Poems to kick-start the year!

It’s hard to believe that the school year has already begun.  The start of this year also marks the one year anniversary of this blog!  In one of my first posts (Paving the Way with Poetry), I wrote about something near to my heart: poetry.

As I plan beginning of the year lessons for my own 2nd grade classroom, I like to select and read poems as a way to introduce daily procedures and routines.  I do this for several reasons.

First, they are fast and fun to read.  Second, there are many poems written about the school day, which makes it easy to connect them to the students.  Third, reading poems early on (instead of waiting for National Poetry Month in April) helps to foster a love of poetry.  Finally, poetry opens a door to literacy that is not always accessible with other genres.  This is especially true for struggling readers and writers.  Because they are shorter by nature, poems often feel less threatening to these students.  And ALL students can enjoy and be challenged by poetry.

Ready to get started?

Here is a list of some of my favorite beginning of the year poetry books and poems, along with procedures/routines that connect to them.  Don’t have the books?  They should be easy to find in the school library or even online.

1. Almost Late to School by Carol Diggory Shields

Suggested Poems to Read             Routines to Teach  

Word Problem                                   Introducing Math Workshop/Journals

Gotta Go                                              Bathroom Procedures

Almost Late                                        Arrival Routines

After School                                         Dismissal

2. Creatures of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Georgia Heard

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Suggested Poems to Read                        Routines to Teach  

Fishes and/or Frog Serenade                    Partnerships and teamwork

These are “poems for two voices” and lend themselves well to introducing the concept of “working together.”  Let the students decide how to read them together as an initial team building activity.

3 & 4. Chicken Soup With Rice, by Maurice Sendak

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and

A Child’s Calendar, by John Updike

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Suggested Poems to Read                      Routines to Teach  

September (or August)                             Reading a poem to introduce each month

5. Way I Feel, by Janan Cain

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Suggested Poems to Read                      Routines to Teach  

Scared, Shy, Excited                               Beginning of the year feelings

This is a fast read and I recommend reading through the whole book if you have time.  It’s also a great segue into Morning Meeting/Responsive Classroom.  The students can state one feeling that they have as part of the “share” portion of the lesson.

Note: Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis is another great read aloud for discussing feelings.

6. I Like it Here at School, poems collected by Jack Prelutsky

*You can purchase this for $.01 on Amazon! Now that’s a good deal….

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Suggested Poems to Read                       Routines to Teach

Why My Homework is Missing            Daily homework

Look in a Book                                            Independent Reading

7. If I Were in Charge of the World, by Judith Viorst

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Suggested Poems to Read                       Routines to Teach

If I Were in Charge of the World             Creating classroom responsibilities/rules

Apology                                                              Problem Solving/working cooperatively

Summer’s End                                                 Back to school

8. The Mouse Was Out at Recess, by David L. Harrison

*You can buy this used on Amazon for $.084!

This book is chock full of poems that connect to the school day.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Suggested Poems to Read                                                          Routines to Teach 

The Bus                                                                                               Arrival/dismissal

Mystery Lunch                                                                                 Lunch

They Call it Science                                                                        Science

In the Hall                                                                                          Hall procedures

Raise Your Hand if you Know the Answer                              Raising hand

Teacher’s Eyes                                                                                  Staying focused

9. Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield

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Read Things to introduce writing workshop. (Click on the link to for “Things” to see a Brain Pop activity on Eloise Greenfield.  This is one of my favorite poems to read with students so I’m sharing the text here:

Things

Went to the corner
Walked in the store
Bought me some candy
Ain’t got it no more
Ain’t got it no more

Went to the beach
Played on the shore
Built me a sandhouse
Ain’t got it no more
Ain’t got it no more

Went to the kitchen
Lay down on the floor
Made me a poem
Still got it
Still got it

I like to read this poem to introduce the concept that our writing is special, something to be treasured.  It’s also fun to act out.  Give one stanza or line to teams or partnerships.  Let the students be creative!

11. Lunch Money and Other Poems about Schoolby Carol Diggory Shields

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Suggested Poems to Read               Routines to Teach

Pledge                                                  Pledge of Allegiance and/or school announcements

Decisions, Lunch Money                Lunch routines

Far Away                                              Independent Reading

Moonwalker                                        Dismissal

I’m Doing my Homework                Homework

Read this book to hook your students on poetry!

12. Alphathoughts, by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Suggested Poems to Read                                 Routines to Teach

Books and Library                                               Independent reading

Pencils                                                                     Classroom pencil routine

Those are a few of my picks of poems to kick-start the school year.  Please let me know if you try them and/or if you have other favorites.  For additional book recommendations (poetry and otherwise), read:

A is for Musk Ox and a few other good books…

Launching a Love of Reading from Day One

Recommended Picture Books

And for more ways to integrate poetry into your lessons, click here: 5 Easy Ways to Get Your Class Excited About Poetry.

Here’s to a successful start of the year!

Happy reading,

Lisa

 

Just Let Them Write

 

I’m a strong proponent of writing workshop, of letting students choose their topics, of Lucy Calkins and Ralph Fletcher’s  school of thought. But when I recently re-entered the classroom after taking time off to have children and then work as a literacy coach, I forgot how hard it can be to do just this.

I started in January and after a few days of getting to know the students, I immediately felt the pressure of curriculum timelines, district benchmarks, etc.  We were in the middle of a unit on persuasive writing and I struggled to make sense of the lengthy lessons that came with the district’s writing program.  I found that I spent more time actually reading the information than actually teaching the lesson itself.  Not to say that the students didn’t produce good writing but I felt the need to “get things in,” as opposed to just allowing them to discover the wonder of writing on their own.

In short, I didn’t feel like the writing teacher that I imagined myself to be.

But then I attended one of three after school district writing trainings that I had registered for with my district, “Writing in the elementary classroom.”

I knew I was in the right place on the first day. Just by the feel of the room and the way that the instructors greeted us.  They instantly made me feel welcome and at home.

Our first assignment was to write about a “quality.” They shared an old book called, “The Book of Qualities,” which judging by the cover, looked like something from 1982.  As if reading my mind, Sherry responded by saying, “This book is old, but give it a chance.”

She then proceeded to hand each of us a word from the book, asking us to conjure up an image or feeling about what the word meant to us.

My word was patience. Others included, fear, frustration, joy, etc. She read some of the samples from the actual book, where the author writes a paragraph about each one, like this excerpt from Fear:

Fear has a large shadow but he himself is quite small.  He has a vivid imagination.  He composes horror music in the middle of the night.

Then she said, “Think about what this word makes you feel, or whether it reminds you of a person.Try not to let your pen stop moving.

Just write whatever comes to mind.”

Then she got quiet and asked everyone to write.

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Back to the Clasroom

The next day, I felt inspired to try the idea with my class.  We had just finished our persuasive essays and I was ready to move on from the following sentence starters:
“I know you think that I should….but here’s why I shouldn’t”

Or “I know you think that I shouldn’t…but here’s why I should”

And last but not least…”________________ is the best _____.  Here are three reasons why….”

Ugh.

So I wrote several words on index cards, choosing some from the book and others that just came to mind. Patience, frustration, courage, fear, joy, confidence.

We briefly discussed what the words meant and I wrote a short poem  about what joy means to me on chart paper:

Joy

A fresh cup of Starbucks coffee waiting for me in the morning

Waterskiing on glass – calm water at the lake

A game of Uno with Joey and Julia

I had no idea what the students would produce and also worried that they would find the whole activity “weird.”

But I went with it anyway, handing each of them a card to take back to their seats.

They liked the novelty of this, I think, and seemed excited.

As they went back to their desks, the room suddenly became a flurry of:

What did you get?” and “Oh, I wanted that one, can we trade?

(I ended up telling them that no matter what word they got, if they preferred a different one, they could write about that instead).

I started to give more directions but then remembered the words of Roy Peter Clark from his book Free to Write, a text that I had discovered years earlier when I taught in Pinellas County, Florida:

“The most important strategy I learned as a teacher of writing was to be quiet and let the students write.” (Clark, 1987, p.23)

“I want you to write silently for 5 minutes,” I told them. “I shouldn’t hear anything but your pencil moving acorss the page.  Think about what the word means to you and write whatever comes to mind. Just write.”

“And I’ll write too. Now go!

I sat down in the rocking chair in the front of the room, with the new fancy notebook (pink, green and blue flowers on the cover) that I had received at the training, pen in hand. I decided just to write, like I said that I would.  After a few moments of doing so, I looked up at the class.

I did so with apprehension, half expecting a few of them (or more!) to be playing in their desks, staring at the ceiling or reading a book instead. Maybe drawing.

But a magical hush had fallen over the room and they were all writing! Even Kevin, who often struggled to follow directions.  Now his pencil moved swiftly across the page, as if with a mind of its own. And Pete, who left every day for reading with our learning support teacher and often only seemed to complete literacy tasks if I stayed glued to his side.

His pencil also kept moving, back and forth across the page, back and forth.

After 7 minutes, I stopped them. It was time to line up for lunch.

On a whim, I glanced over Pete’s shoulder curious to see what he had written. The language was sparse and basic, but it evoked a clear image in my mind. It was beautiful.

“Did you know that you just wrote a poem?” I asked him.

“No,” he said, looking surprised and also excited. Then, “Can you read it to the class?”

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Sharing our Feelings Poems

Later, I read his, Kevin’s and Sam’s.  Sam often needs extra support with all areas of instruction.  This is what he wrote in those 7 minutes, without any help.

Loneliness

by Sam

In the desert.

Nobody there,

not even a squeak.

Nobody there.

Just you.

So lonely.

Sometimes scared.

At night,

your only buddy is the sand.

 

We soon started calling these our “feelings” poems and continued them for several days.  I eventually asked everyone to choose one favorite to publish and we displayed them proudly in the hallway, for all passerbys to see.

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These poems reminded me that sometimes we forget what our students are capable of accomplishing. Instead of giving them space to write – letting them surprise us – we uninentionally hold them back.

What I thought might be an activity that the students would view as silly or trivial, turned out to be one that unlocked the potential that lies within all of our students. When I decided to trust them and just let them write, they proved that they can and want to do so.

I stayed quiet and let them write.

And they did.

Reader Challenge:

How can you try this out/adapt this idea for your own classroom? Can you connect it to beginning of the year lessons about routines and building classroom community?

Please share your thoughts and anything that you implement in your own class.

*The names of the students in this post have been changed but the poems are original.

Sources:

Clark, Roy Peter. Free to Write: A Journalist Teaches Young Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987.

Paving the Way with Poetry

It’s the first few days of school and everything is a blur of new faces, forms to complete, and procedures to teach.  The days fly by and as teachers, we often don’t finish half of what we had planned to do each day.

Sound familiar?

Here’s a great idea to fill those spare moments when you don’t have enough time to start something new, yet need to bridge the gap before the students transition to the next part of the day.

Read some poems!

spring 2014 189 (1)

Don’t wait for National Poetry month in September. Poetry is great for the beginning of the year in so many ways – it builds community, adds humor and introduces students to a genre that they can return to again and again.  This is especially important for struggling students.  With its short format and lower word count, poetry is often less intimidating to those students and more inviting.  So why not introduce it to them now, help them get “hooked” and also keep them engaged?

When I taught third grade, I would keep a one or two poetry books on the ledge below the whiteboard, or on a shelf near the front door.  That way, whenever I had two or three minutes to spare, I could grab a book, read a poem or two and move on.  This resulted in less distractions, more focused students and an increase in interest for this genre and reading overall.

Humor is always a good way to draw kids in, especially in September.  It’s also helpful to find poems that connect to actual parts of the school day, like the cafeteria, recess, etc.   Once you start reading on a regular basis, your students will want to find their own poems to share.  If possible, let them copy over the poems and display them in different areas of the room.  You can even have them sign up for poetry readings or create hand gestures to act them out.

Ready to get started? Here are a few of my personal favorite books for the beginning of the year.

Lunch money and other Poems about School by Carol Diggory Shields

Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield

A Pizza the Size of the Sun and anything else by Jack Prelutsky

Unbeelievables and anything else by Douglas Florian

Falling Up and anything else by Shel Silverstein

The Way I Feel by Jana Cain

The Dog Ate My Homework by Bruce Lansky

If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries by Judith Viorst

Have some of your own favorites? Post them here so we can share ideas!  Thanks and happy reading!