Poetry has an established reputation for being one of the most obtuse types of literary expression. Your young students may find it difficult to write poems; they might have trouble understanding them, or more than likely, they could struggle with both. Rather than avoiding this potentially frustrating topic, we say face it head on!
When introduced early on and revisited often, poems can be a gateway to teaching young learners all about language, phonics, comprehension, fluency, diction, literacy and so many more skills than just finding words that rhyme! If you want to see your students all have their minds blown at once, ask them whether poems have to rhyme in order to be considered poems and watch as they puzzle it out.
Read on for 14 activities to help introduce your elementary students to poetry!
1. Rhyming Couplets
One of the easiest poems to write, a rhyming couplet, is two lines, and the last words in those lines must rhyme. Like haikus, it’s the simplicity of the form and the strictly defined nature of the poem that gives students more room to play with the aspects they’re able to change. Most young learners will be delighted to find out how easy it is to make a poem.
After some hard work and dedicated practice, they’ll get the hang of it and start taking more chances to experiment. Finding out what they can really do with the power of words is the best part of learning about literature.
2. Poetry Baseball
Divide your class into two teams. Draw a baseball diamond on the board, mark “bases” around the room or play outside on a real baseball diamond! The player “at bat” draws a poetry term from a list of poetic language types and devices; they have 30 seconds to provide an example.
A correct answer moves your students along the bases. An incorrect answer or no answer at all counts as a strike. Follow the established rules of baseball or make your own, depending on the size of your classroom (for example, a very small classroom could benefit from playing individually on pieces of paper, with everyone having an opportunity to answer each question, while a very large classroom could benefit from having more “outs” before switching teams).
3. Rhyming Dominoes
Rather than matching numbers, match up rhyming words! Have your students make sets of domino-style flashcards with words that have common rhyme schemes like hat/cat, gnome/home, fair/chair, mope/hope, etc.
Next, get students into pairs or groups to match up their dominoes. This activity works best when students use the same rhyme schemes but are able to choose their own favorite words within those rhyme schemes so that you’ll get a larger variety of words. Finally, have each student select six to eight word pairings and write a poem that uses all of those rhyming words!
4. Memorize, Repeat, Listen
While it may be easy to dismiss memory work as a skill for a bygone era or only for the younger grads, poetry memorization is a valuable skill that will help all students improve their recall and literary proficiency.
Participating in an activity as simple as memorizing and reciting a poem in front of the class teaches acting and presentation skills, including physical presence, voice, articulation, speed, volume and tone. It also allows them to practice using new and unusual words in context.
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5. Writer’s Block-Blocking Mood Board Collage
Every writer gets writer’s block sometimes, and young writers are no exception. Get out ahead of those insecurities by having students proactively create a collage or mood board featuring things that inspire them to write.
This might include pictures of family, friends or pets; it might have images of what they want their future life to be like, or they might prefer to collect evocative imagery that could inspire creative works of poetry.
Once their collages are finished, ask each student to present their work to the class and share a few words about what it means to them and how it helps them when they have writer’s block.
6. Poetry Bracket
Begin by letting your students know that your class is going to choose the best poem. Create a list of 16 poems that your class will study, choosing the best of two every day and repeating the process until you get to the center bracket and finally decide on the big winner.
Consider organizing the starting 16 poems by theme or poetry style (e.g., four poems about nature, four poems about love, four limericks, four haikus, etc.). Remember that one of the most effective ways to engage all your students with this activity and get full, enthusiastic classroom participation is by involving your students in creating the rubric—especially if you let them vote to choose the “wildcard” entries.
7. Make Your Own Poetry Mad Libs
Once your students have a working understanding of poetic devices, you can get to the fun part where you take poems apart to figure out how they work! Find some of your favorite poems to share with your class and remove some of the words, replacing them with a placeholder that identifies the type of language the word is (noun, verb, adverb, etc.).
Go around the room and ask each student to provide a specific word that fits the general language type listed or print out worksheets and ask each student to make their own.
This can be a fun and silly activity to lead into a deeper discussion about poetry, or your emerging poets may take the opportunity to create and share their own new poem built atop the bones of a literary giant.
8. Shape Poems
Students love multimedia creative activities! Shape poems involve drawing a simple outline or shape, then writing a poem so the words become the outline (picture a poem about why a student loves their pet dog written in the shape of a heart or dog).
Shape poems can involve a lot of planning and strategy for young learners because they need to spend time drawing and writing, and it can be easy for one element of this project to overtake the other, so pay attention to how everyone is progressing and provide gentle guidance when needed.
9. Grade School Musical
The degrees of separation between poetry and song are few, so why not turn your poetry unit into a musical unit? Group students into pairs or small groups and task them with creating a song and dance! Any visual or musical representation of an assigned poem will do. After a few practice sessions, it’s time for each group to share their musical and poetic stylings with the rest of the class!
The only real limits to this activity are time, resources and your students’ imaginations—and the last one is the most important! You can expect to see performances ranging from spoken words with improvised musical instruments to spitting freestyles in the style of William Carlos Williams to choreographed dance numbers.
10. Write It Out
Ask your students to rewrite their favorite poem as a short story. This works especially well with narrative poetry, but don’t overlook this activity for shorter, more impressionistic poetry. For those who have ever been caught wondering exactly what kind of icebox made those plums so sweet and so cold, this activity will let their minds run wild with the details (read “This Is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams if you don’t understand the reference).
After the activity is completed, lead a discussion about the different types of figurative language that is used in both poetry and other types of literary writing. What are the differences between how a poem is written and how a story is written? Which format is better for the poem your students have written a story about: the poem or the story?
11. Convince Me
Give the class 4-8 poems to choose from and divide students into small groups. Each group chooses their favorite poem after briefly discussing the strengths of each. Next, have each group find another group that chose a different poem than they did. Then, start a timer and have each group attempt to convince the opposing group that their poem is best.
This can be as freeform or as structured as your classroom tends to prefer. You can have a set amount of time for each group to argue the merits of their case, or you can allow students to decide this on their own. After discussing, find out whether anyone was convinced or whether they still think their favorite poem was best of all. You can repeat this activity several times until everyone has had a chance to debate a number of their classmates.
12. Further Convincing
Similar to the activity above, this one also argues the merits of favorite poems—except instead of choosing the poem they want to defend, students get randomly assigned the poem they’ll be supporting. You can use a random number generator or go old-school by having your class choose names of poems out of a hat! Once poems are assigned, students must analyze their poem and explain its strengths, even if they don’t really like their poem.
This activity is a great way to teach your students to appreciate and search for worth in art, despite what their personal feelings may be, and this is a great skill that they can apply to real world situations for the rest of their lives.
13. Close Reading
As a method of literary analysis, close reading takes a written work and regards it line by line—or sometimes word by word. At the elementary level, this means having your students each create a slide presentation about a poem they love—or maybe even one they’ve written themselves.
They will take the class through their poem either line by line or stanza by stanza, explaining what each part of the poem means and identifying different poetic devices, how they’re used and the effect they have on the overall work.
14. Read Poems Together
Work with other teachers in your school to pair up younger and older grades to learn together throughout the year! A perfect activity for this is poetry reading. Older students can share poems they love with their younger peers, and younger students can do the same—this can include poems written by famous poets or poems written by students in either or both classes.
Help Your Students Publish Their Own Poetry Book!
You can help your class create their very own poetry-themed classbook and become published poets by using one of our FREE classbook publishing kits! Simply sign up online, and we’ll provide everything you need to publish your students’ writing and illustrations, including any help you need along the way.
Some of the activities listed above are great places to start when you’re choosing a theme for your classbook! Each of your students will contribute one page of writing and one page of illustration to help create something special you’ll be proud to show off for years to come—you’ll get a free classroom copy, and parents can also order copies to keep at home as a literary time capsule and keepsake for the future.
You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. Now that you’ve added more ideas to your own list of poetry-themed activities for elementary students, you’re ready to help lead your students into a lifetime of reading, writing and enjoying literary works of all kinds and of all rhymes!