Click play below to hear how to use poetry to teach the big 5 reading skills:
We often think of poetry as something we just teach during April for National Poetry Month or in preparation for the state test at the end of the year. But in reality, poetry can be taught all year long, for poetry has all of the literary elements we teach our kids through other reading genres. In order to help you connect the two, I’m sharing how to teach the Big 5 reading skills using poetry.
As literacy teachers, our job is to teach and have students practice and master reading skills that help make them successful academically. We often refer to these skills as the Big 5, which are phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
With each reading skill, I share examples, activities, and ways to practice the skill by using poetry. These activities can easily be embedded in your already established literacy routine, for they are quick, easy, and can be done whole group or small group.
Poetry is often taught in isolation with no relation to the Big 5 reading skills. However, poetry compliments literacy skills in a way that’s easy for students to understand. While it’s encouraged to put a bigger emphasis on poetry during this month, know it can also be taught effectively all year round!
In this episode on the big 5 reading skills, I share:
- How to use the Big 5 in reading towards poetry
- Why poetry can be used all year long
- Ways to incorporate poetry into your weekly schedule
- Activities to use with your students that work on the Big 5
- Poem of the Week Routine Freebie
- Elements of Poetry Unit Bundle
- Check out the Stellar Teacher Reading Membership
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 121, Your Guide to Teaching Syllabication in Upper Elementary
- Episode 74, Poem of the Week Routine Part 2: Fluency
- Episode 73, Poem of the Week Routine Part 1: Comprehension
- Poem of the Week: A Quick and Easy Way to Teach Poetry
Connect with me:
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Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high quality no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
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Hey there friend. Happy Monday. It’s your host, Sara Marye, and I am so glad that you are joining us today.
Now, did you know that April is National Poetry Month? I feel like most teachers and educators know that and since we are in the first week of April, I’m going to do a little poetry themed episode here.
Now while I think that you should be teaching and reading poetry with your students all year long, I do think that April is a really great month to give this genre a little extra love. And if you haven’t really thought about how you want to teach poetry or focus on poetry this month, you’re gonna get some ideas in this episode.
But before we jump in today’s content, I did want to share with you one of my favorite freebies that I love to share with the teachers in my audience. If you are looking for a really fun and easy way to expose your students to more poetry, I would consider incorporating Poem of the Week into your classroom.
Now Poem of the Week is exactly what it sounds like. Each week you dig into a poem and every day of the week, you give your students a different task that is going to help them do things like identify the speaker of the poem and their point of view, analyze the author’s word choice in the poem, we’re going to have students summarize the poem and identify the theme, and students are even you’re going to compare the poem to another text on a similar topic.
Poem of the Week is fun and engaging. And it honestly makes teaching poetry super manageable for you. So if you want to check out a free sample of my Poem of the Week routine, just go to stellarteacher.com/poem. And you can download a free sample to try this week.
In this episode, I’m going to show you how you can use poetry to teach the Big Five in reading. And if you aren’t familiar with the Big Five, those are the five pillars of reading that helps students develop a strong literacy foundation. And all five play an important role in helping our students become strong readers. They are phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
And in upper elementary, we often give a lot of time and attention to things like vocabulary and comprehension. But I bet you have students in your class that still need support with phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency. And the great thing is, is that poetry is such a great vehicle to support students in those areas.
So let’s jump in, I’m going to share each of the Big Five and give you ideas on how you can use poetry to support your students develop in those specific areas.
Okay, the first one is phonological awareness. And phonological awareness is having an awareness of all levels that exist within our speech sound system. So this means that our students can identify and distinguish between words within a sentence, rhyming units within a word, and syllables just to name a few.
So this is something that is often heavily focused on in the primary grades when students are building their literacy foundation. But as you probably are aware of there are students in third, fourth and fifth grade, who struggle with reading and it might be in part because they lack phonological awareness.
Now, if you have students that struggle, they are going to need a more structured and you know, a scripted curriculum that is going to help you fill in their phonological awareness gaps. And so focusing just on phonological awareness with poetry alone, isn’t necessarily going to catch your students up to speed.
But it can be a really great way to reinforce these skills and the things that are sort of at the foundation that our students either maybe have forgotten or they’re not as familiar with, and just having that repetition can bring that in. So just know that if you have students that really struggle with phonological awareness, you’re going to need to do more than focus on it during poetry. But focusing on it during poetry is definitely something that can help your students that struggle as well as all of your students.
So one of the things that you can do with poetry to hit on phonological awareness is to identify the rhyme scheme. And so you’re going to have students identify the rhyme scheme within the poem, maybe it’s an A B, A B rhyme scheme or an AABB rhyme scheme. But we want them to identify the words that rhyme and then you know, be able to come up with more examples of that specific rhyme scheme.
So a specific example, one of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. And the first stanza, says, “whose Woods these are, I think, I know, his house is in the village, though, he will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow.”
So that is an A A, B, A rhyme scheme. And once students can identify that, see if they can orally produce more words, that end in the long O sound. So you know, basically, we’re asking them to identify words that rhyme with that pattern. So know, though snow go show, blow, grow, you know, so on and so on.
So that can be a really great and easy way to focus on phonological awareness. And one of the things that you can do then is once students identify a rhyme scheme, you can have them do an oral Word Ladder.
So give students a word in the poem, you know, connect it to the rhyme scheme, and then you’re going to give students prompts and clues to where they’re going to have to make changes or substitutions to that word.
So for example, take the word snow, and we would ask our students to change the sn to bl, and then they would get blow. And then we’re going to ask them to take the bl, in blow and change it to gr. And now they’re going to have grow.
And then maybe you’re going to say, take the ow, in grow and change it to ip. Now they have grip. And then you can maybe ask them, okay, does snow blow grow and grip, which one of these words does not rhyme? And then they should know that okay, grip does not rhyme because we changed the end part of that word.
So you can go on and on and on with many different, you know, variations of this. But this is just going to help students develop their fluency with isolated sounds and seeing the connections between the sounds. And this can just be a really quick and easy thing that you can do a whole group, small group, you can even do this as you’re lining up to go to lunch. And it can just be a really easy way to focus on phonological awareness with the poems that you’re reading.
Okay, the next pillar is phonics. And phonics refers to the relationship between the letters in the written language and the individual sounds in the spoken language that the letters represent. So where phonological awareness just had to do with sounds, phonics is now introducing written letters and the connection between the written letters and the sounds that they make.
So again, this is another really big focus for students in the primary grades, but it is just as important in upper elementary, and I bet you have students that struggle with spelling and understanding the sound spelling, connection. So this can just be another great way to reinforce it with your students.
So again, we’re going to go back to using the rhyme scheme within the poem, and expand that word family. So now instead of doing this, just orally, students are going to start writing down the words that are part of that rhyme scheme.
So if it’s an AA, BB rhyme scheme, they could sort and categorize all of the words in the rhyme scheme, and then write down additional words for that family. One of the things that you could do, and if we use the example from the Robert Frost poem, and we think of words that end with a long O, you know, there’s snow, though, grow, Joe, you know, all of that the long O, has multiple spellings.
And so you could have students do a word sort based off of the different spellings for the long O sound. So that’s one thing that you could do. But then you could also give students the opportunity to make new words. And this could just be a really fun, easy activity that is going to challenge students and give them an opportunity to focus on their spelling and understanding of spelling patterns.
And so you could give students a big word that is in the title or a word that describes the theme of the poem, and see if they can make smaller words from that big word. You know, so let’s say that you’re reading a birthday poem, and birthday is in the title. So give students the word birthday, and see how many smaller words they can make using just the letters in the word birthday.
And this activity is going to help students think about and consider all of the spelling rules that they know and how they can use them to form new words. And it’s going to really have them you know, pay attention to word families and how they can come up with words that rhyme using the different letters that are available to them. So that’s another activity that you could do.
A third activity you could do is a syllable hunt or sort. And so you could have students use the poem to search for all of the different syllable types that they see in the poem. And if you’re not familiar with the syllable types, go back and listen to episode number 121, where I did a deep dive into syllabication, and break down all of the different syllable types for you.
But this is a good way to see if students can, you know, identify the different syllable types in terms of like the spelling patterns, and then sort them into the different categories. So you could also focus on, like I said, syllabication within the poem, and that would be another way to reinforce phonics as well.
And all of these examples that I have shared for both phonics and phonological awareness, they’re quick and easy. They don’t take a long time. It’s something that can be done in just a few minutes.
Okay, the third pillar is fluency. And fluency is the ability to automatically read words and phrases and entire sections of texts quickly and accurately, and with expression, and with understanding. And I think oftentimes, fluency gets associated with just speed. And while speed is a part of fluency, it’s not the only part.
And honestly, it might not even be the most important part, like all of these things need to be incorporated if we want our students to be fluent: they need to be accurate, they need to be quick, they need to have expression. But at the end of the day, if they’re a fluent reader, that means that they’re also reading with understanding.
But I really love using poetry as a way to practice fluency because poems are usually pretty short. And so it’s easy for students to get in some repeated readings. But also poems are really just like fun for kids. And you know, poems, a lot of times can either be silly or have a really like clear mood or strong emotion attached to them. And so it can also be really fun for students to practice their phrasing and expression with fluency.
So a couple things that you could do. First of all, if you downloaded my Poem of the Week resource that freebie has a fluency checklist. And again, if you want to know specifically how to use this, I’m going to reference another podcast episode, go back and listen to episode number 74, where I talk about Poem of the Week, part two, where you can use that routine to focus on fluency.
But basically, every day students read that poem, but they have a checklist where they’re going to focus on different aspects of fluency each day of the week. And so they’re doing repeated readings, but they have, you know, different sort of tasks. And one of the things that they’re doing is identifying the words that they don’t know, to figure out how to read them. Because in order to be a fluent reader, they have to be able to read accurately.
So that’s one of the first things they do. But later in the week, students get to have fun with the poem. And they get to experiment with different speeds and different volumes and different inflections. So it’s like how does this poem sound when you read it really quickly? What about when you read it really quietly.? And so that can just be really fun for students to experiment.
But all of those different fluency tasks are outlined in this checklist as part of that freebie. But you can use any poem to practice fluency. And so a couple things that you could do are repeated readings. And there’s kind of two different ways that you could do a repeated reading, and you can switch it up a little bit.
So you could do a repeated reading to focus on a specific fluency aspect. So maybe you’re going to do three readings to focus on improving one thing. So they’re going to read the poem, they’re going to focus on improving expression, and each time they read the poem, they’re going to try to get better at their expression. And so the repeated readings each have the same focus, and the goal is to improve it.
You know, if you have a student that is already pretty fluent, then maybe they do a repeated reading and each repeated reading has a different purpose. So maybe the first time they’re focusing on accuracy, and then the second time, they’re going to focus on their speed, and then the third time, they’re going to focus on expression.
So they’re still doing the repeated readings, but paying different attention to the different aspects of fluency each time they read. So some quick easy things that you can do with fluency.
The fourth pillar is vocabulary. And vocabulary simply describes all of the words in a language that are used to understand and communicate. And we already know that this is a big focus in upper elementary and really in all grades. And we want our students to have big and robust vocabularies, so that way, they can understand the words that they read.
And so there’s a ton of different things that you can do with vocabulary and poetry. But specifically in upper elementary, you can have your students go on a hunt for roots and prefixes and suffixes. And so have your students read the poem and search for words that have a specific prefix or suffix. Or, you know, if you’ve taught specific rootss, see if those words exist in the poem.
And, you know, if you’ve already taught a lot of the affixes, you know, have them identify any word that has a prefix or suffix and then have them explain, you know how that suffix or prefix is informing their understanding of the word. So using poetry to hunt for prefixes, suffixes and roots can be a great activity.
But you can also use poetry to focus on using context clues. And so if there is an unfamiliar word in the poem or a really significant word, you can point out that word and have students look for context clues to determine the meaning of an unfamiliar word, just like you would in a normal text, we can apply the same strategies to poetry.
But you also can have students really pay attention to imagery and figurative language. I think this is one of the most fun parts about poetry is oftentimes there is a lot of imagery and figurative language. So students can be on the lookout for, you know, really descriptive details, they could do a hunt for adjectives and adverbs, that really helped them sort of create that mental image as they’re reading the poem.
Or they can look for figurative language and make a chart that has the, you know, the example of the figurative language and what the literal meaning is, and what the non literal meaning is. And so those are some just different activities that you can do to give a little bit extra focus on vocabulary as you’re reading poetry.
Okay, the last pillar is comprehension. And the ultimate goal of any reading experience, whether we’re reading poetry, or an article or a chapter book is that we understand what it is that we read. But the thing about comprehension is, is that students are really going to have a hard time understanding what they are reading, if they have not already mastered all of the other pillars. And so while comprehension is the ultimate goal, it occurs when students are able to extract meaning and understanding from a written text.
And in order for them to do that they need to have strong vocabulary skills, they need to have good fluency, they need to have a strong foundation and phonological awareness and phonics as well. So we don’t want to just only focus on comprehension when we’re reading. But of course, this is the goal that we’re shooting for.
Now, you can do a lot of things with comprehension. But some of the activities that I like doing, specifically when we’re reading a poem, is to have students sequence the events in a poem, I think this can be really good because oftentimes, poetry can be somewhat abstract. But a lot of poems are a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. And if students can sequence the events in a poem, they’re much more likely to understand what is happening in the poem.
We also want our students to identify the speaker and their point of view. This is going to help them understand who is it that is saying the words of the poem, oftentimes, the speaker is a person, but sometimes it can be an object, like a book, or a piece of sports equipment. And so making sure that students understand what point of view is this poem being told from.
And then having students just summarize the poem, and they can summarize a poem in the same way that they summarize any text. And I’ve got a couple sort of like tools that are included in my Poem of the Week resource to help students complete all of these tasks as well.
So comprehension, you’re gonna do a lot of the same things you do with other texts as well. But definitely focus on sequencing of events, identifying the speaker and their point of view, and then summarizing the poem.
Okay, one more thing that you can do with comprehension is to find another text, either a nonfiction text on the same topic, or a fiction text that has a similar theme, and have students read the poem and this other text and then have them compare and contrast how did the author communicate similar information or similar ideas? Or, you know, what did we learn from the poem that we didn’t learn from the other text and vice versa.
So this is something that often shows up on our end of your tests. And I think the more practice and exposure you give your students, the better they’re going to do on that portion of the test. But you don’t have to have a practice test in order to do that. You literally can find, you know, any poem, and whatever the topic is, you know, go to a website, like News ELA or Time for Kids and see if you can find an article on that same topic.
But giving students opportunities to compare and contrast two texts, you know, one being a poem, and one being another text can be a great way to help with their comprehension as well.
So all of these activities are going to help your students both with poetry and just understanding poetry, but they’re also going to help your students build on the five pillars of reading. And none of these activities need to take a long time. So they’re short, they’re quick, and they can be done whole group, small group or independently.
And I think the big thing I want you to take away from this episode is to remember that, you know, unfortunately, we often treat poetry as if it’s this entirely different genre. And we only focus on it during, you know, National Poetry Month or during test prep season or during our poetry unit.
But as you can see, poetry is such a fabulous genre, and it is filled with so many opportunities to reinforce and build our students reading foundation and the five pillars of reading. And so things that you do normally during your reading block can be done with any poem.
So I hope that this episode encourages you to find a poem this week, have fun reading it with your students and also intentionally focus on the big five. And if you do that during April, also make a note to do this next year in August and September and October and November and really every single month.
And if you’re also looking for some really super easy poetry resources, then be sure to check out my TPT store, we have an entire poetry unit that teachers absolutely love. It is probably one of my favorite resources that I’ve ever created. It has tons of poems, scripted out lesson plans really fun activities for students.
And a lot of the things that I mentioned in today’s episode are already embedded in those lessons that we provide in that unit. So if you’re looking for really ready to print resources, go check out our poetry unit, you can find it at stellarteacher.com/poetryunit all one word.
And don’t forget, if you want to check out our free sample of our Poem of the Week routine, you can download that at stellarteacher.com/poem. So I will link to both of those in the show notes as well. And I hope you have a stellar week and enjoy reading poetry this month with your students.