Thursday, April 6, 2017

A poetry strategy that works for upper elementary

When our standards changed and poetry was suddenly really important, a lot of us had to re-evaluate our approach. Poetry was being tested on our STAAR test in more and more complex ways, and so students were being held accountable for more than simply loving poetry.

I loved reading poetry with kids and having awesome discussions about the language, message, and the poet. But when it came down to it, without my guidance, kids just didn't know where to start when reading poetry.

They'd read the title, fumble through the stanzas, find some figurative language, and have absolutely no idea what the poem was about.

I knew this wouldn't work. How could I help kids use a consistent approach to poetry so they'd know where to start to comprehend a poem?

I spoke to several experts, and something that kept coming up was the SOAPSTONE strategy used for high school and college students. You might remember using it in school yourself. It's a handy acronym that helps students identify the essential elements of the poem.

My colleague and I decided to create something similar for our upper elementary students, and so POETS was born!

The POETS acronym stands for the following. We color-coded each part so students would have a visual connection to these elements:

Preview (black - pencil)
Occasion (green)
Emotions (red)
Theme (blue)
Speaker (yellow)

When students are faced with a poem, they use the POETS acronym to understand the poem and summarize what it's about! Here's how it works:

This step takes the longest. Students do several things to get their brain ready to think deeply about the poem.
1. Read title, notice illustrations
2. Number lines & stanzas
3. Read a stanza at a time, make a sketch of the details in that stanza
4. Find the rhyme scheme by noticing pattern of rhyming words
5. Identify the type of poem: narrative, lyrical, free verse, etc.

In this step, students identify what the topic of the poem is, or what the poem is all about. What is happening that the poet is writing about? In a narrative poem, the occasion is the story the poet is telling. In a lyrical poem, the occasion is the topic the poet is describing.

Poetry is chock-full of emotions; many of them inferential. Students hunt for evidence that can help them infer the emotions in the poem.

This is the most challenging part! In this step, students look for clues to help them conclude the theme. What is the message the poet is sharing with the reader? (In a humorous poem, there might not be a deep message! It's hard to take away a life lesson for "Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face".)

This is so important that I actually have students do this step right after the Preview step. In this step, students identify the point of view the poem is told from (1st person, 3rd person limited/omniscient), and they figure out who the speaker is. Whose voice is speaking in the poem?

Get em' engaged!

To help kids get used to the POETS strategy, I tried out a little engagement strategy with our most reluctant readers. Each student received a copy of the poem. They were asked to complete the "P" on their own (Preview). Then, I gave each student a different-colored post-it. I used the four colors that we used to color-code our POETS strategy: blue, green, red, and yellow. Whatever color the student received was the element of POETS that they had to hunt for.

Using their colors, they got into expert groups and marked evidence for their element. They wrote their answer statement on the post-it. Then they went back to their home groups and took turns teaching their element to their home teams.

Afterwards, I randomly called on students to come to the charted poem in the front of the room and share their evidence. They used their post-it to mark the line they found their evidence in.

To add to the challenge of the next round, I took the title off of the poem. Students used the POETS strategy to decide what the poem was all about, and then they came up with a title for the poem. They loved this lesson! They were each adamant that their own title was the best!

Over time, and after aligning this strategy 3-5, our students have started to show an improved confidence in reading poetry. They know where to start, what to look for, and how to help themselves! It's actually become one of their strengths!

In case you're looking to try out this new strategy, I have provided a day-by-day guide for introducing it to your class, complete with questioning, in my Teaching Reading by Genre product on TPT!

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1 comment:

  1. This is an outstanding article and strategy, one I wish I'd had access to a few weeks earlier, before my students took their state assessment. Regardless, I've been using it this week, and kids are starting to dig more deeply into poems they're reading. Thank you! I shared this with the other Reading teachers at my grade level.