Literacy Teaching Tips 17


I am guessing that you’ve recently provided your students with exposure to poetry – since we are coming to the end of Poetry Month.  I also know that you know that the CCSS include items related to proficiency with poetry.  Testing season is fully upon us and your attention is likely focused like a laser upon those kinds of tasks, but . . .


Let’s not let Poetry Month end, no matter what the calendar tells us.  Let’s squeeze it into every available crack of time – not just for the fun of it (and relief of tension), but because it, like other art forms, helps us to realize our full humanity.


I know that your students would enjoy the following ever-so-quick-to-share poems.  I found them all in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children.  What’s your favorite anthology?






I’m Glad the Sky is Painted Blue


I’m glad the sky is painted blue,

     And the earth is painted green,

With such a lot of nice fresh air

     All sandwiched in between.







O little soldier with the golden helmet,

What are you guarding on my lawn?

You with your green gun

And your yellow beard,

Why do you stand so stiff?

There’s only the grass to fight!


Hilda Conkling



The Rain Has Silver Sandals


The rain has silver sandals

   For dancing in the spring,

And shoes with golden tassels

   For summer’s frolicking.

Her winter boots have hobnails

   Of ice from heel to toe,

Which now and then she changes

   For moccasins of snow.

Mary Justus






Literacy Teaching Tips 16

Students of all ages might enjoy creating poems from some kind of a starter.  I started a poem the other day, using some cool word dice given to me by a dear friend.  I wrote a line, using words I plucked from the smooth cubes and then asked for people to finish it – without rhyming, this time.  Here are the results:


It’s simple shelter

that calls . . .

the heart

when days and weeks

are cold.  With each

and every frosty breath,

I crave the hearth

still more.


Kylie Castellaw



It’s simple shelter

that calls . . .

my soul

to bunker down

and heal.

The wars may

rage outside,

but inside the

sentiment is peace.


Suzanne Johnson-Rodgers



I think that it would be interesting to start a bulletin board (or center activity) where students would contribute interesting words that they encounter in their reading, movies conversations, etc.  These words could be selected and combined by the teacher to create a starter.  After the routine catches on, students would likely enjoy creating starters for their classmates.


If you end up using this idea, I would love to post the resulting poems on my site! 

Literacy Teaching Tips 15


I so enjoyed getting some responses in the form of your poems last week!  An educator friend submitted these via FB.


My Dog Abby


My dog Abby has floppy ears

and brings my eyes to joyful tears.


Jan Goodheart



The Party Began


The party began with red high heels,

red high heels, red high heels.

The party began with red high heels,

diamond rings and luscious meals.


Jan Goodheart


Other teacher friends submitted these.


My Dog Rupert


My dog Rupert has an eye of blue,

and lives to be my friend so true.


Jaynie Denine Casey




My Dog Bella


My dog Bella is so sweet,

she's definitely one that can't be beat.


Kalene McLachlan



Another Bella


Bella is my daughter's best friend, a love

between girl and pup that will never end!


Callie Zenner


One of my younger friends came up with this delightful one – gotta love a surprise ending!  


Grocery List Poem


Today is

the day

pasta, seltzer, beer, and onions


Nothing can

go wrong

pasta, seltzer, beer, and onions


Here we are

this is it

pasta, seltzer, beer, and onions


We are nothing

without each other

pasta, seltzer, beer, and onions



I forgot the seltzer


James Bennett



Here is another contribution -  from a much younger poet.


The Ballerina


The ballerina twirled.

She twirled and twirled and twirled.

She leaped and spun

while having fun.


Maria Prasil


I wonder what Maria would think of repeating her first line for a "bookend" ending.  I hope that I get a chance to ask her!



The young writers in your care might enjoy trying the five poetry writing tips mentioned in my last post.  They might also like to make use of the following ideas.


6.  Alliteration can be a treat for the ear, but it can also be overdone.  Try a line more than one way to see which you prefer.


7.  As previously discussed, it is not necessary to write in rhyme, but rhythm is an important element of most poetry.  Sometimes you will want to keep your rhythm steady; on other occasions you might want to vary it.  Poets often make word choices based upon a rhythmic need or preference.  (You might feel the need to replace a three-syllable word with a shorter one – or visa versa).


8.  Be bold – and use a word in a way that might be new to your readers.  It might make them scratch their heads! (For example, use a noun or an adjective as a verb).


9.  Experiment with punctuation.  Choose marks that help you read your work aloud in the way that sounds best to you.  Rules are a bit flexible for poets!


10.  Try to capture a feeling in a poem; that way you can have that feeling again and again – and you can help others to have that feeling, too!




February is an excellent time to engage in a couple of particular art experiences in the classroom.  An occasion for card giving is the perfect opportunity to explore printmaking techniques – Styrofoam prints, etc.  Printmaking was invented for the purpose of producing multiples, so it's a real-life connection that makes total sense!


It's popular to decorate classrooms with items employing a heart motif, right?  Give the students in your care opportunities to cut their own heart shapes.  It can be frustrating for some students, at first, but with practice comes competence and confidence. It takes time, but it's time well spent!  Building stamina and problem solving skills will transfer into successes in other curriculum areas.


Encourage them to cut various types of hearts – long and thin, short and rounded, large and small, etc.  This can be done on one or more occasions and the shapes can be stored in individual manila envelopes.  (Note:  Providing a variety of paper types and encouraging tearing, as well as cutting, will result in a nice opportunity to discuss texture). 


Later, these can be used (and added to) to create compositions including animals, people, etc.  It is a chance to introduce the idea of working toward abstraction (as opposed to realism).  As always, it's most helpful to have a self-selected image to serve as a reference.


Literacy Teaching Tips 14

It is the time of the school year that efforts in connection with upcoming test taking are beginning to reach fever pitch.  The students in your care will need breaks from this – and you teachers will need for these breaks to be brief, right?


Here is a week's worth of poetry writing ideas.  They can all be accomplished quickly – in the small crevices of time that you can capture in the name of creativity during this period of intense test preparation.


All of these ideas are based on single sentence starters.  This is doubly useful – since you are responsible for seeing that your students know how to write complete sentences.


When your students have tried out these ideas, you will be well on your way to compiling a classroom poetry anthology – just volume one!  (Won't that make a nice thing for parents to peruse while they are waiting for their turn next time conferences come around?)


The following sentences were either written by me or submitted by others via FB or Instagram.  If your students need help (at first) to think of sentences to write down, I suggest that you show them a series of interesting images – from calendars, magazines, art books, etc.  It will be helpful for them to have a collection of sentences from which to choose.  That's step one!


My dog Mac has pointy ears.  (me)


Sometimes scaredy cats woof.  (Kylie)


I am getting stronger at age 58.  (Janet)


George Conger's gone to Spain.  (me)


I feel taller than the tallest building.  (Kylie)


Little girls in laughing pants make a statement.  (me)


Jazz hands and man hands are not mutually exclusive.  (Kylie)


Homemade pizza has lots of lumps.   (me)


Let's eat the toppings first.  (Kylie)


The party begins with green elf shoes.  (Greg)


Graffiti can be angry.  (Greg)


He tickles the ivories with elegant ease.  (Kylie)



Poetry Writing Tips – Starting With a Single Sentence


1.  Poems do not have to be lengthy in order to convey an idea or be memorable.  Sometimes brevity is best; couplets are an excellent form to employ when just two (rhyming) lines will do the trick. 


I think I have shared my all-time favorite couplet with you before, but here it is again:


Wouldn't you like to have lasagna

any time the mood was on ya?


X.J.  Kennedy



One of several places that you can find this poem is in April Bubbles Chocolate, poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Barry Root.  If you are not familiar with Kennedy and his work, you are in for a treat as you explore with the children in your care!



As I look over the previously listed sentences generated yesterday, I see some that lend themselves pretty easily to becoming couplets.  The really important thing to keep in mind (in addition to the constraints of rhythm and rhyme) is that you need to convey a point – an idea that you find worthy of pondering and/or sharing.



My Dog Mac

My dog Mac has pointy ears,

and barks at everything he hears.


Stella Castella

Thank you, Jaynie Casey, for posting that dog picture; it got me thinking!




Getting Stronger

I'm getting stronger at fifty-eight;

watch me lift my own body weight!


Stella Castella

Thanks to Janet Morrison for the starter sentence!


Piano Man

He tickles the ivories with elegant ease,

producing results that consistently please.


Stella Castella

Thanks, Kylie, for the photo and the starter sentence – and here's the way she finished the couplet!


He tickles the ivories with elegant ease;

his zipping hands obscure the keys.



2.  Experiment with repetition.  Your starter sentence might contain a word or phrase that particularly pleases you.  Try repeating it to see if you like the sound of that.  Maybe you'll want to repeat the entire sentence! 


George Conger's Gone to Spain

George Conger's gone to Spain;

George Conger's gone to Spain.

He sees the sights,

the splendid sights –

George Conger's gone to Spain!


Stella Castella


Taller Than

I feel …

taller than the tallest


taller than the tallest


taller than the tallest

person –

want to throw

out my arms

and sing.


Stella Castella

Thanks to George Conger for posting the picture and to Kylie for the beginning sentence!


It Begins

The party begins

with green elf shoes,

green elf shoes,

green elf shoes.

The party begins

with green elf shoes,

a bag of wigs, and

a breakfast cruise.


Stella Castella

Thanks to Greg for providing the photo and the sentence that begins this poem! Thanks to my fellow cruisers for the memories!


3.  Make a conscious effort NOT to rhyme, concentrating instead on experimenting with places to make line breaks in your sentence - in order to convey your message as powerfully as possible.   Add words/ideas as needed to make your point.


 Little Girls in Laughing Pants

Little girls in

laughing pants

make a statement.

They say

quite clearly,

We are here

to move


and while

we are at it

we might move

you, too.

Stella Castella

Thanks to Mandi Sheets Weber for getting tagged in a great photo!



can be


full of



menace -

made of

pointed horn,


runny eye.


can be

angry -



at the

same time.

Stella Castella

Thanks again, Greg, for the cool photo and starter sentence!

4.  Experiment with different ways to place your words upon the page.  If you actually arrange the words into the shape of the object about which you are writing, that is a concrete (or shaped) poem.  My favorite concrete poem ever is Forsythia by Mary Ellen Solt.




Homemade Pizza



                                                   U     P

Homemade pizza has lots of   L          SSS,


C O L O R F U L vegies


and cheesy   B         PSSSS.

Let's eat the toppings


Stella Castella

Thanks to Brittaney Niebergall for posting the photo and Kylie for the ending sentence!

5.  Feel free to invent a word – if it helps you to make your writing sound interesting or evoke an image (sight, sound, smell, etc.).  The following one-sentence poem contains an invented word and is, as you can see, concrete in form.




Literacy Teaching Tips 13

I am considering dropping this strand from my blog, since it does not appear that there is much interest in it at this time.  I had hoped to generate some buzz around ways to meet CCSS through poetry and art experiences – perhaps later?  Let me know what you think!

Literacy Teaching Tips 12

December is not traditionally the best month for making a lot of traditional academic progress.  There are lots of extra activities (concerts, etc.), children are distracted, and teachers are tired and craving a break.


We can take advantage of this period by doing lots of things that we often feel we don't have time for.  Why not do art, art, and more art?  It's very doable to turn lots of seasonal craft projects into actual art experiences – by requiring students to make their own design decisions, thereby creating individual and unique compositions and growing their brains in the process.  How many methods and materials could your students employ to depict, say, poinsettias or snow people? What other subject matter might interest them?


This would also be an excellent time of year to share lots and lots of poetry with the kids in our care.  Remember to issue invitations to them, on a regular basis, to write their own poems – possibly to accompany their recent artwork.


Lots of art and lots of poetry – this might be viewed as frivolous by some, but I promise that the payoff is there in terms of student engagement, confidence development, and an increase in problem-solving ability that will transfer into other curriculum areas.



Literacy Teaching Tips 11

Here's a basic idea that will fit into short stretches of time – on a regular basis, if possible.  It comes to us from Lee Galda, Bernice E. Cullinan, and Lawrence R. Sipe in Literature and the Child, seventh edition.  I confess that the title of the activity, "Fifteen Minutes, Fifty Poems!" perplexes me a bit, but that's OK – the power of this kind of routine is beyond beautiful!


After making sure that all students (and you) have poetry notebooks, embark on regular modeling sessions – via some sort of projection system.  "Tell students that you have a poem on your mind; invite them to watch as you try to capture it in words." 


Of course you will think out loud (as you do about so many things), demonstrating what you do when you become stuck – scribbling, sketching, leaving blanks for undetermined words, reconsidering line breaks, etc.  Finally, "Stop at a point when you are visibly excited about what you will next compose… Tell them that you must spend the next ten minutes writing silently in your notebook and invite them to do the same." 


The authors of this popular Children's Literature textbook say that it will be tempting to start circulating among your students, but you should keep writing.  When they get stuck, they need to see you still working at it. 


This is my favorite quote from this section of the text:  "The more poems your students write, the more poetic devices and forms they will notice in the poems they read.  It is a cycle that sweeps children into exploring and experimenting with language.  Teachers have the power to set the cycle in motion."


The resources cited by the authors for this teaching idea are as follows:


Graves, Donald.  Explore Poetry:  The Reading/Writing Teacher's Companion


Grossman, Florence, Listening to the Bells:  Learning to Read Poetry by Writing Poetry


McClure, Amy, with Peggy Harrison and Sheryl Reed, Sunrises and Songs:  Reading and Writing Poetry in an Elementary Classroom


Here’s an invitation to you teachers:  Try this a few times and report back via either the comment feature of this site or FB.  What did you notice?  What CCSS did you elect to address via this work?  Then, send me your school address, so that I can mail or deliver you some things for your classroom library!


Literacy Teaching Tips 10

In my last post in this strand, I expressed a strong desire for teachers and students to be able to engage in timely and interesting topics of study – not always within the scope of the adopted curriculum materials.  I know that we can do things like this in an integrated way, addressing multiple subjects with fairly simple projects – and even meeting a variety of formal goals in the process.


Here is the seed of an idea that might appeal to you and your students:


Food banks are always in need of additional supplies; I believe that this is true year round, but we generally hear more about it at this time.  This project might begin with your students bringing in non-perishable items, particularly those richest in nutritive content if possible.  (Of course, kids could choose to bring in items – or earn them by doing extra classroom and playground jobs; it probably goes without saying that this will not be a competition, but a collaborative effort).


This would certainly be an opportunity to discuss grade-level appropriate nutrition concepts, which can be tricky - given some of the unfortunate "facts" often pushed onto students in this area.  (Note:  Many people still believe that dietary fat is bad, rather than understanding the notion of quality of fats or grasping the role of over-consuming carbohydrates as a cause of a number of health problems).


Annnnnyway . . . Many of the collected items will be in cans.  Others will be in other sorts of packages.  Either way – there will likely be math concepts related to measurement that you will be able to explore with your students.  Three dimensional figures would be another possibility – which leads to the next activity.


You can use this as an opportunity to directly teach some drawing concepts – such as how to do a cylinder.  (Hint:  The most common problem is a flat bottom, when in fact- a cylinder will have the rounded curve of the front of an ellipse on the bottom).  YouTube to the rescue, if needed, right?


Perhaps your students would like to design new labels for the food containers. (Hint:  The label on a cylindrical object will also be "made with" the front side of an ellipse; labels will be echoes of the container shape.)  These could be gently taped over the top of the original labels.  It would be an opportunity for your students to try their hands at this kind of a design task.  It also might be some fun for the recipients! 


In the working world, multiple design decisions are normally considered before a final product is begun – much like brainstorming before beginning a piece of writing in its final form.  It is also important to remember that drawing is easiest when we have an image to consult; drawing from memory is not only difficult, but usually results in fewer details and less accuracy.  As always, your students can just go over the lines that they prefer; there's no need to be fussy and do a lot of erasing.  (It's difficult to convince them of this, but with demonstrations from you and lots of opportunities – they will get comfortable with the idea and their drawings will please them more and more).


After the nutrition, math, and art activities have transpired – your students will have lots of thoughts in their heads.  These could be expressed in any mode of discourse that they might choose – poems, articles, letters, etc.  The main thing is that they will know in advance both the audience and the purpose for their writing.  (Examples:  I am writing a letter to my grandma to explain what I've been learning.  I am writing a short poem to entertain the person who gets this package.  I am writing an article about this project for our class newsletter.)


I would love to hear back from you about the standard(s) that YOU choose to address in connection with these or similar activities.  I am guessing that no two of you will choose the same ones. 


Send me, via the CONTACT page on this site, the standard(s) that you have chosen to address.  Remind me of your grade level and school address – and then expect a surprise!

Would you like to submit your students' poetry for inclusion in this section?  I would really enjoy that!

Literacy Teaching Tips 9

I am busy preparing this week for an upcoming professional development session called, Connections to the Common Core and More:  Poetry and The Arts.  A couple of thoughts have especially dominated my thinking during this process. 


The common core standards are here – at least for the foreseeable future – and this needn't be thought of as a bad thing; we can address them while pursuing understanding of a variety of interesting topics and types of literature.


The problem isn't the standards themselves (or even the fact that some people are really working hard to politicize them).  The problem is that we begin to feel trapped by step-by-step curriculum materials – sometimes even to the point of marching in unison according to a set of dates on the calendar, regardless of students' readiness to proceed.


Sometimes, in the interest of being good team players, we do adhere closely to the directions associated with adopted curriculum materials, especially initially – until we see how it goes and how students do.  Let's not forget, though, that we can still create opportunities to invent some of our own materials – according to our students' particular interests.  School really can be a place where we do more than prepare young people to take tests.  I know that many of you are working hard at this very thing, and I want you to know that those efforts are truly, truly important.  I so appreciate your dedication and hard work!


Emphasis Art:  A Qualitative Art Program for Elementary and Middle Schools (ninth ed.) by Robert D. Clements and Frank Wachowiak has art standards printed right on the endpapers.  There are chapters to help you understand students' art development at various ages, chapters about combining art with all of the other content areas, and even chapters about students who have particular needs.  Beginning teachers will probably especially appreciate the information on managing students successfully during art lessons. The project ideas and photos of student work really help to make all of the information clear.  It is definitely a resource that I consult on a regular basis!



Literacy Teaching Tips 8

Text complexity is certainly a hot topic in the world of literacy learning and teaching today.  I have combined the language from different grade levels in the standard stated below.  This basic idea comes into play as early as grade one.


CCSS:  Read and comprehend literature, including stories and poetry, of appropriate text complexity, with scaffolding as needed.


In many cases, text complexity is considered as a quantitative matter – number of words, average length of words and sentences, etc.  As I believe I have mentioned before, reading poetry CAN be a matter of stamina – some poems are quite long and others are very short.  For the most part, however, the complexity of a poem is more likely to be a matter of qualitative concerns – such as sophistication of vocabulary, multiple meanings, or the use of devices such as similes or metaphors.


As you consider the poems posted this week (mine or the work of others), which ones do you think YOUR students would be likely to understand immediately, by virtue of their existing background knowledge?  Which do you think would require scaffolding – or at least some explanation?


I would love to hear from you about this!  Please consider going to the contact page at this site and leaving me your email information and a message.

Literacy Teaching Tips 7

In my last entry, I focused on a CCSS related to speaking and listening.  I would like to expand upon that today.  While discussing any literature (fiction, information, poetry, etc.) it is important to practice basic discussion skills (such as polite listening).  We can (and must) take it a step farther – into the realm of making more and more pertinent remarks.  Although students’ “side comments” are sometimes verrrry entertaining, I think we can all agree that moving toward staying on topic is something to be desired.  Working toward the following standards will also help students to be successful in their outside-of-school social connections – for life.


…link comments to the remarks of others.


Explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion.


Initially, it will be easiest for students to meet these expectations if the reading material is something with which they can easily connect.  Having the background knowledge to more deeply comprehend the text will provide some available “mind space” to focus upon peers’ understandings as well.


Topics that are familiar to all of the students in your care will be the easiest place to start.  Perhaps my poem about recess would be useful.  You may know of many others!


Another means of connecting to students’ existing background knowledge is to cater to their interests.  Most elementary aged students have a natural fascination with animals.  Many of them are mini-experts on some species, right? 


There are so, so many high quality informational books about animals.  Excerpts from these can work well as springboards for productive discussions, but I am going to recommend poetry for a couple of important reasons.


The first one is simply a time consideration.  In a few short minutes, you can have your entire class (or a small group) do multiple choral readings of a selected poem; this allows you to capitalize on an opportunity to boost confidence and fluency.


Secondly, poetry often evokes more of an emotional response than other kinds of literature.  It is frequently the case that different people will see different things in any one poem; this provides an excellent opportunity to acknowledge someone else’s viewpoint before speaking about our own. 


Here are three books of poetry about animals that you and your students are sure to enjoy:


Animal Poems:  Poetry for Young People edited by John Hollander and illustrated by Simona Mulazzani.


The Beauty of the Beast:  Poems from the Animal Kingdom selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Meilo So.


National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis.

Literacy Teaching Tips 6

At the heart of any high quality literature experience in a school setting is literary talk – discussion.  Of course we need to model what literary comments sound like - on a very regular basis.  Regie Routman, in Conversations (chapter five), helps us to understand that these discussions, even among young students, can be very deep and productive.


While we are conducting excellent discussions about literature, including poetry, we will be meeting a variety of standards, among them this one from CCSS:


Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (eg: listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion).

As the school year progresses, your students will be able to conduct their own discussions in small groups with less and less frequent intervention from you.  It will happen sooner with some groups than others, of course, and that is perfectly reasonable.  Dani Bozzuto, your class this year is probably already there, right?


Literacy Teaching Tips 5

Fall is a very sensory time of year – the sight of brightly colored pumpkins and gourds, the sound of leaves crunching underfoot, the smell of fresh apple cider . . . It’s the perfect time to work with this CCSS:


Identify words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses.


I mentioned Georgia Heard’s Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core State Standards last week.  Her idea about creating a Five Senses Word Wall (pages 47-48) appeals to me; it could be done on chart paper or by another means that you prefer.  The idea is for the students to generate sensory word lists that are displayed (seeing words, hearing words, smell words, touch words, taste words).  As you enjoy poems and books together, you can add to these lists; your students will be quick to catch on to this task.


It seems logical to me (and to Heard) that a natural next step would be for students to employ these kinds of words in their own poetry writing.  You could scaffold easily from writing a collaborative class poem, using some of the previously charted words – to individual poems. 


Some of your students will stick to using mostly previously identified words and ideas that have already been discussed.  Others will be eager to go beyond these limits right away.  Many will start “safely,” but get braver and braver with subsequent opportunities. 


Heard provides both a lesson sequence and little poems that “prove the point.”  She does the same for a variety of standards and provides especially handy references in the back of the book (an appendix titled “Correlation of Poems in the Text to CCSS,” some reproducibles, a glossary, a bibliography, and recommended collections of poetry/ websites).  This book is a great starting place  - and in no time at all, I predict that you will be thinking up excellent poetry teaching ideas of your own!


This would be a great time of year to include books by these excellent author/illustrators in your classroom activities:  Eric Carle, Lois Ehlert, Denise Fleming. We naturally think of a young audience when we see these names, but older students can enjoy revisiting old favorites – especially if reading aloud to younger buddies or experimenting with the use of particular art media.




Literacy Teaching Tips 4

One English Language Arts standard for speaking and listening calls for students to:


Create audio recordings of poetry readings.


 I was reminded of this in Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core State Standards by Georgia Heard.  This is, in itself, a great way to prove to students (individually or in groups) how much they’ve grown and improved in terms of their oral reading.  You can assemble an audio portfolio over time.  You can also take it a step farther – by setting a poem (their own, a group, or an existing one) to music (a familiar or invented tune).


Here is one posted on FB by the divine Janet Morrison. She has a wealth of teaching experience and also lots of expertise in the field of public health.   It was composed by second graders and their teacher (Janet herself) at Corridor Elementary in or near Eugene, Oregon.  It’s sung to the tune of Home on the Range.


Handwashing Song


Oh give me a home

Where my germs do not roam

And the kids get through winter healthy –

Where so-oap and scour

Take away a germ’s power

And we battle the flu in this way.




Please, please wash your hands

Then rinse all the bad germs away

Don’t wash ‘em too quick

Or you might just get sick

And in bed at home you must stay.

Literacy Teaching Tips 3


When adults lead reading lives, they mostly do it silently.  Reading quietly to ourselves with comprehension is really the main event, right?  For the most part, it’s only in school that we ask people to spend a lot of time reading aloud.  It can be a beautiful thing – a way to share good literature (and personal writing) with the learning community. 

All students should practice their material before presenting it to an audience.  Rasinski and Opitz make a very, very strong case for this (and provide practical tips about how to accomplish it) in Good-bye Round Robin:  Twenty-five Effective Oral Reading Strategies

The CCSS include the following, under Foundational Skills:

Read grade level text orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings.

As I have mentioned before, repeated readings of student-selected poems can be an activity that boosts both fluency and confidence; again, for some students you will want to begin with echo reading – by line (or shorter phrase, if needed).  The length of most poems will not be challenging in terms of stamina for students (if they are allowed to select their own material), but the interesting uses of language and sophisticated vocabulary (and concepts) are qualitative aspects of text complexity that should be considered.  Poetry is one kind of literature that is often better read aloud with accuracy; that is another reason for using oral poetry readings to help students meet the standard listed above.




I have been discussing the importance of sharing unrhymed poems with students – and using those as mentor texts.  Today’s “Mr. Beefy” from Once I Ate a Pie is an example, as is my own poem “In My Yard.”  As with most writing tasks, students should be asked to brainstorm possible topics before they begin to write in their chosen format (mode of discourse).  This will help them to arrive at a subject about which they have much to say.

You might ask them to write interesting sentences about their topics.  Next, they could circle the most important words – the really critical ones.  Perhaps they will want to use a thesaurus to make substitutions – in order to have even more interesting word choices.  Finally, they should experiment with arranging the words on the page – in different ways, so that they can see which they prefer.  This is very much like making design decisions while doing art; we should try arranging (say, cut paper figures) in various configurations to see what looks best to us.  With poems like these, we are considering both the look and the sound of the phrasing and punctuation.

 Since I’ll be teaching Art Methods this week, it reminds me to remind you to invite students to illustrate their poetry.  For some students it will work better to do the illustration first.  If you let them try it both ways, they’ll discover which is most helpful to them.  

One of my early teaching partners, Elaine Jones, thought of this and when we tried it with both groups of fifth graders we were amazed.  About half of them felt that doing art first helped them to write better and the others were convinced that writing first resulted in better art making.  It totally makes sense!  We concluded that they naturally preferred to work from an area of strength – in order to have more success in a (possibly) challenging realm.

Literacy Teaching Tips 2


We know that rhythm and rhyme are particularly pleasing to the ears of young students, even those in upper elementary or middle school grades.  For this reason, we will want to share lots of this sort of poetry aloud with the kids in our care – making certain to choose material that is intellectually interesting to the age group at hand.   

Recognizing rhyme is considered to be a highly important skill for preschool and primary age children; this has been the case for some time and is now evident, too, in the CCSS.


Recognize and produce rhyming words.

Modified oral cloze is an activity that is very well suited to this goal.  It works especially well with rhymed poetry, when the second word in the rhyming pair is omitted for the child/ren to supply.

There is another important use for this kind of reading material. The rhythm and rhyme make for a high degree of predictability and easy memorization, therefore poems of this sort make excellent reading material for students of all ages who need to develop confidence and fluency.  Repeated readings of student-selected poems will be very helpful for these purposes.  You may need to start with echo reading at first; it can be an appropriately supportive first step to orchestrating a successful experience with a poem that is interesting (and therefore motivating) enough to generate student engagement.

Nearly all students enjoy the work of Jack Prelutsky They appreciate his strong sense of rhythm and rhyme – not to mention the humor.  I especially admire the fact that he frequently employs advanced vocabulary in his work – proving again and again that little people can handle big, juicy words. 



In my last entry I discussed the importance of inviting our students (of all ages) to write poetry on a regular basis.  It’s like any writing muscle; it just grows stronger with use.  A nice practical bonus is that when students share their poetry, very little class time is needed to accommodate it.

I sang the praises of rhyming poetry in the section above, for a variety of purposes, but it is extremely important to introduce students to poetry that does not rhyme! This is critical when sharing poems (yours or the work of others) that you hope will inspire students to write their own.  It can be exceedingly difficult to convey an important thought or feeling while trying to rhyme at the same time! 

I heartily recommend poems such as those found in Arnold Adoff’s Eats, illustrated by Susan Russo.  I’d start, perhaps, with the one about chocolate or the one about the sunny side up egg.  I absolutely know that you and your students will adore Mr. Beefy and other selections from Once I Ate a Pie by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Katy Schneider.  (I will provide this poem in my next entry). 

Lucy Calkins has provided so much good direction for us as teachers of writing, over time.  Another voice that I have particularly valued has been that of Regie Routman.  I think that you would very much enjoy implementing the ideas found in her series Kids’ Poems.  She starts with first grade and progresses through fourth, but most of the concepts are applicable at a variety of ages – and best of all, examples of children’s poetry can be found throughout these delightful little books. 

Literacy Teaching Tips 1


It practically goes without saying that you need to read a wide variety of literature aloud to your students (exercising your full “think aloud” powers).  I said it anyway, just in case you are one of the many teachers who has trouble finding time for this critical activity; it’s nice, I think, to be reminded of its importance!

Poetry – all kinds of poetry – can easily be shared daily.  By the time you get to the end of the week, your students can be familiar with five new poems and/or poets!  You can find just about any poem you want on the Internet, but I couldn’t possibly have taught for over 30 years without at least one great anthology on my desk – for quick and easy access.  I have actually worn out three copies of The Random House Book of Poetry for Children

It has several useful indexes, including one to look up poems by subject; this is perfect for connecting to topics of discussion or study.  The poems in this particular anthology were selected by the ever-popular (and remarkably prolific) Jack Prelutsky.  You will probably recognize the illustration style of the one and only (poet himself) Arnold Lobel.



 Invite your students to write poetry on a regular basis.  (This is a very different thing from requiring them to produce a poem in a particular format).  Since you will have been sharing all kinds of poems with them, they will have lots of ideas about possible formats and the kinds of subjects poets often choose; they will be ready to put their own thoughts and feelings into a format that suits them.  (This sounds a lot like using mentor texts, right?)

To paraphrase my young teacher friend, Brooke, “Boredom is not an option.”  We often ask kids to read or draw if they have extra time; let’s add writing (especially poetry) to that list.  The CCSS don’t specifically require poetry writing, but you can see how easy it would be to work toward the standard provided below by writing a poem based (like mine) on personal experience. 

Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.

The main thing about poetry is that it is an economy of language – in most cases you will want to use no extra words beyond those needed to convey the thought or feeling, keeping rhythm in mind.  I often use the title to convey part of the message.