Tag Archives: National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month: Performing Poetry

Perform a Poem
Perform a Poem

As National Poetry Month winds down, consider inviting students to perform some of the poetry they have read and written throughout the month. Performing poetry allows students to read with expression, using their voice and gestures to convey the meaning of the text. With repeated readings of a poem, younger students become fluent readers and increase their comprehension. Older students analyze and develop their own interpretation of a poem’s meaning and representation through performance.  Take a look at the following resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org.

Performing poetry incorporates oral reading, literature, and the performing arts. This strategy can benefit content area readers, English language learners, or learners with special needs. Read more in this Strategy Guide.

In this lesson, students watch an example of poetry performed orally and then discuss elements of the performance that lead to reading fluency. Students then select a poem to perform in class. A performance critique sheet is used to evaluate performances and can be used for self-evaluation, peer evaluation, and teacher evaluation.

By being present and mindful on nature walks, students write haiku using vivid sensory language; and explore body movement, music and art as visual and kinesthetic representations of their poetry in the lesson plan “Experiencing Haiku Through Mindfulness, Movement & Music“.

Crossing Boundaries Through Bilingual, Spoken-Word Poetry” has students explore the idea of “crossing boundaries” through bilingual, spoken-word poetry, culminating in a poetry slam at school or in the community.

In this lesson plan, using their voices as interpretive instruments, students gain a deeper appreciation of the art of poetry as they prepare a recitation of the frequently anthologized poem “Those Winter Sundays”.

Wordplaygrounds: Reading, Writing, and Performing Poetry in the English Classroom shows how students can move beyond the traditional boundaries of English curricula, interpreting poetry through a variety of media, including music, art, and dance—without special talent and training in these areas.

How do your students perform poetry?

A Community Literacy Narrative for National Poetry Month

This post is written by NCTE member, Steven Alvarez. 

Steven AlvarezEleven-year-old Felipe created a poem portfolio fashioned as pages stapled into a small, self-published book for a fifth-grade English language arts literacy unit which incorporated student poetry and creative wordplay exercises. Felipe wrote thirty poems as homework for his project. Among Felipe’s poems, expressive verbal and typographical play appeared as stylistic nuances, reminding me of avant-garde poets experimenting with the visual shapes of poems. Felipe’s poems directly intuited the sounds of growing up in New York City, one of the most heterogeneous multilingual cities on earth, and writing became an opportunity to cultivate his translingual gifts.

Felipe conducted his daily experiences bilingually, but in literacy assignments he was English dominant thanks to the monolingualized orientation of his schooling. Felipe told me during an interview that he read and wrote exclusively in English, and that reading and writing in Spanish were “very difficult”: “I don’t use that much Spanish for writing. Or for reading. Only when talking.” Felipe’s remembered bilingual pre-school classes that transitioned him into “regular” English-only classrooms. “When I started doing more English, my mom and dad helped me less. But my older sister helped me more.”

Felipe brought the book to the after-school program where I tutored him. During a homework help session, I invited him read aloud some of his work to me. Felipe showed me his portfolio. Elaborately, he decorated the covers with various designs and figures that included a Batman sticker, and the word “poems” with his name “Felipe” in different shades of blue marker. He earned an A for the unit and his energy and enthusiasm found audience with me. I expressed my joy and encouragement with a high five. “Let’s check some of them out,” I said. “Show me one of your favorite ones.”

“Okay,” Felipe said. “Read this one. I like this one. I just wrote it.” Felipe opened his book to a specific unnumbered page.

Felipe handed me the page, to the following poem,

Felipe's Poem


I read the page aloud with an English professor’s accent (the best I could effect with several semesters of graduate student elbow grease) performed at a relatively quick pace:

My community / is quiet / and / peaceful / tóo. They care about / every ońe / and friendly tóo / it is / clean / as / Manhattan’s / skíes and / néw / people / say what’s / néw / around / here / fólks

With some awareness of meter, I stressed the vowels on the words “too,” “one,” “too,” “skies,” “new” twice, and “folks.” There was a steady rhythm in the first lines and the clever alliterative clicking Felipe adopted for his poem’s language. Felipe asked me to read it aloud one more time, and I did. I noticed how Felipe’s attentive expression configured differently both times I read the poem. Felipe raised his eyebrows when I sped up reading “Manhattan’s skies.”

“It sounds different when you read it,” he said.

I invited Felipe to read the poem in his own voice. As Felipe read aloud, his voice sounded the qualitative meter slower, at a much softer pace. Felipe articulated steady syllable weight in multiple metric variations, which I accent below for emphasis:

My cómmunity / is qúiet / and / péaceful / tóo. They cáre abóut / évery óne / and fríendly tóo / it is / cléan / as / Manháttan’s / Skíes and / néw / péople / say whát’s / néw / aróund / hére / fólks

The poem’s initial steady iambs led to a subtle trotting rhythm by the poem’s end. Though we stressed the same words, Felipe added an extra foot between each stress. I overlooked this musical element of the poem in my first two readings because of my tempo. I needed to slow down, to listen to the poem, but more importantly, to listen to Felipe read his poem at his pace.

“Your reading slowed it down so I could hear it better now,” I said to Felipe.

“Because it’s my poem,” he responded. “I know how it sounds.”

Felipe’s literal enactment of ownership was grounds for me to smile. He shut his book, and I noted his name across the cover.

“Why did you use Manhattan for your community?” I asked.

“Because Manhattan . . . everyone knows that’s America. . . . Because America is my community, and it is a good place.”

“America” was Felipe’s nation, though he would sometimes identify himself with being what he called “both,” that is, Mexican and American, but, he said, “more American.” Without doubt, though, he said he was “all New York.”

The American Felipe identified in himself was not only nationality, but also the part of his identity that permitted him to claim for himself patriotic values associated with the popular political discourse of U.S. citizenship, like liberty and opportunity, which he did not readily associate with Mexico. Felipe acknowledged his Mexican roots and spoke Spanish as a cultural affirmation, though he read and wrote only in English. When it came to the nation he identified with, its customs and culture, Felipe imagined his local New York City skyline.

The community in which Felipe lived, a Mexican ethnic enclave in New York City, was best understood by how identity and language interact in the U.S. and Mexico, and the rhetorics of power behind English-only acculturation, generational loss of Spanish, and claiming community space. Perhaps Felipe identified as “more American” because of his U.S. citizenship status, which—thankfully for him—he shared with his parents, but which wasn’t the bargain for some of immigrant families, as he and others typically knew. In circumstances relating to legal status, Felipe was quick to distinguish himself as mostly American and less Mexican than some. With regards to literacy and language ideology, I recognized that Felipe composed all the poems in his book in English. I also recognized that none of his poems addressed his Mexican identity, neighborhood, or family. Part of my duty as a poet and writing tutor was to encourage Felipe to explore these aspects of his identity, and to offer readings in voices he could recognize for models and study, such as Mexican American poets like Juan Felipe Herrera, Pat Mora, Eduardo Corral, and Nuyorican writers like Tato Laviera and  Nicholasa Mohr. For budding writers like Felipe, it’s important to be exposed to voices of writers who speak to diverse lived experiences, to devote resources for ethnic studies that promote and engage students of all races about the home cultures of our nation’s rich diversity. After-school programs are positioned well to do this, but after-school programs should not be substitutes for ethnic studies curricula in K-12 schools.

As the NCTE Position Statement in Support of Ethnic Studies Initiatives in K-12 Curricula states, “more work remains to be done if both teachers and students are to recognize the beneficial contributions of various ethnic backgrounds to crucial curricular components of K–12 institutions nationwide.” I applaud the creativity behind Felipe’s poetry assignment, and also how the project literally sparked Felipe’s creative and critical ownership of his words. There is so much potential in encouraging more language arts assignments that engage poetic explorations, but I propose that such explorations grounded in using poetry to explore the histories, languages, and cultural practices of local communities, including their own, address expressive aspects of literacy practices and knowledges students bring to classrooms as gifts from their communities that are relevant to their lives. Indeed, there is always much work to do, but recognizing the dignity and plurality of our students’ voices, their poetic voices, is where we begin to learn to teach with care. Schools and after-school programs share in this work and love for sustaining plurality in educational spaces and encouraging critical and creative reflection—beyond National Poetry Month. Understanding students writing about their communities is always the priority, and, for me, the aspect of teaching writing that makes the biggest impact.

Steven Alvarez is assistant professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies at the University of Kentucky. His research explores the languages and literacies of Latino immigrants in New York City and Kentucky.

To read more of Steven Alvarez’s works, please visit Translanguaging Literacies and Community Ethnographies


Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day!

pocketShare a poem with everyone you meet on Poem in Your Pocket Day! As part of New York City’s celebration of National Poetry Month, residents have participated in Poem in Your Pocket Day since 2002. The movement went national in 2008. Here are some ways to have fun on this special day during National Poetry Month, suggested by the Academy of American Poets and augmented by resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org.

  • Post pocket-sized verses in public places. Use the aptly named poem, “Keep a Pocket in Your Poem“.
  • Memorize a poem. The lesson plan “Speaking Poetry: Exploring Sonic Patterns Through Performance” invites students engage in a variety of vocal activities and performance techniques based on word sounds.
  • Distribute bookmarks with your favorite lines of poetry. Students can also write new poetry to include, like a catalog poem.
  • Post lines from your favorite poem on your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr. In this lesson, students turn their original poetry into digital form using Animoto and share it with other classes or even with published poets during a Google+ Hangout or Skype session.
  • Send a poem to a friend. Everyone loves getting a greeting card, especially if it’s homemade. Make a funny or thoughtful greeting card or invitation with pictures and a poem, joke, or riddle in this activity.

Poetry is best when shared, and Poem in Your Pocket Day is the perfect time to share!

National Poetry Month: Writing Poetry

rebusHelp students recognize the elements of a poem and explore different ways of writing poetry, and you’ll also enable the students to become more familiar with the meaning of words and sentences, sentence structure, rhymes, and vocabulary. Plus, in writing poetry, students will discover a new, limitless world of expression that’s just as fun to share with others as it is to create. Try out some of these lesson plans and resources from ReadWriteThink.org.

Encourage creativity and word play by helping a child recognize the elements of a poem and explore different ways of writing one in this Tip & How To written for families.

Writing Poetry with Rebus and Rhyme” encourages students to use rhyming words to write rebus poetry modeled on rebus books, which substitute pictures for the words that young students cannot yet identify or decode.

Students create poetry collections with the theme of “getting to know each other” in this ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan. They study and then write a variety of forms of poetry to include in their collections.

After reading a book or magazine, children and teens can choose a section and transform it into what’s known as a “found poem” in “Finding Poetry in Pleasure Reading“.

In “The ABCs of Poetry” students examine a letter of the alphabet from all angles, creating image pools of original metaphors that they then turn into poems.

Using an online tool, students summarize papers they have written using the traditional format of a haiku in “Summarizing with Haikus“.

What poetry writing activities do your students enjoy?

you need to read poetry logo

National Poetry Month: Reading Poetry

“What the poem is about and how it explores that material is more important than the technical means it uses. Yet by focusing on those means, we can perhaps get closer to finding out why we felt what we felt. That process can deepen our reading, enhance it, complicate it.”

This quote from Accent on Meter: A Handbook for Readers of Poetry provides a great rationale for reading poetry. The following resources from ReadWriteThink.org provide opportunities for students to read and appreciate poetry.

Looking for poetry suggestions? Listen to the Grades K – 5 Podcast Episode “Playful Poetry Books to Share“. In this episode, host Emily Manning and guest Sylvia Vardell explore fun ways to read poetry with children. Older students can tune in to “Celebrating Poetry for Teens“. In honor of National Poetry Month in April, host Jennifer Buehler shares her recommendations of a variety of poetry books for teens.

Use the lesson plan “Poetry Portfolios: Using Poetry to Teach Reading” to teach your students about sentence structure, rhyming words, sight words, vocabulary, and print concepts using a weekly poem.

Students read various poems and explore why lines are broken where they are and how they affect rhythm, sound, meaning, and appearance in poetry in “What Makes Poetry? Exploring Line Breaks“.

Explore reading strategies using Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and other works. In this lesson plan, students read Poe’s works in both large- and small-group readings then conclude with a variety of projects.

Developing Aesthetic Criteria: Using Music to Move Beyond Like/Dislike with Poetry” assists students in developing the cognitive tool of criteria development for discussing the aesthetics of poetry and music.

Ease students’ fear of interpreting complex poetry by teaching them a strategy with which they determine patterns of imagery, diction, and figurative language in order to unlock meaning with the lesson plan “Thinking Inductively: A Close Reading of Seamus Heaney’s ‘Blackberry Picking’“.

How do you engage students in reading poetry?