Looking for a Great Way to Practice Reading Fluency? Think Poetry!

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! :D

Poetry Anthologies on Amazon

Additional Poetry Resources for National Poetry Month and Fluency Practice

Related Posts with Thumbnails
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  • Reading Countess

    Thanks for the mention, Julie! I love that you are talking about poetry that is FUN to read and perform. I remember all too well the dry as toast stuff I was taught, and it turned me off to poetry for a long time. We have read some of Paul B. Janeczko's silly poems and used them as mentor poems to play with. They have met with resounding approval and loads of belly laughs. Reeling kids into the joys of poetry can be done! Great post!

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  • http://www.twrctank.com/ Julie Niles Petersen

    You are welcome, Reading Countess! I really enjoy everything you do on your blog and on Twitter. I expect a book from you some day!

    I love to laugh, so children's poetry is right up my alley. I can get silly with the best of 'em! I am unfamiliar with Paul B. Janeczko's work. I will have to check him out. Who doesn't like “loads of belly laughs?” :)

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and thank you for the compliment. :D

  • RobertPottle

    Bruce and I always have a great time meeting everyone at the IRA convention. We will both be at the Meadowbrook Press booth again this year along with Eric Ode. Will we see you there next week?

  • http://www.twrctank.com/ Julie Niles Petersen


    What an honor to have you visit my blog!!!!!! Yes, I will be at IRA next week and will definitely make my way to the Meadowbrook Press booth. What kind of groupie would I be if I didn't? ;)

    I have great photos from last year of Bruce on bended knee asking for my hand in marriage and ONLY my hand! You are standing in the background reading from the very appropriately titled book, “I Hope I Don't Strike Out.” (I think you were “officiating” the special occasion!) Oh, how you two make me laugh! I really hope the Orange County Reading Association can find some schools to split the author visit costs with the two of you. I know the teachers would love you both (just as they do in the IRA exhibit booth hall) and the students would love your poetry (just like my students and I do!)

    After finding your comment here, I Googled you a bit. I found your website: http://www.robertpottle.com/ and LOVED your video for your poem, “Educator's ABCs” at this link: http://lolpoetry.com/video-poems/funny-poem-mov

    I also listened to Bruce Lansky interviewing you here: http://authorsinschools.com/ I listened to Bruce's interview, too. Great stuff!!!

    I remember meeting Eric Ode at IRA one year, but I did not interact with him much. I noticed you linked to him & many other poets at: http://robertpottle.com/poems/links.php . I am going to add this link to the sidebar of this blog.

    I also listened to a few of your podcasts on http://lolpoetry.com/ . Nice!!!

    Thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment. I really look forward to seeing you at IRA again this year!


    P.S. I really wanted to include one of the photos of the three of us in this post, but I wasn't sure I could without permission from you and Bruce.

  • debbiegorney

    My second graders love silly poems. We “play” with a poem every other week and we keep them in a folder in their desk that they can refer to over and over again. They love the silly, non-sense ones the best. I initially started the folders so that my struggling readers would get extra fluency practice without realizing it, but all the kids love them. It's fun to hear them chanting them quietly to themselves or on their way out to recess. Love all the ideas here that I can use to build on this for next year.

  • debbiegorney

    My second graders love silly poetry…the sillier the better. We “play” with a poem every other week and add them to our poetry folders. My class this year started off with a lot of low readers and I wanted to give those kids some extra fluency practice without singling them out, but everyone has had so much fun with it that we have just kept it going all year. There are some great resources here that I'll have to check out and use. This is the stuff that makes reading fun, especially for the little guys who struggle.

  • RobertPottle

    Hi, Julie–

    Yes, I remember you now. You are welcome to post any pictures from IRA with me in it. I can't speak for Bruce, but I would be surprised if he'd object.

    I worked on a fluency project this summer. Tim Rasinski gave a wonderful testimonial for it. If you look around on the Hat Trick Learning web site you'll find it.

    See you next week.

  • http://www.twrctank.com/ Julie Niles Petersen

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your permission on the photos. I'll ask Bruce for his when I stop by next week.

    I found the fluency program: http://hattricklearning.com/store/index.php?act… Getting a testimonial from Tim Rasinski is huge! Will they be there at IRA? I'd love to check them out.

    See you next week.

  • http://www.twrctank.com/ Julie Niles Petersen

    I always included a poem a week with my entire first grade class, too. All kids seem to love them, don't they? And you are right, the sillier, the better! Poems (and songs) are also great for second language learners. (My class was about 98% ELL.) I love that your students chant the poems you've “played” with on their way to recess!!! Thanks for sharing, Debbie! :D

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