Prerequisites of a Poetry Classroom

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Prerequisites of a Poetry Classroom
Setting Up Your Poetry-Writing Workshop
Margriet Ruurs
Excerpted, with permission from Margriet Ruurs’

z.gifThe Physical Environment
A physical environment conducive to writing poetry is a classroom that is saturated with words. Books, a reading corner, poems on the wall, scrap paper to use when an idea “hits” should all be readily available.

The more you read the better a writer you’ll be. Therefore, I recommend that you supply a wide variety of poetry for the students to read and look through. Frances S. Goforth, in Literature & the Learner, says, “Saturate children with a variety of poems representing various poetic forms, types and elements.”

Here is a sample selection of books of poetry particularly suited to be read out loud. Display as many as you can find of these and other favorite titles.

Rainbows, Head Lice and Pea Green Tile: Poems in the Voice of the Classroom Teacher, by Brod Bagert.
Dinosaurs, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins.
Scared Silly! A Book for the Brave, by Marc Brown.
Toes in My Nose and Other Poems, by Sheree Fitch.
What’s on the Menu? selected by Bobbye S. Goldstein.
Poetry Party, by Bruce Lansky.
I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! by Dr. Seuss.
Alligator Pie, by Dennis Lee.
Barn Dance, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault.
Something Big Has Been Here, by Jack Prelutsky.

Reading aloud from books of poetry will help students extend their vocabulary while hearing the structure of sentences, the meter of the poem, and the use of techniques, such as metaphor or alliteration.

See the bibliography at the end of this chapter for more books particularly suited for reading out loud.

Even, or perhaps I should say, particularly, if you teach upper middle school, supply your students with Shakespeare as well as with Dr. Seuss, Bill Pete, and Roald Dahl. Once, when I served as chair of our local school board, I was asked to address the graduating class of our high school. Rather than composing a boring speech, I chose to read them Oh, the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss. His eloquent words evoked both laughter and tears. No one could have talked about the sentiments for such an occasion better. Years later, at a supermarket checkout, the clerk told me she was in that graduating class and how much they all had loved hearing that poem!

A book that is not a book of poetry but you might want to include in your display is Oh, the Places He Went, by Maryann N. Weidt. This biography of Dr. Seuss will interest anyone who likes his writing. Books of poetry as well as books about poets are valuable resources to inspire new writers. Another delicious book about poetry to read aloud is The Bat Poet, by Randall Jarrell.

The physical environment also should offer students a comfortable writing space. That can be at their desk, but it may also be on the fl oor or in a corner. Before allowing my students this choice, I have made the rule clear: “You can sit anywhere you like as long as you write hard.” They know that if they don’t concentrate on their writing they lose the privilege of choosing a workspace. If you decide to allow students to write where they fi nd themselves most comfortable, be sure to hold them responsible for their behavior.

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, allow suffi cient time in your daily schedule to write. Increase the amount of time as your students become more skilled. They will start to ask for more time as their enjoyment of the writing increases.

Keep on hand a supply of scrap paper, lined paper, and pencils for when that great idea strikes!

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