Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Roses Are Red: Using Poetry in Reader's Workshop

...How do you like to go up in a swing, | Up in the air so blue? | Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing | Ever a child can do? | Up in the air and over the wall, |till I can see so wide, | Rivers and trees and cattle and all | Over the countryside--- | Till I look down on the garden green, | Down on the roof so brown--- | Up in the air I go flying again, | Up in the air and down?
                                                                               -Robert Louis Stevenson

I still remember this poem from a childhood book of poetry.  I can visualize the illustrations (which I adored), and the sing-song way my mom and grandma would read it to me.  I bet you have a favorite childhood poem, too.  Childhood is filled with poetry, from nursery rhymes to jump-rope chants, from Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein to rap lyrics. As teachers, we sometimes use poetry to work on reading fluency with children.  We teach finger plays to preschoolers.  These early exposures develop memory skills, rhythm and steady beat music abilities, and reading fluency.  But often time, elementary teachers miss out on reading comprehension opportunities because of how they don't use poetry.

In working with colleagues over the last 26 years, both as a classroom teacher and literacy coach, I've noticed that teachers are very comfortable teaching figurative language devices such as alliteration, metaphor, simile, personification, onomatopoeia, etc.  They're adept at teaching students to use poetic forms like cinquain, haiku, diamonte, list poems in writer's workshop.  However, we know from educational research that reading and writing are more interdependent than we thought. According to K12Reader (, "The relationship between reading and writing is a bit like that of the chicken and egg. Which came first is not as important as the fact that without one the other cannot exist. A child's literacy development is dependent on the interconnection between reading and writing." In order for children to write poetry in which they grow their writer's craft, they need to be critical readers of poetry.

Here's a homework assignment for you. Ask your colleagues how or if they teach their students to read poetry.  You may be surprised by what you find out.

Poetry is complex text.  The whole nature of the genre is to express deep emotions and life experiences in a metaphorical way. Understanding poetry demands inferential thinking, synthesis, analysis, critiquing and making connections- all of which are higher level reading comprehension skills. There are a variety of ways to include poetry in your reader's workshop. Check out some of the suggestions below!
  1.  Create text sets of poems: I've copied individual poems, glued them on large note cards and laminated the cards.  I hole-punch the cards, collecting them on rings.  I make six identical rings and use them as reading pieces with my guided reading groups, just as I would guided reading novels.
  2. Using the same approach, copy individual poems, glue them onto 3x5 note cards, and laminate them. Then place them in brightly-colored library card pockets. Tuck the pockets inside partner novels, picture books, or nonfiction texts.  The mystery of how the poem is connected to the other piece of literature is motivational for students. I've done this with guided reading groups, too. It's fun to hear how students connect the two texts.  And, it's an important academic skill.
  3. Use poems to discuss theme. Create text sets of poems with similar themes. Because most poetry is about strong feelings and life truths, discussing theme is a natural activity with poetry. We often do this using the "CSI" thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible (Ritchart, Morrison & Church). This routine requires students to think about mood.  What color would you assign to the poem? What symbol would you create for this poem? Why? What image comes to mind as you read this poem? Sketch it! Using poetry in this way demands visualization, and symbolic thinking and interpretation. 

  4. Use poems to discuss point-of-view and perspective.  I use a thinking routine called "Step Inside" from Making Thinking Visible (Ritchart, Morrison & Church). After read a piece of poetic text, I ask students what they think the poet's perceptions are about life...what are her beliefs about life?  What does the poem tell us about what is important to the poet?  "Step Inside" is perfect for this type of discussion.
I could go on and on with ideas for poetry in reader's workshop because it's one of my absolute favorite genres to use. However, just like any other literature, the depth of text a teacher uses with her students determines the level of thinking in which her students will engage. I currently teach fifth grade, but have taught every grade K-8. Meaty poems can be used with all's the amount and type of meat in the poem that varies according to the grade level.

For example, "Proud Words" by Carl Sandburg works well with fourth and fifth graders when the social dynamics of puberty are ramping up. It's a great example of personification to share with students.  While "Bad Day" by Myra Cohn Livingston is a great fit for second or third graders.  Don't shy away from using work from poets usually associated with adults.  Believe it or not, there are some poems by poet greats like Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni,  Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, and e.e. cummings that elementary and middle school students can understand and enjoy.

Check out some of the titles I've successfully used in my reader's workshop below!

  1. "And My Heart Soars" - Chief Dan George
  2. "Celebration" - Alonzo Lopez
  3. "Days" -Karle Wilson Baker
  4. "Acquainted With the Night," "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" -Robert Frost
  5. "It Is Grey Out" - Karla Kuskin
  6. "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" & "Hope is the Thing With Feathers" -Emily Dickinson
  7. "Daybreak in Alabama," "Dream Deferred," "Dreams," "Dream Boogie," "Mother to Son" & "Dream Variations" - Langston Hughes
  8. "In Just" - e.e. cummings
  9. "Skiing"- Bobbi Katz
  10. "Listening to Grownups Quarreling" -Ruth Whitman
  11. "Karate Kid" -Jane Yolen
  12. "Spider Webs" -Ray Fabrizio
  13. "Way Down in the Music" -Eloise Greenfield
  14. "Words Free As Confetti" -Pat Mora
  15. "Starry Night I," "Starry Night II," and "Solitude" -Eve Merriam
  16. "Words" -Pablo Neruda
  17. "This is Just to Say" -William Carlos Williams
  18. "The Bells" -Edgar Alan Poe
You might also check out these novels written in poetry: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, Love That Dog Hate That Cat, both by Sharon Creech, and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

It truly is amazing to see what happens when poetry is fully incorporated into a reader's workshop.  If a teacher can resist the urge to interpret the meaning and leave room for her students' voices, she won't be disappointed!

You might like to check out some of these resources, mentioned above, to help you launch poetry in your reader's workshop! There's a freebie here for you, too! 


This month, I've teamed up with some great teacher bloggers for our Teacher Talk blog hop. There are some phenomenal ideas here for you. Be sure to visit their blogs below. Simply click on the links!