Five Ways to Support Striving Readers During Poetry Instruction

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If you’re anything like me, you always hear at least a couple of grunts of disgust from somewhere in your classroom when you mention the word “poetry” to your students. Not all these groans come from kids who struggle with reading, but several of them usually do. To be honest, I used to dread teaching poetry. The last thing my kids wanted to do was to explore the beautiful subtle nuances of poetic language. These feelings changed, however, when I shifted my attitude about how to support striving readers during poetry instruction.

This attitude adjustment came with a simple realization: what many struggling readers need more than anything is confidence. Naturally, solid instruction in phonics, fluency, and comprehension are tops in importance here. But how many kids have you seen progress by leaps and bounds after a few small successes? Besides, poetry can be short. It can be funny. Poetry can most certainly be weird. Few words are far less overwhelming than those long passages, stories, and novels we throw at kids each day.

Poetry, then, has the potential to be a huge confidence builder for our readers. Thus, I’m excited to share some ideas I’ve used. Remember, you may find some affiliate links in this post to help you out. If you purchase through these links, you won’t pay more, but I may make a small commission. Without further ado, here are a few ways to take advantage of this genre to help our kids.

Do the Heavy Lifting

A poetry unit is a great time to revive your read-aloud time. Share poems throughout your lessons and let kids listen. Give them their own copies of what you’re reading, and let them follow along. In addition to modeling what good reading sounds like, you will add meaning to the poetry you share with your expression and enthusiasm.

Let Them Doodle

As you share poetry with kids, have them close their eyes while you read. Reread, and have them open their eyes and follow along with you. Give them crayons or colored pencils and have them draw what they saw when you read. I’ve always done this with William Carlos Williams poems. When you first read these poems to kids, they generally look at you like you’re nuts. How can “The Red Wheelbarrow” be a real poem? But when even the most reluctant readers draw what they see, they usually end up with a picture of chickens and some semblance of a wheelbarrow. From this level playing field, all the kids then realize that they can, indeed, understand poetry. I wrote about some great books to use to teach poetry here.

Help Support Striving Readers during Poetry Instruction by Letting Them See through another’s Eyes

I love teaching poetry through Sharon Creech’s books Love That Dog and Hate That Cat. Readers get to see poetry through the eyes of another reluctant poet, Jack. They read about how he feels like he can’t write poetry, poetry is for girls, etc. Kids watch Jack turn into a reader obsessed with poetry and with writing his own with the help and encouragement of his teacher. They also see him work through a tragedy and some hardships through his own poems. I’ve seen even the most challenged of my students respond with positivity and heart to these two books. These. Books. Are. Magic. I detailed my unit in this blog post. Check it out for some ideas!

Break the Poetic Language Down Into Small Chunks

Help students find sensory and figurative language in poetry by pulling out individual sentences and letting kids work with small parts of text at a time. I love using sorts for this reason. Whether you use digital sorts for distance learning or in a virtual classroom or the paper-scissors-glue brick and mortar version during center time, looking at small pieces of longer text helps kids hone in on similes, metaphors, and sensory language. Simply make the types of figurative language your headings (generally simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, personification, and alliteration). Next, pull parts of poetry you’ve been reading that reflect each, then sort them with kids on a doc camera. Finally, give kids their own sort to practice with. You can do the same thing with sensory language by making “hearing, seeing, taste, smell, and touch” your headings.

Grab Your Distance Learning Freebies

You may not have time to make your own sorts with the poetry you’ve been reading. If this is true for you, I have two freebies for you to check out below. One is a set of two sensory language sorts, and the other is a set of two figurative language sorts. Both freebies come in Google Slide digital form for distance learning and a PDF paper copy version. If you like these, you might want to consider the larger sets in which they are both included. In closing, I hope you and your students will find the magic in the words of poetry. I wish you all much success!

Pin this for later. This big bundle can be found in my TPT store, and includes activities for both sensory and figurative language and original poetry. There are Google Slides activities, Google Forms quizzes, and PDF copies. These are for both your distance learning classroom and your brick and mortar lessons. They can be paperless, but they are all virtually no prep!

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