Here are five hot-off-the-presses poetry lesson plans from the 2022-2023 school year for elementary school students, from our Writing the Community teaching artists!
This lesson plan, by Eva Sierra, asks students to draw on even earlier childhood: their memories, what they are proud of, and aspects of themselves they wish to hold on to or let go of. Centering social-emotional learning, it gives young poets an opportunity to think through how they've grown, in both difficult and exciting ways. Fun fact: this activity uses the poem "Cricket's Lament," by the Poetry Center's event coordinator Paola Valenzuela, as its literary model! In the poem, Valenzuela writes of the titular crickets:
los grillos cantan (the crickets sing)
canciones de duelo (songs of hurt)
they remember us
as we were young
before the angst of adolescence
and the vices of adulthood
forced us to grow up
This lesson plan, also by Eva Sierra, is a great way to incorporate poetry into a science unit focused on the earth and/or weather. It uses the molecular structure of snow crystals to invite students to think through "the different experiences they carry, the different ways they look and present, and ... why these things make them unique from one another" (when Sierra taught this lesson recently, students mentioned "being left handed, being from the rez’, speaking Spanish, wearing glasses, being an only child, [and] having lots of pets" as things that made them special and distinctive!). Students then turn these experiences into a poem, which they write on a paper snowflake they decorate themselves.
Are you teaching your students about food and/or ecology in your science unit or school garden class? This lesson plan by Charlie Buck would be a great way to incorporate poetry and language arts into their learning! In it, students observe earthworms and come up with adjectives to describe them ("wet, soft, gummy, slimy, sticky, dirty, dusty, muddy, curious, stretchy, strong, hungry, friendly") as well as words that illustrate how they move ("inching, sliding, tickling, slithering, creeping, crawling, curling, twisting..."). From there, students write poems about the earthworms, using the adjectives and verbs they brainstormed to bring their writing to life. This lesson plan is suitable for different literacy levels, and includes both a worksheet version and a suggestion to adapt it into a cinquain for more advanced writers.
This multi-part lesson plan from Sophie Daws, inspired by the work of Juan Felipe Herrera, would be a perfect fit for a science or school garden class, as well as coursework focused on the five senses. Students practice their powers of observation by gathering and describing natural objects, then stretch their imagination by guessing what's inside a "mystery box" made of recycled cardboard (they write their guesses on the box itself, turning it into a kind of poem!). Finally, young poets compare their own souls to objects that could be inside the mystery box, and write independent poems based on what they dream up.
This activity, by Matisse Rosen, let's students put language arts into practice in a fun, collaborative way! Young poets brainstorm edits and revisions together, deciding how they might change an earlier version of a poem (Rosen's students said they, "wanted to make the poem more colorful, and they would add words with many different sounds"). Then they compare two different versions of a poem, noting the differences between them, before editing a poem they previously wrote collaboratively together. This lesson focuses less on copy editing and grammatical structure and more on improving language and descriptions, as well as the important social-emotional skill of collaboration.
Photograph by Zdeněk Macháček.