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Read With Me: Poetry 

The ABC's of Poetry 


Today's Snack: Let's celebrate the ABC's of Poetry with an Alphabet Banana Split. For each student, peel a banana. Depending on how big you want the serving to be, either cut it in half lengthwise for one large serving, or cut it in half crosswise and then again, lengthwise, for two servings. Place the banana pieces on either side of a sundae dish or cereal bowl. Top with a few blobs of vanilla yogurt. Sprinkle with some Alpha-Bits cereal, a few halved seedless grapes, a few slices of strawberries, and a scant handful of blueberries. Yummy!  






A book of children's poetry 

A CD or other recording of classic children's poems or songs 

A book of classic children's nursery rhymes 


(If you wish, you can select a couple of poems in advance and start off the session by reading them aloud. Or let the children look through the poems and either read aloud those they like, or listen to you read them aloud. Or you can play a recording of the poems or songs while the kids are having their snack.) 


Poetry is the purest form of expression. Poetry consists of words - but it is so much more than words. Poetry is both for the eye (reading) and for the ear (hearing). You can convey more meaning in a clear and memorable way in just a few lines of poetry than you can in an hour of TV production, or in a whole book. 


When you read poetry, you enjoy it more when you understand the basics and see how the writer has combined the various elements of poetry to come up with a good poem. 


You could call these "The ABC's of Poetry," even though they don't spell out ABC - they are the basics of poetry: 


1.       Rhythm. 

2.       Rhyme. 

3.       Meaning. 


All language has rhythm, whether it is coming to you in the words on the back of a cereal box, or from song lyrics, or from a textbook in school. When you read aloud, the words should have a certain pace or "beat" to them. This is why it is so smart for young students to listen to a good reader reading aloud. It's how you "catch" the rhythm of language, and then, when you read for yourself, even in silence, that strong rhythm still helps you understand and appreciate what's being communication. 


In poetry, rhythm is pronounced, and adds to your enjoyment. It is really important for kids to listen to nursery rhymes, because they have the strong rhythms of our language that can really help you learn to read on your own at an early age. (If you have a book of nursery rhymes, read some aloud, and/or have the students read them aloud, and notice the strong rhythms.) 


You know how words are divided into syllables? Well, in poetry, it is important to have some syllables that are accented, or "stressed," and others that are relaxed, or "unstressed." 


For example, look at the word . . . well . . . example. How many syllables does it have? Say the word aloud and clap for every syllable. There are three, aren't there? 


The first syllable, / ex / is unstressed. You don't put extra emphasis on it when you say the word aloud, do you? But the next syllable, / am /, is the one that you accent, or say aloud with extra emphasis. The last syllable, / ple /, is another unstressed syllable. Say the word aloud: "example." See how the middle syllable is accented? For fun, crouch down on all fours, say the first syllable, then jump into the air saying the second syllable, and then crouch down again and say the third syllable. 


Now say "example" aloud again putting the accent on the first syllable, "EXample," and now the last syllable, "examPLE." 


See how the rhythm inside each word is very powerful? 


When you put words together with the rhythms they come with, you can really impact the mood and meaning of what you want the reader to understand. 


So that's rhythm. The next basic in poetry is rhyme. 


It's true that nowadays, a lot of poetry doesn't rhyme at all. But in the centuries before this, it was always very important that the last words in certain lines of a poem did rhyme. This could be because not very many people could read, in the olden days, but they loved poems. So some people would have to memorize poems in order to recite them to others. When the last words in lines of poetry happened to rhyme, it made it a lot easier for people to remember the poems. So that's how it got started. Plus, it just makes it more enjoyable to both read and hear poems. This is another example of how close the English language is to music - we enjoy the sounds that the alphabet letters make together just as much as we enjoy the meaning of the words that those letters are forming. 


You all know about rhyming. Why don't you list and count how many words you can think of that rhyme with these words: 








There are a lot of ways that a poet can use the sounds in words to not only rhyme them, but to bring out certain emotions in the reader based on how they are used. Rhyming is the most basic and pleasing way to do it. But there is also clustering - using lots of words that sound pretty close to each other or start with the same letter and mean close to the same thing (step, stomp, stamp), or alliteration - using sounds at the start of end of words that sound the same - big, broad, black bunk. Can you think of a word and then make it into a phrase or a line of a poem using alliteration - several words that start or end with the same sound? 


The third basic of poetry is meaning. Besides rhythm and rhyme, every poem has meaning. The poet makes certain word choices, and "layers" the words in a poem in a way to create a certain mood in order to make a certain point. It's like painting a picture with words. Sometimes, a poem makes the reader happy; sometimes, sad; other times, the point of the poem is to just make you think about something in a different way than you ever have before. 


Now let's put these three things together - rhythm, rhyme and meaning - and read this poem. How many syllables are there in each of these four lines, which together form a "stanza," which is a unit of poetry? 


How many of those syllables are stressed, or accented? Where are those stressed syllables in the order of each line?  


Which of the last words in the four lines of this poem rhyme? Do they all four rhyme? What is the pattern of the rhyming? 


Now let's see if you have, as the title of this poem states, "perseverance" - the ability to stick with something until the job is done. Can you memorize this poem? Read it several times, and then read the first line, shut your eyes, and say it aloud. Continue with the second, third and fourth lines. Now see if you can recite the whole poem with your eyes shut. If you can, the poem taught you something - perseverance! 



(If you have a projector, you can display this on the wall. Or enlarge and print out. Or print on whiteboard or posterboard.) 




If a task is once begun 

Never leave it till it's done. 

Be the labor great or small, 

Do it well or not at all. 

-- Anonymous 



By Susan Darst Williams Read With Me: Poetry 2014 


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