April is National Poetry Month! You know what that means—it’s time for grade school teachers everywhere to dust off their copies of Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. As well they should: both poets are great for getting even disinterested students involved in poetry! But there are some other creative activities that are a bit more off-the-wall, and they just might galvanize your students into loving poetry.
Orchestrate Some Poetry Mad Libs
To many students, poetry just seems like a heaping mess of big words. Heck, many adults fall prey to the same misconception. Show your students what a real heap of words looks like with some poetry Mad Libs! Kids have a blast combing their vocabulary for wacky words, but the best part is reading out the finished product to the class. Not only will they get a laugh, they’ll see how important careful word choice is in poetry. Although they’ll probably just want to keep Mad Libbing!
There are a number of resources online with poetry Mad Libs for free, or at a nominal cost. This Pinterest search yields some good results, and these templates from Red Tricycle are perfect up through lower grade school. Our favorite option, however, is to take a classic poem (or a snippet from one) and make a custom mad lib! Since you get to choose which words to take out, you can choose anything from the existential abstractions of T.S. Eliot to the somber musings of Edgar Allen Poe and still come out with a hilarious, readable and kid-friendly result!
Get Goofy with Middle English
Um, Middle English? This is grade school, not a post-grad poetry lecture. But it matters not—not when you get into the raucous fun of reading Middle English prose aloud! Between the half-recognizable words, shifted vowels and exaggerated pronunciation, students are sure to find something to be engaged by. Plus, Middle English is an important illustration of the evolution of language.
Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce Middle English! Here’s a handy pronunciation guide. As to which work to read, we suggest the General Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. It’s a cornerstone of English poetry, it pertains to April (it’s no accident that April is Poetry Month), and it’s plain fun to read aloud once you get into it! You can spread the silly wealth to your students by assigning them each a line to memorize and recite. Here’s a helpful demonstration of how the first 100 lines should sound—but feel free to go over-the-top with it:
Fair warning: beware of delving too deep into The Canterbury Tales. The tales themselves can get pretty bawdy—by 14th century standards, anyway (not that anyone will be able to decipher Chaucer’s implications). Don’t stray past line 78 and you’ll be fine! If the prospect of the tales is too much, you can even go Scandinavian and attempt to read Old English Beowulf.
Do Show-and-Tell Poetry
Everyone loves show-and-tell, right? Right. That’s why it’s the perfect platform for catapulting your students into poetic appreciation! Ask everyone to bring an item to class on the same day. It doesn’t have to be particularly important (though it can be!)—it can be anything from an apple to an action figure! We prefer not to tell them what the item is for, but you can exercise discretion with your own class.
Once everyone is in with their item in hand, hand out a blank piece of paper. Instruct the class to write the name of the item at the top. That’s the first line of the poem! Have the students continue to add lines to the sheet. You can give as much or little direction as you like. Once it’s all done, have students present their item and the accompanying poem. You can even have students illustrate the page, turning them into amazing wall hangings!
See? National Poetry Month doesn’t have to be all Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein (although you definitely can/should work them in, as well!). Teachers and parents, how do you make poetry fun and approachable? Let us know in the comments below, or on our Facebook page!