I am writing this post in celebration of national poetry month. One of my favorite elementary school memories is being read aloud to in my school library. I vividly remember sitting there, criss-cross applesauce style, laughing out loud to the poems, “Sick” and “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Will Not Take the Garbage Out” from Shel Silverstein’s, Where the Sidewalk Ends. And so began my love of children’s poetry.
I shared my love of poetry with my first grade students by reading aloud the very same poems I heard as a child and they loved it! What I did not understand then, was poetry’s usefulness for readers who struggle with fluency. This “ah ha” happened after reading the classic article, The method of repeated readings (S. Jay Samuels, The Reading Teacher, 1979) and the more current, Speed does matter in reading (Rasinski, The Reading Teacher, 2000).
Both authors are widely cited researchers in the area of fluency. They would both agree that speed is not the only thing involved with fluency. But, as Rasinski titled his piece, “Speed does matter.” One quotation that really struck me in his article was this:
Turning poetry into a performance, which it is meant to be (Graves, 1992; Perfect, 1999), and turning away from too much critical analysis, can give poetry its rightful place in the reading-language arts curriculum.
In his article, Rasinski discusses how he often visits teacher classrooms while they are having poetry performance parties. The great thing about performance parties is that students will repeatedly read the text in a natural way in order to give a great performance. In other words, they are practicing their fluency. Repeated readings are one of the most studied and most effective strategies for improving fluency. Performance repeated readings are even better. Two other great activities for reading repeatedly in order to perform are Readers Theater and Radio Reading.
I remember reading these articles around the time I was the graduate assistant for the reading clinic course in my master’s program. My professor asked for suggestions for a celebration for the students and their families at the conclusion of the semester’s tutoring. I suggested a poetry party and she agreed. Although everyone loved it, it was not as groovy as Rasinski said they could be. I wanted to dim the lights, have everyone wear berets, and snap their fingers after each performance “harkening back to a previous generation” like he suggested. Sure, this was before my time, but I have seen it on TV and it looks like so much fun! It reminds me of poetry slams. At the last International Reading Association, I was able to listen to several poetry slam participants from Minnesota at the Poetry Olio event and I was completely enthralled with their performances. (I might write a post about that later.)
I also included poetry performances with the students I taught in Read 180. My students knew my high expectations for reading with expression and they did not cease to impress me. The students and I even judged each performance, American Idol style. It was such fun and anyone wandering into the classroom would have thought I was teaching gifted readers. Perhaps I will write a post about this later. Oh, how I miss those days.
To give you some kind of understanding on my fluency expectations, I have included a YouTube video of Shel Silverstein performing “Sarah Sylvia Cynthia Stout Will Not Take the Garbage Out.”
Really! My expectations are that high and struggling readers can do it with modeling, guidance, and practice. When they do, the look of accomplishment on their face is clear and you hope that because of their success, a love of reading may soon follow. (I have seen it happen).
Here is another video example of my fluency expectations: Reverend Jesse Jackson Reading Green Eggs and Ham on “Saturday Night Live”. Green Eggs and Ham is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books to read aloud because it just begs to be read aloud with exaggerated fluency. However, How the Grinch Stole Christmas ranks higher–it really allows my inner actress to shine! Another favorite for the same reason is Piggie Pie by Margie Palatini. Click here to download some Readers Theater scripts for some of her books including the very funny Piggie Pie!
What poetry anthologies would I recommend you share with children? Anything from Shel Silverstein, Bruce Lansky, Jack Prelutsky, and Alan Katz. I will insert an Amazon search for each of them below. My favorite anthology is probably, Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs by Alan Katz because the poems are written so that they can be sung to popular songs. Many of Bruce Lansky’s anthologies are set up the same way. My love for singing might influence my beliefs here, but I find that kids love them just as much as I do!
Poetry Anthologies on Amazon
- Amazon.com Search for Shel Silverstein
- Amazon.com Search for Bruce Lansky
Note: If you ever attend an International Reading Association Convention, be sure to stop by the Meadowbrook Press booth in the exhibit area. Bruce Lansky and Robert Pottle (another poet) are usually there without fail and they are very entertaining. They will sing their poems (with guitar accompaniment by Robert) to the crowd that gathers. I am definitely a groupie!
- Amazon.com Search for Jack Prelutsky
- Amazon.com Search for Alan Katz
- Amazon.com Search for Kenn Nesbitt
Additional Poetry Resources for National Poetry Month and Fluency Practice
- This is a wonderful post by Reading Rockets (a fabulous website). It includes links to book lists, video interviews with poets and writers, articles on learning through poetry, online resources (including my favorites) and much more. Poetry Resources from Reading Rockets
- If you use Twitter (which I highly recommend), you should follow @cybraryman1. He collects amazing links for everything! This webpage is loaded with links! Poetry & Nursery Rhyme Resources from Cybraryman
- I found out about another website for poetry for kids today from @pacrapacma on Twitter–another great person to follow. This link brings you to a guest post by Kenn Nesbitt, poet and founder of Poetry for Kids. There is a link to his website in the post. Easy Places to Find Poetry Ideas via Imagination Soup’s Blog. @ImaginationSoup is also on Twitter and great to follow.
- I haven’t looked at this site much, but @keithschoch on Twitter shared it and what he shares is usually golden! Poetry Archive Recordings of Famous Poets
- I haven’t looked at this site much either, but I love the concept. If you use it, I would love to know what you think. I found this on Twitter via @sharnon007–another great person to follow. Perform a Poem
- You might also find some useful resources from the National Writing Project. If you have not heard about this project, be sure to dig around here. This project blew me away! @ReadingCountess shared this on Twitter and guess what? She’s another great person to follow! Poetry Resources from the National Writing Project