Favorite Poem Project Assembly

Ideas from Amy Bruns and Ben Gatto, Johnson Elementary School, Natick, MA. The laminated short poems were particularly popular with their students.

School events are more compelling when they involve different people from the school community — teachers, parents, children, administrators, and other community members — coming together to celebrate the beauty and power of poetry. This celebration supports the Favorite Poem Project’s key ideas of physicality and autonomy.

The success of this effort lies in the personal connections each person makes with a particular poem. Children, parents, teachers and community members are invited to write out their favorite published poem on a sheet of paper or poster and add a comment or two as to why the poem is special to them. This is supported by diverse activities in individual classrooms including various poetry readings that encourage personal response to the poems. These poems can be posted throughout the school in the hallways for all to enjoy and share.

A teacher or group of teachers will then organize volunteers to share their poems with the entire school at a “sharing” assembly. When we’ve done this in the past, we’ve selected four groups of five readers, for a total of 20 presenters. In each group we had a teacher, parent, or community member, along with children from grades K-4. The readers came forward in groups and the youngest in the group was slated to read first. They introduced themselves, read their poem, and then shared why the poem was special to them. After the first two groups had read, the two leaders of the project led the entire school audience in a choral reading. Any classic or contemporary poem can be adapted to this choral reading activity by designing two alternating speaking parts and displaying the parts on an overhead projector. We divided the audience and each section read their parts. Then, the remaining two sharing groups came to the front to share their poems and the reasons they chose the poems.

Our guest readers included the superintendent of schools, the chairman from the Board of Selectman, teachers, parents, and the principal. The more diverse your group the stronger the message. Other readers might include a police chief, cafeteria monitor, mayor, state representative, gas station owner, and the football or basketball coach.

While not all of the children who volunteered to read were able to share poems at the assembly, all of the children had the opportunity to post their favorite poems on the walls of the school. We did spend some time working with the presentation skills, rehearsing with the students who were chosen. (Some of them were in kindergarten and we wanted to make sure they were comfortable with the microphone and in front of an audience.)

The entire assembly, including the choral reading, lasted perhaps 40 minutes and the children were marvelously attentive. In an effort to have each person leave the assembly with something to keep, each person was handed a short poem that had been laminated — a “poem in their pocket” (based on the poem, “Keep a Poem in Your Pocket” by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers). We chose six classic poems including “Who Has Seen the Wind” by Christina Rossetti, “Fog” by Carl Sandburg, and “Dreams” by Langston Hughes. We typed them on a piece of paper, ran it through the copy machine, laminated the sheets, and had the students cut them out. We quickly had 240 pocket poems which students eagerly read, compared, swapped and treasured!