Blogger Kary Henry

Love Poetry

While thinking about a blog post topic for this month, I realized my post would go live on Valentine’s Day. What a perfect time to talk about my love for poetry! I recently offered two virtual poetry outreach programs for 2nd graders, and we all had a great time. Reading and writing poetry can be interactive, mathematical, engaging, and, most of all, fun!


Put the emphasis on ACTIVE! Early in the program, I read a poem that encouraged movement. “Each Day at the Zoo is Always New” by Margarita Engle (from The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems, edited by Paul B. Janeczko) encouraged the kids to stretch their arms way up, up, up! They also had to open their “sweet eyes,” show me their “funny horns,” and stretch out their necks. At the end of the poem, I challenged them to show me how they’d feed a kangaroo! It was great to watch 4 classrooms of 2nd graders moving their hands up and down as they pretended to feed such a bouncy animal. (This idea was courtesy of another ALSC blog post about poetry, written by Paige Bentley-Flannery.)

Our next active poems came later as a movement break and were from a fantastic collection specifically designed for that purpose. Hop To It: Poems to Get You Moving, collected by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, is full of pandemic poems that are perfect for encouraging kids to move while also recognizing that they’re likely seated at their desks. “I Smile With My Eyes,” “Let’s Dance,” and “Be the Beat!” were huge hits with the kids. I read them aloud twice, so that the students would be familiar with the motions to accompany each poem.


Math and poetry? Yes, please!

Earlier in the program, I had read snow poems, including one from Nikki Grimes’s A Pocketful of Poems (I had the students fling pretend snow into the air!) and Calef Brown’s “Funky Snowman” from Nikki Giovanni’s collection Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat. To transition from snow to math, I turned to a few snow poems found in Betsy Franco’s Mathematickles. Franco’s poem showing how three spheres adds up to a snowman was the perfect blend of snow and math. Another of Franco’s poetic equations was: “ice puddle + snow boot = creakgroanCRACK!”

We ended with a classic mathematical poem, “Band-Aids” by Shel Silverstein. I shared a slideshow that revealed each bandage being added to the child and, of course, ending with the box of 35 more even though “they don’t have a cut or a sore!” With my image on the screen, I challenged the students to find the total number of bandages. It was an opportunity to practice their mental math.

Image of Shel Silverstein's poem, "Band-Aids," with illustration of person with many bandages and box of 35 more
“Band-Aids” by Shel Silverstein (image, made in Canva, courtesy of author)

Engaging and Fun

To conclude the program, we wrote a group poem and then individual poems. I was so appreciative to have come across a tweet from Angie M. recommending Magnetic Poetry Kids Story Maker tiles. I separated the tiles into the four categories: blue nouns, red verbs, and yellow prepositions. Green tiles are called “extra stuff,” and I had spread all of the tiles on a cookie sheet. I assigned a color to each class and asked the teachers to call on students to give me a number. I then took the corresponding tile off of the cookie sheet and placed it onto a magnetic whiteboard visible on the Zoom screen. We created poems in this awesomely random manner! Over Zoom!

Magnetic tile poem
Magnetic Tile poem – image by author

An extension activity could have been to challenge the students to think about why a book would make a scary noise and to draw a teeny tiny plane for a bug!

Finally, we concluded by writing individual poems. I don’t recall where I came across the idea to write poems called “My Hands Can…” (if anyone knows, please share in the comments below). I asked the students to trace their hand on a piece of paper. They titled the page “My Hands Can…” and then thought of five things their hands can do. The school librarian dropped off their poems so that I could see what they wrote. The poem below is a wonderful example of the students’ creativity! In the second program, I read a poem from Bob Raczka’s collection, Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems. Even though we weren’t writing true concrete poems, the students loved hearing and seeing “Balloon,” but any of the poems are fantastic!

image of a child's poem entitled "My Hands Can..." with a handdrawn hand and writing
“My Hand Can…” poem written by Lily. Poem used with permission. Image courtesy of author.

Have you had success using poetry before? Poetry programs? Poetry in storytime? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Compentencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, and V. Outreach and Advocacy.

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