Welcome to Poetry Month! I love teaching poetry to elementary students, and I look so forward to this time of year. In my fourth grade class April means I pull out Sharon Creech’s Hate That Cat and Love That Dog! I absolutely adore those novels. Not only do they both incorporate some incredible poems, poets, and poetry concepts, but also Jack is such a dynamic character. Creech creates a young man that grows and evolves completely in each book with the help of his teacher, Miss Stretchberry. Because these books have had such a powerful impact on students I’ve taught for years, I wanted to share a little about how I structure this entire poetry/Creech unit.
Visualizing Is the First Step in Teaching Poetry
The first step I take came from a long-time co-teaching friend. She actually introduced me to Love That Dog years ago when we were first teaching poetry together. As we read the novel, she would read the kids the same poem Miss Stretchberry introduced in the section of text we shared with our class. She would then have the students draw whatever they visualized from the words they heard. Even though most of the children didn’t have the foggiest clue initially about what William Carlos Williams was talking about when he wrote “The Red Wheelbarrow,” most of them drew red rain-glazed red wheelbarrows next to white chickens. This activity done repeatedly with several different poems helped students realize the sensory power packed into well-crafted words. They learned the joy of playing with rhythms, syllables, alliteration, and onomatopoeia.
With my friend’s use of visualization in mind, I start the unit by giving students a poetry booklet complete with all the poems used by Miss Stretchberry in both Love That Dog and Hate That Cat. Both novels have a section in the back where portions of the poems are printed. I print these sections on separate pages, leaving plenty of white space. I also include space for the kids to write their own poems, as well as a couple of poetry frames for inspiration.
“Turn and Talk” for Deeper Discussion
Each student gets a copy of the poetry journal and the novel. Before we complete a shared reading of the first section of either novel, I pull the kids to the carpet to read the poems included in the daily selection. After they have some “Turn and Talk” time to share what they visualize, and what they think the poem may be about, I send them back to their seats to draw the images they see on the copy of the poem we shared. I then have them share their drawings with the other students at their tables, while I walk around and observe. I gather everyone back to the carpet, and we then read Jack’s reaction to Miss Stretchberry’s poetry lesson. We have some “Turn and Talk” time again so kids can compare and contrast their own feelings about the poetry to Jack’s.
Visualization Leads Kids to Construct Their Own Understanding and Appreciation of Poetry
As we progress, students begin to form their own interpretations of the poems. By the time we get to Tennyson’s “The Eagle” in Hate That Cat, some kids immediately pick up on the images of the “crooked hands” and the “wrinkled sea.” Some of them will even note that those words make the eagle seem old. YES!!! They begin to create their own meaning out of those visual pictures, and I get all weepy inside.I love the fact that teaching poetry this way allows me to get out of the way and lets kids form their own meaning from what they read. Click To Tweet
I get such a huge kick out of teaching this unit, that I’ve written another article about additional books I’ve used to make this experience even more powerful and engaging for students. Click the link below to keep reading and sharing ideas!