Yesterday, I shared some of the ways I try to engage young kids, especially pre-readers, in poetry reading during school visits. I don’t want to just stand there and recite my poems. I want the kids to own the poems, too. But there’s always limited time, so I can’t repeat poems three and four times to have kids start to learn them by heart. Here are a few more ways we have fun with poems. (And again, these could be adapted for use with rhyming picture books, non-rhyming rhythmic picture books, and even, sometimes, passages from totally prose books, depending on what you want to demonstrate/emphasize.)
Alternate lines: I do some traditional partner reading, where the kids read one line and I read the next. I choose short poems with very simple language for this one, and I make sure to give myself the harder lines. I review the kids’ lines with them once before we start, and, as usual, their lines are featured in a bright color (below, their lines are in red).
When I’m feeling
I get nasty
I get whiny.
Stay away or
I might stick you.
My sharp words are
quills to prick you.
(from Stampede, all rights reserved)
Rhyme it: One way to share a longer rhyming poem that the kids wouldn’t be able to easily keep up with is to have them just say the rhyming words. This reinforces to pre-readers what rhyming words are, and it’s easier for them to keep track of the next word if they know it sounds like the word before. As always, I review their words once beforehand. Here’s the start of "Here Boy!" from Stampede.
Lunch bell starts ringing,
down the hallway I bound.
I’m a dog who’s just heard
the can-opener sound.
I use a fun pointer to gesture when it’s their turn to say a word.
Repeat it: I want kids to know it’s fun to play with language and poems, and one thing we all enjoy is repeating a poem several times, changing it up each time. For the above poem, for instance, which is four stanzas long and is all about a boy racing to the cafeteria for lunch and eating more, more, more food in an excited frenzy, we start out slow. But then we repeat it two more times, faster each time. I call the first time the warm up. Then, after the second time, we take a few deep breaths to really prepare for the workout that the speedy third time is going to give us. The kids are watching me, the pointer, and the words so intently so they don’t miss shouting out their words. We’re all out of breath and laughing by the end of the third run-through! It’s also fun to play with mood instead of speed. You could read a poem three times, giving it a different inflection each time to make it sound like a different mood or emotion. Kids love this, especially if they have at least a few words to say in the poem each time.
Sound it out: Kids love to add sound effects. For my animal poems in Stampede, I often have them make the appropriate animal noises after each poem (just make sure you have a signal that will let them know when to stop!). After the poem "Stampede," they not only make elephant noises but they stomp their feet while sitting to create the noise of a thundering elephant stampede. They love the rare opportunity to be as noisy as they can. Or if you have a couple of words, especially repeated words, during your poem that lend themselves to a sound effect, you could try having the kids make the sound effect right after each time you say the word. For instance, if your poem is about basketball, maybe when you read the word "net," you have them all say "swish." A simple sound, one time. You just have to coach them ahead of time to make the sound only ONE time (or things will quickly get out of control–believe me), and make sure you pause to give them time to make their noise before you continue.
Get their opinions: One last way I like to connect kids with the poems is to engage them just before I start reading. Even if they don’t have any part to play during the poem itself, if I’ve made it connect to them, they’re more involved. So before I read "Tomorrow Is Picture Day," I tell them a couple of horror stories about my own haircuts as a kid and about my two daughters cutting their own hair when they were in preschool. Then I ask them who ever cut their hair when they were littler. Lots of hands usually go up (glad it’s not just my kids who did that!). Then we imagine we’ve just given ourselves horrendous haircuts before I read the poem.
Poetry reading is so joyous when it’s interactive like this. Even more serious poems become an amazing group experience when everyone has a part in it.
You probably have lots more great ideas, too! If you use a technique with pre-readers that I haven’t covered here, would you please share? Thanks!