Community Poetry Day

Suggestions from Cathy Dawson of Varnum Elementary School in Lowell, MA.

Hosting a community poetry day can help jump-start a school year that will continually include the sharing and studying of poetry. Such an event will generate excitement and curiosity about poetry among the children and encourage them toward further exploration. It is also a way to reach out to the broader community.

In September, after a meeting with staff, send letters to potential readers from the community, letting them know about the program and inviting them to participate. Seek a variety of participants (suggestions below), and ask if they will each share one favorite poem and speak briefly about why the poem is dear to them. Ask the art teacher to work with the children to design and display posters to advertise the event. Send posters to readers ahead of time, so that they can post them in public places in the neighborhood and help spread the word. Send a press release to the local paper as well. Invite readers to the school ahead of time; offer coffee, and show a selection of Favorite Poem Project videos. At the community reading event, a parent or other volunteer may take photographs, or someone may videotape the reading. Soon after the event, send a photo or record to each participant, along with a thank-you note.

Afterwards, the reading can be extended to poetry lessons in a number of ways:

  • Post the community poems on a bulletin board in the classroom. Invite the children to write their own responses to the poems and post them on the bulletin board for all to read.
  • Create an anthology of the poems from the community poetry day.
  • Laminate poems, back them with Velcro and post them outside each classroom. Invite other classrooms to “borrow” the poems to share in their rooms.
  • Record the community poems on tapes and place them with a written copy of the poem in the listening center so that children can listen to them. The written copy could be placed in a binder with the poem on the left-hand side and the right hand side open for children to write their responses to the poem.
  • Discuss the various “themes” of the poems chosen by community members, and encourage children to find other poems that have the similar themes.

As a follow up and to keep the sharing of poetry a school-wide focus, encourage students to hunt for their own favorite poems. Perhaps invite students in another class to memorize a favorite poem to recite at monthly school-wide meetings, and tell the group why this poem is important to them. Rorate this invitation among the classes during the school year.

List of Potential Community Readers

  • administrators
  • bus drivers
  • crossing guards
  • custodians
  • food service workers
  • medical workers
  • parents/guardians/members of PTO
  • school principal
  • superintendent of schools
  • title I staff
  • dentists
  • doctors/nurses
  • firefighters
  • high school students
  • leaders of local community organizations
  • local business employees
  • local “celebrities”
  • ministers/priests/rabbis or other religious leaders
  • police officers
  • school business partnerships
  • town/city officials