I never used to teach poetry until I ended up in middle school a few years ago. I felt that I could teach all that I needed to teach in traditional fiction. However, I began to realize the value of poetry, the first valuable aspect is it's short. Let's face it, some students have limited attention spans these days, some for valid reasons, others because, well, instant everything.
The other valuable component of poetry is it truly gets the students to think deeply about text. It requires them to reread and they are okay with it because it's short. This post will explain how I approach it with my 6th graders with the heavy focus on this idea of rereading.
Kickoff with Stations
These are by no means fancy or elaborate as some stations are. This year was the first year I did stations and I kind of just whipped them up based on some suggestions of other teachers.
My three stations are as follows (students have 20 minutes in each station and rotate):
1. Analyze and take notes on informational slides I found on Teachers Pay Teachers.
2. Book spine poetry using books in my library.
3. Blackout poetry with excerpts from some shared read alouds.
They work on these the first day to become familiar with the basics.
Focus on Figurative Language
I don't even touch figurative language until I do this unit. A lot of teachers teach figurative language in isolation. As with pretty much everything I do, I believe in teaching skills within actual literature and this is how I approach diving into figurative language.
Each lesson is set up in a very similar fashion. I start with a focus and poems/songs that go well with that focus. For example, my first lessons focus on personification. Together we read a poem that has a lot of personification. In their digital notebooks, students jot their initial thoughts on the left hand side of the poem. Then, we read it again, with the focus on personification. Students identify how the poem uses the personification and how personification contributes to the poem. This is the format I generally follow each day for a different type of figurative language.
Next up, students read a poem together. Similar to our shared activity, students read it twice with their partner, identifying the figurative language focus for the day. We come back together to discuss.
Lastly, they work independently with poems of their choice. For my classes, I provided them with poetry books I checked out from the public library. The books were spread about on my back table and students could choose a new book each day. As I write this, though, my students and I are quarantined in our homes due to the coronavirus. We are still doing this unit. I am having students use poems from a variety of poetry websites and they have the option to use poetry books from Hoopla and Overdrive (these are free eBooks students can access using their library cards).
This is how each lesson goes for a few days as students tackle each type of figurative language. I also do a few lessons with mood, point-of-view, and symbolism.
After students focus on figurative language, we spend a few days writing poetry. Each day, much like earlier, the students focus on one or two types of figurative language when writing. I refer them back to the poems previously reviewed and we focus on how the author WROTE the figurative language.
I also write my own poem samples. From there, they spend each day writing several poems. I often pair them off to write some together, too. I don't give them many rules to this; I mostly just observe to see if they are using the figurative language properly. This is not formal writing.
These few days of practice lead up to a fun non-tech activity! Since my classroom is very tech-heavy, I try to sprinkle in a few tech-free days and this activity is one of them. Students pick a "spring thing" to focus on. They spend time brainstorming for a poem on that thing, choosing one type of figurative language to focus on. They then write the poem, with given requirements, on the actual spring thing and color. It makes for a great display! Click here to get it!
This current school year, however, I was doing distance learning. The students still did this activity, but I had to take a more digital approach. They brainstormed and wrote the poem on Slides presentations with the spring things. Students colored the poem on Seesaw or chose to print and color. Then, I displayed it on Padlet. You can get this digital version here!
The last major activity I do with the students is a figurative language escape room. This is all done through one Google Site. Students receive different puzzles focusing on different aspects of figurative language. The puzzles are all done in Google Slides. They can work on this in groups and they plug in the answers to a Google Form. Each correct answer results in a silly GIF. Whoever gets to the end first, wins! Get the escape room here!
I do usually follow this up with a very basic Google Form quiz on figurative language.
Consider using poetry to focus on figurative language. Also, going digital allows students to do lots of editing, highlighting and manipulating of the various texts. As mentioned, I am writing this during quarantine from the coronavirus, so all of the above are great strategies for students are stuck home!
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