A poetry unit is an exciting time in the writing workshop. No other genre
grants young writers quite the same amount of license to explore, play with, and celebrate language; to be silly with words; or simply to give raw images and emotions a chance to fly off the page. No other genre allows young writers to infuse as much rhythm and beat into their writing. The playfulness of the poet pays off: well-crafted poems deliver deep truths, capture stirring moments in time, evoke images that readers carry with them forever.
A unit of study in poetry writing can usher our third graders into a new world of language appreciation: a world that fosters deep connections between reading and writing and a commitment to repeated revision. This unit offers a unique opportunity to zoom in on craft—from both the reader’s and the writer’s perspective. For although poets write to find and communicate meaning, just like any other authors, they also regularly “shift attention from the what (subject/meaning) to the how (language).” “Playing” with language in poetry, if channeled, can make children feel like insiders in this world of literary meaning making and craft.
In this unit, your children will explore the effects that are created when words are strung this way and that and repeated—sometimes even invented in response to some onomatopoeic need. Just as they learn to manipulate play dough or rearrange blocks and Legos, children can learn to take words and manipulate them to create new, interesting things: wisps of thought, a captured image, a difficult-to-describe feeling.
They will begin to see poems, itching to be written, in the playground trees, in the recess bell and the math test, in the best friend who’s moving away. They will learn to find the poems that are hiding in the details of their lives. These skills are important not only because poetry is its own powerful genre but also because the habits children develop as poets—specificity, comparative thinking, understatement, hyperbole—will serve them well in any genre of writing. It’s also true that an understanding of poetry from the inside out will help them build a lasting mental framework for how poetry works and support their ability to read poetry with comprehension and appreciation.
They will start off learning that “Poets write best when we write about what we know,” which already supported them in writing their first personal narratives. They will move quickly from collecting to revising and rewriting so that they will understand that in poetry, poets, more so probably as a group than any other kind of writer, care terribly about each and every word, comma, line break—even the white space, where there isn’t any writing, is thought through and revised! The will come to realize that the revision is the harder but more rewarding work that must be done.
To support your child at home, immerse them in poetry. Read a poem or two at night to or with them. Post poems around the house. I have attached a few poems here that have some significance to events that go on at home. Talk to them about why you liked a particular poem. How did it make you feel? What did the author do in the poem that made it so wonderful?