Celebrating National Poetry Month From Home
“You can find poetry in your everyday life, your memory, in what people say on the bus, in the news, or just what’s in your heart.” -Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s Poet Laureate, 2009-2019
April is National Poetry Month and is often celebrated across the nation’s schools through reading, writing, and sharing poetry all month long. While many students will be home this month due to the COVID-19 crisis, poetry can be a source of comfort as we face tremendous challenges and waves of uncertainty. Poetry can also serve as an expressive outlet for the small moments of joy students may be experiencing as well as the difficult feelings they are navigating. Poetry offers a pathway for students to look inwards but also to look outwards to take notice of the sights and sounds of their everyday lives at this moment.
In this post, we share ways you and your students can celebrate poetry from home. There are low-tech suggestions that include drawing, noticing, wondering, and composing. There are also high-tech suggestions including the investigation of online poetry sites and ways to incorporate technology into the composing and sharing processes.
Whether you are a K-12 teacher trying to support students online or a parent, grandparent, or family or community member trying to support learning for a range of students and ages during this period of disruption, we hope you can find these resources interesting and engaging. If you or the young people with whom you work don’t have access to a computer or tablet at home, the websites and digital suggested activities can be accessed using a smart phone.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Heart Mapping This Moment. Heart mapping is a technique created by the poet and teacher of poetry, Georgia Heard. View her website to watch her TEDX Talk on “Mapping the Heart” as well as to see samples of heart maps from children all over the world. Invite students to create a map of their heart that includes sketches and brief notes about the people, places, feelings, and things that are in their heart at this moment. What are the things they are most grateful for? What are the small things in life that they find themselves appreciative of at this moment? Invite students to use whatever materials they might have at home to create their heart maps including pencils, pens, colored pencils, crayons, paint, scraps of paper, or even fabric. This handout from Georgia Heard may be especially helpful to get you started. Support students to use their heart maps as a way to express the challenges and strong emotions they may be feeling at this time. Invite students to share their heart maps through the Global Heart Map Project created by LitWorld, a global literacy advocacy nonprofit. Remind students throughout their poetry writing this month that when they are stuck on what to write about that they can always look back at their heart maps for inspiration.
Poem a Day. Share your favorite poems all month long with students through a poem a day. Use digital sites such as the Poetry Foundation and the American Academy of Poets site to explore poems and to search by topic, form, or poet. Invite students to use these sites to find poems that they want to share with others as a part of a digital Morning Meeting throughout the month. Create a Google calendar that allows students to sign up to share the poem they found (or one they wrote) on a particular day. Use the poems you and your students select to talk about poetry through live and recorded videos. What do students notice about the different poems selected? Which poems make them laugh out loud? How do different poets use words, stanzas, line breaks, and white space to communicate a feeling? How do poets create sounds through repetition and rhyme? Invite students to read poems aloud to family members in different voices such as loud voices, in whispers, with a funny voice, or by singing.
Listening to and Reciting Poetry. As an extension to sharing a poem a day, invite students to listen to a poem a day. Sites like the Children’s Poetry Archive, Poetry Out Loud and the Poetry Foundation have poems to listen to from a digital device. We recommend previewing any poems you direct students to listen to. The Children’s Poetry archive, in particular, has a variety of ways students can search for poems by theme and by suggested age group on their own. As a challenge, invite students to find a poem that they want to recite for the class either by audiorecording their voice reading the poem or from memory. Poetry Out Loud has tips on reciting poetry including how to use appropriate body language and how to speak with confidence. You may also want to do a live poetry event for students to recite their favorite poems through a video conference tool such as Google Hangout or Zoom.
Odes: Noticing and Praising People, Events, and Everyday Things. Introduce students to the term “ode”. An ode is a lyric poem written to praise a person, event, or object. Share well-known odes with students that can serve as mentor texts including Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks” and “Ode to Broken Things”. For older students, share Keats’ famous “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. You can also share the history of odes with students and how odes were originally sang rather than written. Support students to choose a topic for their ode by looking around their home, out their windows, or in their neighborhoods. What is an everyday object that is especially treasured right now? Share examples from your own life like forks, the book on your nightstand, even toilet paper. Who are the people that could use some praise? Once students have selected a topic, support them to list characteristics or qualities of that person, event, or object using descriptive adjectives. Invite students to write and share their odes by taking a photo of their writing and accompanying art, audiorecording their poem, or videorecording themselves reading their poem. If students write odes to people in their lives, encourage them to give their poems as gifts to those praiseworthy people. Share student poems on a class digital platform for others to compliment.
Ode to Joy: Music as Inspiration for Poetry. View and listen to the Colorado Symphony’s Digital “Ode to Joy”. In their annotation to the video, the Symphony describes the song as an “ode to humanity, to peace over desperation, to universal kinship, and, of course, to joy.” Use the performance as an inspiration for students to write their own Ode to Joy poems that express small moments of joy during this difficult time of social isolation or the joys they are looking forward to in the near future.
Sharing Our Notebooks Daily Lessons. Children’s author and writing teacher, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater created a series of brief daily writing talks that began March 16, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis and the onset of widespread remote learning. Invite students to view her daily talks or to look back at recorded talks as an inspiration for creating their own poetry notebooks this month. As she writes on her site, “allow this space to bring you into your mind and heart and funny bone and notebook”.
Alliteration: Tongue Twister Family Challenge. Introduce students to the term “alliteration” or the use of the same beginning sound in a line or verse. Share classic tongue twisters as examples of alliteration such as “Suzy sells seashells by the seashore.” Invite students to create their own tongue twisters through shared or independent writing. Gather a collection of tongue twisters written by students and invite families to engage in a Tongue Twister Family Challenge to see who in the family can say the alliterative line five times fast. Students may even want to video these challenges (with permission) and share them with one another in a celebration of sound.
Tapping Into Our Senses. Invite students to tap into their senses to write poetry about what they are experiencing right now. They can focus on what they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel at home or outside their window. Students can create “viewing stations” by using a paper towel roll to zoom in on details that they might not ordinarily pay attention to. They can sit in the kitchen with their eyes closed to tap into the smells around them. They can open a window and listen for the sounds of nature that they might not usually hear. Have students create a list poem or other forms of poetry based on their experience.
I Observe, Remember, Imagine, Wonder. Invite students to create poems using the four prompts: “I observe/ I remember/ I imagine/ and I wonder” from Pam Allyn’s The Complete4 for Literacy. Students can choose one prompt or any combination of the four to write about what they notice right now, fond memories they have, things they imagine for the future, or what they find themselves daydreaming or wondering about.
Art and Poetry Workshop. Find images of works of art online or from the museum resources curated on The Classroom Bookshelf for students to write list poems describing what they see, what the art makes them think, and what it makes them wonder. Then, invite students to create art with whatever materials they have at home including sidewalk chalk, scraps of paper, or even fabric . Following the same process, invite students to use their own artwork to create list poems about what they see in their own art, what it makes them think, and what it makes them wonder. If using sidewalk chalk, students may want to write their poem in chalk to bring joy and wonder to passersby.
Tribute Poetry. After an initial immersion in reading a variety of poems, invite students to write poems in tribute to poems they love. In the Preface to Out of Wonder, a collection of tribute poems, Kwame Alexander writes that “by reading other poets we can discover our own wonder”. Model for students how to use an existing poem as inspiration for your own by using the same select words, phrases, lines, and structure about a different topic. Students may also find inspiration in the topics poets write and want to create their own version using a different format. Use our suggestions in our entry Wonder, Words, and Wisdom dedicated to teaching invitations using Kwame Alexander’s books including Out of Wonder. See Poet-to-Poet created by the Academy of American Poets for student examples of tribute poems. You may also want to invite students to write their own “When This Is Over” poems based on the highly circulated poem by Laura Kelly Fanucci. You may also want to invite students to create their own visual poems such as this multimedia piece titled “Hope” based on Fanucci’s poem. Students may be inspired to create their own visual poems in response to Fanucci’s poem or to create their own visual poems with the title “Hope” based on their own writing about this moment.
Poem in Your Pocket Day. This special day in honor of poetry takes place every year on a day during National Poetry Month. In 2020, Poem in Your Pocket Day will take place on Thursday, April 30th. Prior to this day, invite students to select a poem that they especially loved this month that they discovered or wrote. On this day, invite students to carry a copy of this poem in their pocket and to share it with others in their home. Invite family members to select their own favorite poems to participate in this special day. Invite students to follow along on social media or to post using #poempocket. Learn more ways to participate at poets.org.
Conversation Poems. Staying connected is especially important right now. One way to invite the power of connection is to support students to write conversation poems. A conversation poem details the conversation between two people. Students can write a conversation poem between themselves and someone in their home, someone they are connecting with through phone calls, texts (including emojis), and video calls, someone they want to see in person soon, or between two imaginary characters.
Remixing through Found Poetry. Help students to realize that poetry is everywhere. Introduce students to the power of found poetry which takes existing words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages or pages from other sources and refashions them to make a new poem in the form of a literary collage. Found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, pages or copies of pages from books, shopping lists, maps, other poems, and even takeout menus. Invite students to find an existing text in their home or online as the source of their found poem and to isolate the words and phrases they want to use to make their own poem. Students can cut out the words and phrases to make their poem on a new page or they can create “blackout” poetry by darkening all of the words that they do not want to use thereby spotlighting select words to create their poem. See Scholastic’s resource on creating blackout poetry with students which includes student samples that incorporate artistic choices into the composing process.
Virtual Poetry Celebration. While celebrating in person may not be an option this month, consider creating a virtual poetry celebration with students. You can create an asynchronous celebration by having students select their favorite poems each week or from the month to share with one another by taking photos, scanning their poems, audiorecording their poems, or taking videos of themselves performing their poems. You can also create a synchronous celebration by having each student share their poem live with one another through a video conferencing tool such as Google Classroom or Zoom. Celebrate your students’ creativity, willingness to try something new, and their voices as poets.
The following is a list of online poetry resources as well as live poetry events during the COVID-19 crisis.
Online Arts Events During the COVID-19 Outbreak Curated by Creative Capital
Ode to Joy Colorado Symphony Digital Performance
Academy of American Poets
Children’s Poetry Archive
Poetry Out Loud
Global Heart Map Project at LitWorld
Sharing Our Notebooks: Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
The Poem Farm: Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Georgia Heard’s Heart Map Site
Scholastic Blackout Poetry Lesson
Hope: A Visual Poem
Laura Kelly Fanucci’s Poem “When This Is Over”
About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
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