When we introduce poetry into our classrooms we need to present it as a celebration of language. We must let our students feel it has the potential to be a great thing for them to enjoy. Poetry is indeed special. Wallace Stevens, the American poet referred to poetry as ‘Simply one of the best things in life.’
Poetry invites the reader, or the receiver to share some of the imagination and wonder of the writer.
For a young child, appreciation of poetry grows with exposure and a growing sense of familiarity with the form. There may not be immediate acceptance. An understanding of poetry develops when the child is invited to listen carefully to the language and to notice the patterns and structures used. Once an understanding is established, the inexperienced poet will more readily engage with poetry and begin to experiment with poetry in all its forms.
Drawing attention to patterns and structures, rhythms and rhymes means a greater likelihood young poets will embrace them and begin to use them in their own writing.
We sell poetry in the way we present it. Enthusiasm and confidence are critical to how young children perceive poetry. So the way teachers present poetry becomes a major consideration. Begin with reading a lot of poetry. Allow your students to listen the magic, before they attempt to create their own. We need to make listening to poetry as common as listening to stories. Invite students to bring poems found at home –to school. Share your own favourite poems. Build the relationship between your students and poetry before you contemplate writing poetry. I listened once as Mem Fox suggested that teachers not merely immerse students but ‘dunk them’ in literacy. I agree, wholeheartedly with this sentiment..
I retain strong memories of my teachers reading poetry. Alfred Noyce ‘s ‘The Highwayman’ and A B Paterson’s ‘The Man From Snowy River’ are stand outs. In high school, the poetry of Keats, Browning and Wordsworth were part of my poetry grounding. My poetry exposure while more classical than the poetry kids generally hear today nonetheless left a lasting impression and that’s the point. The young poet benefits from hearing a proficient reader celebrating powerful words. Poetry is ideal for shared reading, reader’s theatre and choral reading. Apps such as Sound-cloud are ideal for recording and sharing such readings.
Try writing your own poetry based on some familiar patterns and structures. You will find students are an appreciative audience for your writing. Making the effort to demystify poetry is where the power lies for teachers.
Inexperienced student poets generally thrive on writing poetry that has a defined form or pattern. Here are a couple of start up ideas.
Three question poems
Where are you?
What are you doing?
What are you thinking?
Dylan Thomas portrait poems also make poetry accessible to young poets.
The first line asks a question
The second line contains hyphenated words
Did you ever see a dog?
I urge any trepidacious teachers to let go of earlier poetry hang-ups -or misconceptions, and begin again –reading, listening and writing.