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Introducing the Art of Poetry
When teaching first graders about poetry it is important to make their initial experiences fun and engaging. The best way to demonstrate the art of the poet is to share good poetry with them. Gather the students together and read a selection of poems from anthologies by Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, A.A.Milne or any favorites that you may have. Make the poems come alive by encouraging your students to snap their fingers, bob their heads, clap or stamp to emphasize the rhythm. Participation is the key to enjoyment.
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Explain to the students that you want them to listen very carefully to some rhymes and chants that you will say. Read Betty Botter by Mother Goose, or Bulgy Bunne by Jack Prelutsky, or similar alliterative verse. Ask students what they heard. Do not give any comment just ask them to keep that thought. Then read an excerpt from one of the Dr. Seuss books that is alliterative e.g. pg 42 in Fox in Socks. Continue with some tongue twisters such as Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers or Silly Sally selling shells on the seashore. By now the students will be bursting to tell you that they hear the same sound at the beginning of the words.
Suggest to the group that they could make up their own poetic phrases and the device that they are going to use is alliteration. On chart paper print a noun e.g. spaghetti. Ask the students to tell something about spaghetti that begins with the same sound e.g. stringy, saucy, slippery. Repeat this with different nouns and then put them all together to make up a nonsense verse.
Invite the children to make up their own alliterative phrases. For those students who cannot write their own thoughts have them dictate them and then underwrite or overwrite. Have the students share their phrases with the class. You may like to print them on large sheets of paper with illustrations by the students and compile into a class book.
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Whoosh, Zoom, Pop - That's Onomatopoeia
Onomatopoeia is a favorite poetic device with children who love to pronounce the words and use them in their writing. Introduce the students to this by reciting Baa Baa Black Sheep. Ask the students what the sheep said. Then recite Ding Dong Dell and ask the students what sound a bell makes. Continue with recitations and questions with other nursery rhymes and your students will soon recognize that the words are describing the sounds. Invite the class to sing with you Old MacDonald Had a Farm, and then introduce the word onomatopoeia. Ask students to give examples of these sound words e.g. pitter-patter, whoosh, zoom, buzz, crash,
Provide sheets of paper and ask students to fold them into quarters. In section one ask the students to draw a picture showing a rainstorm. In section two draw a picture showing a boy or girl falling down. In section three draw a picture of a jar of honey and a bumblebee. In section four, draw a picture of a jet flying across the sky. Then invite students to print a word under each picture to describe it by its sound e.g. splashing, crash, buzzing, zoom.
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Picture poems are an important facet in teaching first graders about poetry, and provide a link between art and poetry. Introduce students to the idea that an artist uses paint and brushes to illustrate his or her work while a poet uses words to conjure up pictures in the reader's imagination.
Print out the nursery rhyme Wee Willie Winkie and display it on a bulletin board with black paper as a background. Invite students to draw and color a picture of their home and also a picture of themselves. Cut out the pictures and paste onto the black background. Cut out simple nightgown shapes from white fabric or felt and staple onto the children's pictures of themselves. The students can see and read the rhyme and point to their pictures.
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Shape poems introduce another aspect of poetry. Some poets arrange words so that the shape of the poem resembles the shape of the object described. Other poets may arrange words to indicate motion. Share with your students examples of these shape poems e.g. My Left Foot Is Always Near the Bag by Arnold Adoff (this shows the action of the baseball game). Sea Seasons by Moira Andrew is a poem that can be turned upside down or sideways so that the children are able to see that each section makes a pattern of waves.
Invite students to draw around one of their hands. On each finger ask them to print a word about "helping hands". Gather the "hands" together and on a very large hand pattern use the students' words to write a co-operative poem.
Encourage students to draw a simple shape e.g. a bell, a star, an apple, raindrops. Then print their poem either around the shape of their drawing or inside their drawing.
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For the Love of Poetry
Reciting poems, discussing poems and making your own poems helps children to learn to love poetry. It also offers opportunities to play with words and learn about language.
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Prelutsky, Jack. Something BIG Has Been Here. Scholastic Inc.,1992
Dr. Seuss. Fox in Socks. Beginner Books, Random House Inc., 1965
Dunn, Sonja. Butterscotch Dreams. Pembroke Publishers Ltd., 1987
Author's classroom experiences