Read With Me: Poetry
The ABC's of Poetry
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
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:
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
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
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
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.