Getting Ready for a Favorite Poem Event

Brad Bennett and Alex Popp of Thoreau Elementary School in Concord, MA, and Linda Rings of the Morse School in Cambridge, MA, share these suggestions for a school event.

In order for a school- or community-wide poetry event to be as successful as possible in the spring, the entire school community will need to be involved. We suggest the school follow a week-by-week, month-by-month plan for “getting ready” — a template that can be applied to any grade level.

The idea is to introduce a poem-of-the week each Monday during class. Then, on Friday of each week, select a child or two or invite a guest to recite that poem and/or another of his or her choosing, explaining the poem’s personal appeal.

For the first few weeks, especially in the case of the lower grades, the teacher may choose a poem and explain why he or she likes it. After a time, the responsibility of choosing the “Poem of the Week” will be given over to the children. If many poetry books are available in the room, children can pick them up at opportune times and search for ones they like. Tapes of poems, with accompanying printed versions should be available for non-readers. The children should be encouraged — but not forced — to memorize the poems they choose. If children learn at least one new poem a week and have several opportunities in class to talk about and recite poems, then by the time a school or community-wide event is planned, they will be comfortable with the format. Another idea is to have two or more classes of the same grade “exchange” readers, so that a few students share their poems-of-the-week each week with other classes.

The teacher should make many collections and volumes of poetry available to students — in the classroom and school library, from online sources, etc. — and can encourage students to share any poetry books they have at home with each other. Children should be encouraged to read a wide variety of poems, and to write poems as well.

Other possible activities: Students could create their own personal poetry anthologies and also develop a class anthology. Poems could be taken home to share with parents. Parents could be asked to come and share a poem in their child’s class. People from the school and community could be guest readers for the week.

If all teachers maintain this routine, children will come to expect it and will be very comfortable with the framework.

At least one poem per week, times 32 weeks a year, times 6 years (Kindergarten through grade 5) equals 192 poems. We would be helping our children develop a collection of internal resources — something to stay with them forever and to nourish their souls.