Students Make an Impact with Carefully Chosen Words
by Amanda Lane
“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley
In first and second grade, we begin to read poetry the first week of school. Every Wednesday, we examine a new poem during our Morning Meeting time. Some are childhood favorites by Lewis Carroll, Douglas Florian, and Shel Silverstein. Some are more complex poems written by John Updike, William Carlos Williams, and Lucille Clifton. We learn new vocabulary, discuss mental images, and explore how poets use rhyme and repetition.
In February, the children began to write poetry. We asked them to look back at the poems we had already read to think about how poetry is different from other forms of writing. The children were quick to identify the many crafting techniques that we had already discussed when reading our weekly poems. From that simple beginning, our young poets quickly took flight.
Through our whole study of poetry, we held on to the idea that poets often look at the world through a poet’s eyes. They use interesting language, similes and metaphors, personification, and onomatopoeia to describe everyday things in new and interesting ways. They carefully consider the placement of line breaks, and the power of a strong last line. Most importantly, they write about things that they care for deeply.
In a matter of days, our young poets were blowing us away with their thoughtful, creative poetry. Children focused on topics such as pets, soccer, pencils, trees, pizza, fireworks, and flowers. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable by writing about their fears, their loves, their dreams, and people and places that they deeply missed. Writing folders quickly filled and every time we returned to our desks, we were delighted to find a small stack of new poems that the children were eager to share with us.
After several weeks spent writing, we turned our focus to how to share our poetry with a larger audience. Each child chose three poems to share – two that they had written and one written by another poet whom they admired. The children revised and edited their poems, helped us format them on the computer, and then drew illustrations to bring their words to life. We compiled all of the poems into a class anthology, which was distributed on the night of our poetry celebration.
On Wednesday evening, each child bravely stepped up to the microphone at the podium to share their words with an audience made up of teachers, family, and friends. In clear, innocent, and joyful voices, the poems of Langston Hughes, e.e.cummings, and Alberto Rios mixed with poems written by 6, 7, and 8-year- old poets. The children presented their work with a poise that went well beyond their years, and demonstrated how a few carefully chosen words have the ability to make a powerful, lasting impact.