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.