Poetry- Reasons to Embrace it!

It is NO secret that I love poetry.  As an educator, you should too!  Poetry is a powerful vehicle of language.  Poems contain figurative language, grammar opportunities, and lessons on perspective and point of view in short manageable packages.   Rhyming poems offer an added benefit for younger readers because the rhyming helps them become better decoders. Rhyming improves phonemic awareness and learning of word families such as pill, will, chill, etc.

Poems are short but complex and offer a manageable way to expose students to rigorous text without overwhelming them.  They offer a way to build fluency for our readers. They help students build word recognition and automaticity with repeated readings and sometimes predictable rhyme patterns.

A missing element in our instruction is often GRAMMAR.  Poems offer educators text to examine punctuation and grammar “Do’s and Don’ts.”  Anyone who has looked at an e. e. cummings poem has been exposed to a new world of looking at words and punctuation. Students are able to look at the use of parts of speech in context in small phrases which makes it easier to study the purpose and impact.

Look at the following excerpt from Emily Dickinson’s poem Summer Shower

 A drop fell on the apple tree,

Another on the roof;

A half a dozen kissed the eaves,

And made the gables laugh.


A few went out to help the brook,

That went to help the sea.

Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,

What necklaces could be!


The dust replaced in hoisted roads,

The birds jocoser sung;

The sunshine threw his hat away,

The orchards spangles hung.

This excerpt was accessed from the following website on 2/12/2016:   http://examples.yourdictionary.com/descriptive-poem-examples.html#xvRjwpK0STsrgbAC.99

Within these three stanzas are opportunities to discuss verbs used in unusual ways.  The author creates images with nouns that are unconventional implying that the sunshine has a hat.   Diamante poems are an easy way for teachers to use poetry to focus on the power of grammar use in writing.  Helping children see why particular punctuation is being used such as the semicolon or comma, helps them understand their purpose within text.  Poetry offers these examples and allows the educator to teach skills at a sentence or phrase level rather than an entire paragraph or selection. When you are teaching skills remember that you teach first on a word or sentence level to paragraph to selection to multiple selections.  You do not begin teaching the skill of context clues within an entire selection because it is too much.  You must isolate the skill to one sentence until they understand and make the level more difficult and add more text. By moving through this progression level when you teach your skills, it allows students to grasp the concept on a concrete level before moving to a more complex abstract level.

Poems offer a way for students to apply their reading strategy and make true sense of text. When you read a free verse poem, the first response is normally—what? This response is that you did not comprehend the text and what you do next proves if you are a good reader. If you stop and say you hate poetry—you have just proved yourself not to be a strategic reader. If you apply reading strategies such as rereading, chunking the text, or applying context clues, etc. than you have proven you know how to apply the needed skills to make meaning of text. Poetry provides TONS of opportunity to TRULY engage students into using and applying skills and strategies as they read.  Some of our students do not even know they do not understand while others see that there is a break down in comprehension quickly.  It is this understanding that separates struggling readers from our strongest.  Strong readers make mistakes but they have “read attack” skills and apply them automatically. For the rest of our students, we must teach this skill.   It is rare for our higher students to truly grapple with text. Poetry is embedded with vocabulary and figurative language that even our strongest readers are not proficient. This ensures that ALL of our students are challenged with rigor and learn to see what it feels like when understanding is breaking down and how to apply reading comprehension strategies to fix it. For example, look at the excerpt from Emily Dickinson’s poem, I like to see it lap the Miles:

I like to see it lap the Miles –

And lick the Valleys up –

And stop to feed itself at Tanks –

And then – prodigious step


Around a Pile of Mountains –

And supercilious peer

In Shanties – by the sides of Roads –

And then a Quarry pare

This excerpt was accessed from the following website on 2/12/2016:


Immediately when students read the first stanza they think that the poet is describing an animal because of words such as lick, feed and lap.  The words tank and prodigious normally are skipped because they do not make sense for the reader at first.  The second stanza is usually where students stop and say, “I don’t get it.”  This should make you happy because they are realizing that they are decoding the words but not making  meaning of the text. Having students return to the beginning and begin to question the text and chunk the lines into phrases to really think about the meaning and hidden figurative language embedded in the words helps them think deeper.  The key word is “tanks” because this just does not make sense for an animal.  At this point, strong readers will realize that they must think figuratively.  Think of the opportunity here to model for students how to “fix their break down in comprehension” with modeling, guided questions and student discussion.

Finally, poetry provides creativity and the opportunities to see and think from other perspectives. Poetry is a world where any object or setting can take on a new persona.  Poetry is a world where “things are NUTS” and sometimes do not make sense but open to possibilities. Poetry provides a world of imagination and a place that educators should WANT to run towards.


Resources for you:

K-1 Exemplars 2-3 Exemplars 4-5 Exemplars

For TES specifically–

This Poem Is NUTS- strategy for testing– see Kelly or a 3-5 teacher if you want to learn more


4 Thoughts.

  1. Pretty deep thinking that can make teachers feel uncomfortable. I think to make teachers and student feel successful teachers should start small, look into poems they understand and then let the students work though the poem with very few guiding questions.
    Thinking is a group process when it comes to poetry. The more ideas that are going, the better the discussion. Let the students discuss!

  2. “If you stop and say you hate poetry—you have just proved yourself not to be a strategic reader. If you apply reading strategies such as rereading, chunking the text, or applying context clues, etc. than you have proven you know how to apply the needed skills to make meaning of text.”

    So what do you do when you read it, reread it, chunk it, apply context clues, etc and still don’t get it. 🙂 Thank you for the reminder to always start small and work towards the bigger. I think in the upper grades especially we tend to forget that.

  3. You collaborate–
    I think Jennifer’s point is important for teachers to work first with material they understand. Asking for help and collaborating with others helps too…
    It isn’t easy but struggling helps make meaning…

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