Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Teaching Deeper Thinking With Poetry: Common Core

  • I can't believe it's here--my first "real" post on All Things Upper Elementary!  Please watch for my posts every other Tuesday from this point forward!

Today I wanted to share with all of you something I have done in my classroom the last few years, and it is something that I think has made some of my fourth graders take that "leap" into a more sophisticated, mature level of understanding of what they read.  This isn't really a POETRY lesson as much as a "deeper thinking" lesson--with poetry being one way to go about doing it.

As a part of our poetry studies, I try to expose my students to a wide range of reading and writing experiences . . . but I have always felt like our poetry work was a little more superficial than I would like.  The work of Regie Routman is inspiring (check our her ideas if you have time) and Georgia Heard has a number of ideas that can help you raise the level of depth with your poetry studies.  I also can't wait to continue to read the poetry posts by Mr. Hughes!  

The Common Core is clear about the need to raise the level of rigor in the materials we read with our students and with what we ask them to do with these materials.  I have included 3 of the elements in the CCSS for fourth grade below:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.5 Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.

So, what I have noticed is that sometimes these higher level skills are best tackled with short text. . . articles, short stories, picture books--and poems!  Students coming into my class tend to have a fair amount of exposure to poetry, but mostly poetry for "fun".  I have decided to see if I could get students really engaged in some deeper, more thought-provoking poems to try to tackle some of the higher level elements of the Common Core.

Here's how I start. . .  I present a poem to the students that I blow up and glue onto chart paper--but I don't read it to them or tell them anything about it.  I also give the students a small copy to glue into their reading response notebooks.  I ask them to work alone to "work with" the poem . . . they can highlight interesting things, write questions, jot down things they notice, list what they are wondering about, and so on.  Last week I shared the poem "74th Street" by Myra Cohn Livingston.  I ask them to work silently for about 7 minutes.  When I first did this I got lots of

"I don't get it!"

"This doesn't make any sense!"

"I don't know what to write!"

but my students now know that doesn't fly--our class motto is "PERSEVERE!" and so they dug in . . . 

After they had worked on their own, I invited them to share with their tables and see what kind of thinking was triggered--I really try to stress with them that LISTENING to the ideas of others can help clarify your own ideas and can trigger NEW ideas as well!

I then brought them back to the large group and invited them to share some of their discoveries, questions, and wonderings.  I recorded their thinking as we went . . . 

As the students shared, I reminded them to listen and to "piggyback" ideas off each other.  As students added to other students' ideas, I changed colors of marker (the light green ideas were piggybacked ideas).  As you can see, a number of students were able to start to dig in to this poem at a deeper level--and really started making inferences and "proving" their ideas by referring back to the text. 

After we had shared for a while, I was noticing that the students were very focused on the message of the poem and commenting on the content of it but were not really tuned in to the fact that this is a poem and that the format might have some interesting things to notice as well.  I capitalized on one student who noticed that we never learn the child's name, but that the word "she" is used repeatedly--especially to start lines, and I highlighted the word she throughout the poem.  I could hear the whispers among the students start, so I sent them back to work at their tables to see what MORE they could notice about the poetic elements.  I gave them another 5-6 minutes to work, and the discussions got louder and louder.  Pencils and highlighters were moving a mile a minute!

We came back together one last time and shared more on our chart.  The piggybacking continued, and I added on in a third color to show the changing thoughts.

As our discussion wrapped up, one student said, "This is TOTALLY a poem about perseverance!" and the other students readily chimed in their agreement.  Another student said, "Wait--I think this is a poem about her own life.  This is a memory poem."  The other students nodded their agreement.  A third student asked, "Well--which IS it?" and the class sat hushed, waiting for me to answer.  I reminded them that readers and writers are responsible for making their own meaning . . .  that the poet didn't write a "handbook" to help us. She trusts that we will be able to take her carefully chosen words and create meaning out of them.

So, having said that, I sent them back to their desks to explore their own thoughts and to try adding poems to their own collections.  We are hoping to publish mini-anthologies next week, and I encouraged them to consider really trying to write poems that will force their readers to make meaning.  I reminded them how important every single word in "74th Street" was--and how the formatting of the poem made us stop and think.  They grabbed their notebooks and settled in--and I could feel that we had turned a corner in terms of their maturity as readers and writers.

Interested in giving it a try?  There are a zillion amazing poems out there--but I have done this with paragraphs from a text, with articles from magazines such as Weekly Reader, and even pages from picture books.  Getting students to interact with text and with each other builds understanding and pushes their thinking--and we NEED this kind of thinker as we move forward with the Common Core!  In case you are interested in trying it but don't really have time to get it started, I have created a little freebie you might be like--it has the text of this blog post as directions plus a poem to use with your class.  The resource has the poem typed in a few sizes--one that could be put on chart paper and another small enough to glue into a notebook.  I have also included a sheet that has a space for them to record their thinking right on the sheet if you want to collect it and use it as evidence of their thinking.  Let me know how it goes--and I'll see you back here in a few weeks!

Thanks so much for continuing to follow and share with all of us here at "All Things Upper Elementary"!  Make sure to stop by each of our individual blogs as well to see what we've got cookin'...

Meg from the Fourth Grade Studio

You can find me at . . .

or find me on Twitter at @FourthGrStudio


  1. I love teaching poetry to my fourth graders. I like the way you present deeper thinking to them. I have several students I need to remind to persevere.

  2. I like how you had them work, gathered them together, and then sent them back to work some more. I was working through a tough paragraph from Hatchet today with my sixth graders, and they worked individually, we talked a little, and then we gathered and explored some more together. And then I ran out of time. But having read what you've done, the next time, I'll send them back to search a little more after we talk. That really empowers them with new information for their own deeper thinking. Good stuff!

  3. I really like this lesson. During a lesson on inferring, I was surprised to see how much my fifth graders loved poetry. I am definitely going to download your freebie and check out more on your blog. Great post!

    Eclectic Educating

  4. I love this post! I just downloaded the great freebie and look forward to using it with my kiddos. Thanks so much for this great post and for sharing with us.

  5. Thanks, Everyone! I hope it works well for you! :)

  6. You mentioned Mr. Hughes. Where can I find his posts?

  7. I stumbled across your lesson last week while I was looking for resources to help me teach poetry to my 4th graders. We had already spent a week and a half working with the mechanics of poetry; rhyming patterns, word choice, rhythm, etc. and writing some of their own pieces, and we were ready to delve into trying to interpret the deeper meaning of a given poem. This lesson seemed intriguing to me and I loved the poem 74th Street. I knew my kids would be able to relate to the "She" in this poem so I decided to give it a try. I presented this lesson today and it was wonderful! I was so pleased with how my students were able to "work with" this poem. Especially since this was really the first time they had been asked to do something like that. They were able to analyze the character using evidence form the poem. Then I asked them to determine the message that Livingston was trying to convey through this poem and they nailed it! Thank you so much from all of us. This was a really good lesson and we all enjoyed it!

  8. This lesson actually has me excited to tackle poetry. I've always procrastinated when it came to teaching poetry, but this is just what my kids need. Thank you!

  9. This lesson actually has me excited to tackle poetry. I've always procrastinated when it came to teaching poetry, but this is just what my kids need. Thank you!


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