Saturday, April 21, 2012

Poetry Mini Unit

In my fourth grade class, I used to spend a whole month teaching poetry.  But between the new reading program we adopted and the Common Core Standards calling for more nonfiction during reading instruction, I feel like poetry instruction has been sidelined, and will continue to be for the next few years.  And yet, there's ALWAYS a poem on the fourth grade MCAS test.  Fourth graders still have to have some understanding of lines and stanzas, figurative language, and how to interpret poems in order to answer roughly 6 questions on their test.  I couldn't afford to just ignore poetry altogether.

So I didn't.

I took a look at the most important parts of my month-long poetry unit that I developed a few years ago.  I thought about what I learned about "Power Standards" this year in the ELA curriculum committee I serve on for my district.  I asked myself, "What do my students need in order to access poetry for the test, and for later on in life."  I wouldn't be able to turn all my fourth graders into amazing poets in two weeks, but here's what I decided they needed to know about poetry (and what they didn't).

1.  They need to know what poems look like, and how they are structurally different from prose.
2.  They need to learn certain poetic devices (but they don't need to know the difference between, say, a cinquain and a diamante.  Not in 4th grade, anyway).
3.  They need to learn about figurative language, and become proficient in interpreting comparisons made by poets.
4.  They do NOT need to write great poetry.  The purpose of any time spent on writing poems should be to reinforce concepts 1 to 3 above.

So I created a poetry mini unit available for purchase with just 8 lessons and 1 to 2 additional days for culminating activities.  It required an immersion period, poetry analysis (personal and technical) and some guided writing.  It was a fast paced and FUN unit that tapped into students' interests, validated their experiences and celebrated their attempts at expression.  There was a competitive game in which they had to apply what they learned about poetic devices, a group activity in order to stop writer's block before it started, and a period of formulaic poetry writing for the logical thinkers as well as time for those students who were ready to write their own free verse filled with metaphor.  The kids were sad to end the unit so soon.  Here are their final products hanging over the stairs:




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