I have a set of stamps that kids use to build poems. These are fairly common words (although my set is missing “is”) and includes holiday words and tons of nouns. While the poems that come out of this may be a little silly, there is a great amount of creativity that bursts forth from this activity. For instance, here are some phrases that my 2nd graders came up with:
- I love sunset memories
- Holiday time: Love us and our family
- Anniversaries are for vacations
- Picnics in summer are perfect
These are not award winning phrases all on their own, but students get the idea that poetry is about word choice, capturing simple ideas, and putting a picture in your mind because of the careful selection of words through this activity.
2. Magnet Words
Similar to stamps, it’s also fun to build short poems out of magnet words. These can be relatively cheap to get so it can be a station for students to use. Often, I’ve found that some restrictions and boundaries leads to more creativity.
There also are some templates I’ve found online for magnet words, so you don’t even need real magnets! They can just drag on a screen.
3. Blackout Poetry
Take a few old books and just rip out the pages. There are often tons of classics or really cheap books that can be used to create blackout poetry. I was doubtful the first time I tried this with students, but I was so impressed.
First, have students just circle words that appeal to them. Then, have them try to reread and decide which ones they want to keep. After that, they can put a box around those words and then just color the rest with sharpie. Below are a few my 6th graders did, and I just was so impressed. They loved this activity.
4. Found Poetry
Found Poetry is similar to Blackout Poetry, but its better if you work in a group. I haven’t heard it referenced as often, either. The first step is to choose a few narrative or nonfiction passages that have a lot of figurative language or lyrical phrases. I’ve pulled from novels, picture books, memoirs, and whatever else I personally liked. It does not have to be a complete piece; I’d pull just a few pages at the most. I select passages that are differentiated for different reading levels in my class.
Students need to read the passage independently and choose 4-6 phrases that they particularly like. These should be phrases – not only words and not a long sentence.
They should take these lines and place them on individual strips of paper. I usually cut printer paper vertically into 5 long strips.
Then, students who read the same passage (groups of 4-6) can work together to arrange their strips of paper. If they have repeats, I encourage them to use those strips creatively such as creating an echo/repetition in their poem, using it as a “chorus” that repeats at the end of stanzas, or using it to anchor the poem at the beginning and end to create a circular style ending.
Once everyone agrees on the arrangement, I have them work together to get it typed up, titled (their title could be one of the strips or a different title they choose together), and decorated. These make for a fantastic bulletin board that lasts awhile.
5. Simile or Metaphor Game
I don’t know of anyone who is teaching poetry who isn’t teaching or reviewing what similes and metaphors are. This is an easy game that supports brainstorming and pre-writing.
Give students a set of images – fire, ribbon, an elephant, a stuffed animal, a scarf, cotton candy, a clock, etc. These can be completely random. Give each group or pair of students a stack of pictures face down. In another pile, make another stack of cards with topics such as “me,” “adult at home,” “sibling,” “vacation,” “school,” “sadness,” “hope,” “growing up.” These are just general ideas. You can also play this game considering characters from a class novel instead of these abstract ideas.
Then, students select an image and try to connect it to one of the cards on the table. For instance, I might say, “I am like a stuffed animal because people like to tell me things and say I comforted them” or “vacation is like a clock because it’s always moving too fast when you want it to slow down.”
I would encourage you to take this as a game meaning allow students to be lighthearted and silly about it, too! They may get some really good ideas!
Since poems have elements such as rhyme, rhythm, well timed line breaks, and alliteration, keep in mind that poetry really is intended to be read out loud. One of the best ways to prove this is by listening to song lyrics. Songs are poems, and once students realize that, they often are really excited to dive in deeper. There are so many great songs out there to use, and I’ve found that old songs can be just as entertaining because the lyrics can stand alone and surprise students with some of the quality of the writing or introduce them to a classic song. Throwbacks to Disney movies or children’s movies can make even older kids smile when reviewing figurative language techniques, and you know the lyrics are clean.
7. Use poems as templates
I love reading poems together as a class that follow a particular structure. “Rainbow Paintbox” by Christina G. Rossetti has beautiful lines that describe each color of the rainbow. For example it has the lines “yellow as the blazing sun” and “green as the grass beneath our feet.” Students can practice their own writing skills by swapping out the descriptions for each color and making the poem their own. This is a great writing exercise that strengthens poetry muscles! Another fun one is “……” Students love to mimic the style and practice rhyming with this one.
8. Phrase Repetition
Similar to using a poem as a template, you can use a phrase as a sentence starter that can keep repeating over and over again. I find this to be a useful writing exercise that loosens up my brain and gives me ideas. I may end up using a couple lines to create a different poem.
A popular example of this is an “I am from…” poem. For example: I am from a place where paint was on my fingers. I am from Scottish shortbread and German Chocolate cake.
I created a poem for my parents that repeats the phrase, “I fell asleep to the sound of…” and listed what I remembered our household to be like as I fell asleep each night.
For the 100th day of school, I have students write “If I were 100 years old, I would…” or “If I had 100 dollars, I would…” and then they can keep repeating that phrase. This type of thing works nicely for poetry since list poems can turn out to be quite lovely and the repetition just works!
9. Publishing Poetic Art
As I mentioned with Found Poetry up above, I love having students decorate poetry. I did an entire unit when I taught 6th grade where students decorated journals which I referred to as “smashbooks” (you can read all about that here and even purchase my entire unit on TpT). I find poetry to be a fun unit to allow for more decoration because they end up looking so cool! One poem even just printed and glued onto a piece of scrapbook paper elevates the whole project and creates a beautiful display. Since poems can be read briefly on a bulletin board, I found that their publication of a poem tended to increase the quality of that particular poem significantly. If I hung up a whole story in a hallway, the chances of someone stopping to read it are slim. If you pass by a wall of poems, though, chances are you’re going to read one.
10. Novels in Verse
Much of what I’ve listed above is about creating or writing poetry, but I know that a unit on poetry often includes reading and analyzing it as well. I have found novels in verse to be an exceptionally accessible way to get students to read quality poems. You can find my favorite recommendations here. Since these are more narrative in nature, the poem can be understood a bit better in the context of a story. They also can be reread individually and understood better upon closer reading. I think this allows students to see how one poem can be part of a larger story in a writer’s life.
One novel in verse I’ve come across and used with my 2nd graders was Gone Fishing by Tamera Will Wissinger. This book has mutliple different forms of poetry, poems from the perspective of different characters in the story, even poems with 2 voices! It is a real gem and appropriate for young readers.
One of my absolute favorite novels in verse for middle grade is House Arrest by K.A. Holt. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is another one that could serve as a lot of inspiration for writing about your own life and has some beautiful lines.
A newer one I loved was On the Horizon by Lois Lowry which is historical and beautifully written. I hope you give them a try if you have not yet. Even pulling a few poems out of books to discuss in class could be a way to “book talk” a book from your classroom library and give it some air time to encourage independent reading.
I love teaching poetry because there is such variety out there! Poetry is often rooted in emotion, and there are a lot of different emotions! I promise you that it can be a really fun unit for both you and students.