National Poetry Month: Free Elementary Lesson Guide

By Amplify Staff

April is National Poetry Month, and you can help celebrate it by sharing poems with your students. Need some suggestions for what to read? CKLA is delighted to share this brief guide for teaching Newberry winner Kwame Alexander’s Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (written with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illustrations by Ekua Holmes).

076368094XOut of Wonder presents twenty poems inspired by or celebrating individual poets. Although students who are familiar with the celebrated poet will find additional connections to the text, each poem is also able to stand alone as a complete text, suitable for reading aloud and generating deep discussion. The book’s rich illustrations provoke visual engagement, while its language captures students’ ear. Students from all backgrounds will see themselves in the poets celebrated, who represent many different origins and literary styles.

As with any text, we suggest you read the book prior to sharing it with your class. As you preview the text, consider how best to use it in your classroom. We’ve gathered some ideas below, but we’d also love to hear yours! Share photos and other information on Twitter by tagging #CKLA.

This text lends itself to a number of different approaches.

The Daily Poem

One way to share this text with your class is to share a poem from the book each day. This approach allows students to encounter a broad range of poems and to think about them as individual texts as well as collectively as part of one project.

Prior to sharing the poem you may wish to give students a guiding question to consider. Because this book is divided into sections, you may wish to align the question to those sections.

Section 1, Got Style?, includes poems that have distinct forms. Questions for these poems could include asking younger students what the poem looks like or what shape it has. Students who have already studied poetry, such as CKLA students in Grades 4-5, may be asked to describe the poem’s form, stanza or line pattern, and other elements of its poetic style.

Then, you may have students consider how the particular things they notice about the poem’s shape or form relate to the poem’s subject, or what happens in the poem.

Close Reading

Like other complex texts, poems offer rich opportunities for careful reading. However, sometimes people get intimidated and think that special tools are required for reading poems. The truth is that reading a poem requires the same tools as reading other text!

While advanced readers may benefit from being able to identify literary devices such as similes and metaphors, even the youngest students can listen for a poem’s rhyme or an interesting word in the poem.

To help your students close read a poem, ask them to do the following:

  • Select a detail they notice in the poem. That may be the sound, a specific word, a rhyme, or other details.
  • Describe what they see in that detail.
  • Explain what their observation might mean.
  • Connect their observations about different details in the text to build an idea about what the text means.

Paired Texts

Because each poem in Out of Wonder celebrates the work of a particular poet, these texts lend themselves to comparison with other poems. For this exercise, select a poem from Out of Wonder and identify the poet celebrated in this poem. Using external resources, such as your school library or online tools such as the excellent database curated by the nonprofit Academy of American Poets, locate a poem written by the celebrated poet.

Share the celebrated poet’s poem with students, asking them to follow the close reading model above. After they have thoroughly considered the poem, explain that they will next read a poem that celebrates this poet. Share the poem from Out of Wonder, asking students to reflect on it and how it might connect to the poet’s original poem. What elements do they see that suggest a celebration?

If time allows, you may also have students compare and contrast the two poems, considering how they are similar and different.

Extension Opportunities

Writing: Ask students to pick an author or other person they would like to celebrate. Have them brainstorm aspects of that person’s life, work, or character that they would like to focus on celebrating. Then have students write an original poem that celebrates this figure. Ask students to identify how choices they made in their poem reflect the person being celebrated.

Research: Out of Wonder includes brief biographies about each poet being celebrated. Ask students to select a poem and read the biography associated with it. Then ask students to use external resources, such as those from your classroom library, the school library, or online sources, to do additional research about the celebrated poet. Students may gather facts about that poet’s life or writing to present informally (through an exit ticket asking them to record 1-2 new facts or through turn-and-talk opportunities to share what they have learned with a peer) or formally (such as through a piece of informative writing or a presentation to the class).

Application: Guide students in discussing how the illustrations in Out of Wonder support the reading of a poem. Then have students select a poem of their own choice (perhaps a poem by one of the celebrated poets) to illustrate. As preparation for their illustration, have students read the poem closely and determine which aspects to illustrate. Students may also reflect on their choices by explaining their illustration to a peer.

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