plus your favorite parts from Draft 2, and add a few more words here and there to make Draft 3. Poetry is the best genre for teaching revision.

Ernesto Eslava

From Kathryn Apel:

Play with words, for the sheer joy of it. No rules—just creativity. What sounds good when read aloud? Write a stream of alliteration, or rollicking rhyming words. Stretch the reader’s imagination with similes and metaphors. Surprise yourself—and have fun! (Shape poetry is a perfect springboard for this.)

From Laura Shovan:

Similes are a powerful tool! There is a big difference between saying, "It was cold outside" and "It was as cold as an Antarctic ice skating rink." A simile creates a specific picture in your reader's mind.

April Halprin Wayland
– dressed for success!

From April Halprin Wayland:

Repetition is another powerful tool in the poet's toolbox.

Ask your students to choose one poem they have written and add repetition.

This might mean their first line and last line are the same (this is an envelope poem), or they may choose to repeat one line just once, as Robert Frost does in Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening, and Langston Hughes does in Dreams, or they may repeat just one word, as Gwendolyn Brooks does in We Real Cool.

Have them read the first version and then the second version aloud and discuss. 

From Jone MacCulloch:

To tag onto what others have said, I have students research animals, places, and people and then use the notes to create poems.  Of course, they choose one, not all. And sometimes it's tied in with classroom curriculum. I also model for students, and show students other student work.

From Linda Mitchell:

As a school librarian, my influence is different than that of a classroom teacher. However, I have some poetry go-tos at the ready for teachers and students always. For teachers, loan out our professional and my personal copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo Books). Whenever pertinent poetry articles pop up on my twitter feed or Library of Congress e-mail subscription, I send it to teachers in as a link and as a document they can print.  For teachers and students, I have a resource list of every novel in verse in our catalog. National Junior Honor Society students prepare poems in pockets for the school in April. Poetry is something my students and colleagues associate with me, so I enjoy being their resource with my passion.

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education:
Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

Updated 3/29/18: 

These tips are now available in a downloadable/printable format by clicking on the "Teacher Tips" graphic in the right sidebar.

THANK YOU to this generous bunch of educators for sharing tried-and-tested tips, activities, and methods for teaching poetry in the classroom. I do know there are more of you out there, however! If you have a tip to suggest, would you please share it in the comments? 

                     And now, without further ado . . .

For those with links to share, please leave them below.

Our golden shovel challenge is off to a great start! This week's daily ditties included work by Margaret Simon, Angelique Pacheco, and Donna JT Smith. Molly Hogan shared two golden shovels this week at Nix the Comfort Zone, and others were shared today by Linda Baie and Carol Varsalona.  To participate in this month's challenge, add your poem to the March 2018 padlet. At the end of March, one lucky participant will win a copy of Nikki Grimes newest novel in prose and poetry—Between the Lines (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018)


  1. Some great advice here from our Poetry Friday friends! Thanks for hosting Michelle, and for all you do to promote children's poetry!

  2. Wow, Michelle - now, this is what I call a ROUNDUP. Fantastic tips from so many of our beloved PF folks, just in time for April. Thanks to ALL! :0)

  3. Michelle, I love all the advice and tips. I miss being in the classroom sharing poetry with my students. : )

  4. What a goldmine of teaching tips! Thanks for gathering and sharing and thanks for hosting his week!

  5. This is a post I am bookmarking for future reference. There are some great ideas here! I love how everyone has such different ideas... and I simply adore your fog poem. Thank so you much for hosting!

  6. Such a great collection of teaching ideas, I know a teacher or two or three I can share it with! Let me share a book title for teachers: The Adventures Of Dr. Alphabet by Dave Morice. It is chocky-block full of teaching tips as well as suggestions of how teachers can display kids' poetry.

    1. Thank you for this book recommendation, Diane. I had a peek on Amazon and it looks terrific!

  7. These are great ideas! Thank you to all!

  8. What a wonderful post today, Michelle. I like that you included so many stellar poet teachers' reflections. My post will go live at 12:30 a.m. because it is almost meant for the Two Writing Teachers' Slice of Life Challenge. I tried out two different quotes from your interview with Nikki Grimes and turned them into golden shovel poems. I will come back and link up my site I hope before we start the Long Island literacy conference with Kylene Beers, Emily Lockhart, and local educators.

  9. Wow! And every educator who read this was inspired to go forth and play with poetry! (And even the non-educators. :P)

  10. Wow! What great tips. This post is like a Poetry Writing manual. I want to print it out to save for later!
    Thanks so much for hosting. My post goes live in about 3 hours.

  11. Makes me want to be teaching again, Michelle! But, I certainly will share this wonderful post about poetry with students. Thank you and to everyone who shared!

  12. Wow, Michelle! I got a TON out of your post today. I see a lot of ways that the tips provided will help improve my own poetry. I have a 3rd grade teacher friend who is very much into poetry in the classroom. I will be sure to pass this post (and your blog) onto her. Thanks for hosting!

  13. Bookmarking. Sending to my colleagues. Thanks, poet teachers for a great collection of tips!

  14. I agree with Carmela above, this post would make a handy poetry writing reference–thanks to all for this chock-full of poetry tip blog!

  15. We are so fortunate to have so many amazing teachers among us! I adore Janet's revision advice to make Draft 2 "different" instead of "better." That's not just for kids! I will surely be keeping it in mind as I work on my own poetry.

    Thank you, Michelle, for this empowering post! xo

  16. I'm dizzy with delight with this post. Wow! What an incredible, inspiring resource! I've already bookmarked it, but I'm going to print it out as well. I love Janet Wong's advice about making Draft 2 different not better and it's perfect for some revision work we're doing in my classroom right now. So much to love here! Thank you!

  17. I can't wait until I have time later today to come back and read all these. Hooray for poetry in the classroom! Thanks for hosting.

  18. What a rich post! I love all the tips. What's great about poetry is you can just start....there's no specialized training to begin. Just start.
    Thank you for including me in this group of people I love to see in Poetry Friday week to week. They all are models for me in my writing and now my teaching too. This post is a keeper! I'm recommending it to all my teacher friends.

  19. Love, love, love this collection of writing advice. Thanks for including me and so many wonderful educator-poet-friends. You are amazing at keeping us all encouraged, supported, and inspired!

  20. This is jam-packed with juicy poetry-teaching goodness. I could linger here for hours. So many great ideas! Thanks for compiling this. Your challenges, Michelle, are like mini-classrooms each month for us continuing-education poets. :-)

  21. Thank you so much for including me, Michelle, in this (to borrow from our PF pals Sylvia and Janet) "power pack" of poetry goodness. I'm looking forward to processing all these wonderful ideas. Thanks for hosting!

  22. Thank you for this post, Michelle! I needed Heidi's tips for an upcoming session with Kinders... and I am loving Janet's "different not better" revision approach... wow does that take the pressure off! Thanks to all!! xo

  23. "Fog" is super, Michelle! And I love this collection of teaching tips. Very inspiring! Thanks for hosting :-)

  24. I wish I could have been a mouse in the corner, watching you write that lovely fog poem with the high school writers. Thank you for hosting so many teachers together under the umbrella of your kindness. I am going to save all of these tips, to share with teachers, and students...and me! Peace. xx

  25. Thanks for the shout-out, and what an AWESOME array of poetry tips!

  26. I love seeing so many poets that I admire in this post. I'll be back for a more careful reading once my company heads back home.

  27. I love this! I use poetry in my classroom a lot, and I am always thrilled to get more tips. Thanks!

  28. Thank you for this amazing collection of teaching tips! I'll be sure to share this with my colleagues. We're all gearing up for National Poetry Month, and this post will be a huge help. Thank you for hosting today, Michelle!

  29. These may be tips for kids in the classroom, but they are really tips for all of us who love words and poetry. Thanks for compiling them in a neat, organized post, Michelle. I've bookmarked this post for future reference. =)

  30. Such a good rich post. Thanks.