This post has been in my head for quite a few weeks now. I don't know why it's taken me so long to write it. You know how sometimes something can be so precious and sacred that it seems hard to describe it in words? That is kind of how I've felt about sharing this. Still, it's so worth sharing and I hope I'll do it justice here.
This year I decided to try something new in the classroom. Over the summer I selected a poem for each month of the school year. My goal is to teach a new poem to the children each month. I knew they could learn to say a poem because they so easily pick up and learn the songs we sing. However, I wanted to reinforce literacy and reading concepts within our poetry work which is something new for me to try with this age level. I wanted to incorporate the use of manipulative items with the poem too, so I came up with the concept of poetry baskets. I'll describe our September basket here, along with the amazing outcomes I've seen in the children.
All the poems I am using I found on the website CanTeach. It took me a while to find the ones I liked.......they have a really large selection. When choosing poems I wanted them to be fairly short, talk about nature if possible, and use some good vocabulary or metaphorical language that I could discuss with the children.
When introducing the poem to the children, I first presented it orally. I told them I had a poem to teach them and I wanted them to close their eyes and listen while I read it out loud. I read the poem slowly, and with good expression. We then talked about what pictures they had in their minds as I read the poem. Then I read it again, showing them the pictures I made to go with the poem. (I just used images I found in Microsoft Word clip-art or through a Google image search.) For our September poem, we talked a bit about how a brown dirt road can look like a brown ribbon. We also talked about the fact that asters are a type of flower and that they are purple. We talked about that "a forest of green" means that the forest is green because of all the trees. Then we tried saying the poem together a few times while I held up the pictures to go with each part. We continued to practice our poem verbally with the picture clues for the first week.
The second week, I added the print to our poetry practice. I wrote each line of the poem on a sentence strip and placed these in my pocket chart, leaving room for the picture cards as shown. When introducing this, I told them that the words were the same ones we had been saying when we "recited" our poem. Then I modeled reading the poem and pointing under each word with my pointer. I had added a sticker dot beneath each word to help facilitate their pointing to each word while reading. After reading our poem together a few times with the pointer as a group, I told them that they could try reading the poem themselves during our work time. Many times during that week my assistants and I witnessed children alone or in small groups using the pointer to read the poem. They did a great job tracking the print and saying the poem. I felt a catch in my throat while watching them be so independent. There are so many wonderful print concepts that they are practicing when doing this: one-to-one correspondence, tracking from left to right, the "return sweep" when you get to the end of a line of print and realize that you have to start again on the left side of the line below.
Below you can see two photos showing our pocket chart for the September poem, "September."
I wish you could see the "far away" version of this photo with one four-year-old pointing and reading while three little friends gathered 'round to watch and read with her. It was precious.
During the third week, I introduced the poetry basket. I had intentionally held off introducing the basket with the manipulatives until I knew the children had internalized the poem. That way I was pretty sure that they would use the items in the basket in the intended way (to act out the poem) instead of just playing or messing with them.
It has a laminated copy of the poem with little "dots" below the words to facilitate tracking. There is an "eyeball stick" that the children use to point to the words as they "read." When introducing the basket I told them that this was a work to do with a friend. One friend would read and point to the poem while the other friend set up the materials. Then they would trade jobs.
Here you can see the materials for this basket: A long brown ribbon for the "road like brown ribbon", a laminated photo of the sky for "a sky that is blue", some little wooden trees from Hobby Lobby with a grooved wooden stand I borrowed from another activity for the "forest of green" (the sky picture is placed behind the trees to show the "sky peeping through"), a vase with purple asters for "asters, deep purple", and a grasshopper for the "grasshopper's call".
Here are close-ups of each material in the basket..........
The most amazing and heart-warming and magical and precious and wonderful aspect of our study of this poem occurred during the last week of September when I invited children to stand and recite the poem out loud for their friends at group time. I did not force anyone to do this, but allowed every child the opportunity. I was so proud when these little people (who really haven't even been able to speak in sentences for very long when you think about it) got up in front of about 19 other children and said the poem from memory. What a wonderful oral language opportunity and confidence-booster! We clapped for each child when they were done. My assistants and I had tears in our eyes each day that week because children who we would not have expected to try, were getting up and saying the poem. It was phenomenal! I will post soon with the words to our October poem. If you are a parent of a child in my class who is reading this, show this post to your child. I would bet my bottom dollar that they will be able to tell you the poem. Like I told the children, "This poem is a treasure in your heart. Now that you know it, it will always be part of who you are. Someday when you are maybe a mommy or a daddy, you may hear this poem again, and your heart will recognize it as your very own poem." It's so true.