Poetry Behind The Scenes– 3rd through 5th Grades: A Four-Part Series

3rd Grade Poets: Ordinary Magic

IN UPPER ELEMENTARY, Poetry continues to be an interactive experience. As children develop their reasoning skills, I give them increasingly challenging forms and techniques. The poet, the scientist, and the detective all share similar traits: they observe, they find clues, they experiment. Bit by bit, the pieces come together.

By third grade, students are familiar enough with poetry to start putting words together in surprising combinations. The results are often fresh and fascinating.

connected sentences

green moment

blue apartment

small life

fly, world

– 3rd grade poet

The idea of painting word pictures takes on a deeper emotional resonance now. We reach inside to feel our feelings and express our thoughts. Movement helps us wake up the brain and encourage such mindful awareness.

We take time to ponder where poems come from: what do we hold inside us that sources our ideas? Is it a place, a color, a particular landscape, a type of weather? Something else?

Third graders explore this notion and then write; under the guidance of Kristy, their art teacher, their words become calligrams, also known as “shape” or “concrete” poems.

After my five lessons with these students, they continue to write with their classroom teachers. Soon we’re getting ready for Poetry Night and working to create a whole-group performance piece! It starts with an original script, based on a style or form we used in class.

Creating the script is literally a hands-on writing and editing process. Third grade poets take their original words, lay them, out rearrange them, and piece them back together!

Poetry Night in third grade involves collaborating with specialists. This year, we’re working with Kristy and Susannah (art), Liza (theatre), plus the third grade classroom teachers on a piece inspired by the fall art curriculum: weaving.

We’re in rehearsals right now. Come see the finished product on Poetry Night!

4th Grade Poets: Exploring Different Voices




the mind

wants to make

– 4th grade poet

In fourth grade, we look closely at patterns, and how to compress ideas into a certain arrangement of words or syllables. Movement helps us feel the beat of the syllables.

We pair random words to see what new images they generate. This student happened to choose “inspire” and “universe” and wrote this poem:

Inspiring the Universe

don’t tell me what to do / says space. I have my own / ways. how about some stars? / NO! how about some light? / NO! how about a night sky? / NO! how about a life or a / heart? I don’t know? NO? YES? / then how about those stars? / share them. how about that / light? give it. how about the / night sky? open it. how about / a heart? show it. how? let / me free! stars, light, night sky / and a heart.

– 4th grade poet

As Poetry Night planning gets underway, we build the group performance piece on one of the forms we’ve already studied. This year it’s the lanterne style, a simple format with a specific syllable count.

The entire fourth grade builds the foundation of the poem, connecting it to their curriculum by writing about the environment. Next, a smaller group collaborates to edit and fine-tune the piece.

Soon we’re ready to work with Kristie (music) and Marissa (movement/dance) to stage a performance piece filled with speakers, movers and musicians.

We couldn’t do such a big production without the creative involvement of the fourth grade teachers!

We hope you’ll be in the audience on Poetry Night, February 19th, at 7:00pm.

5th Grade Poets: Free to Write

In fifth grade, I introduce the “Brain Sweep.” It’s a timed free-write; students have three minutes to put words on the page in whatever manner they choose. Some compile lists of bullet points. Some jot down what they observe in the classroom. Some reflect on what they’re going to do after school. Others pour their hearts onto the page in poetic style.

The only rules are to keep the pencil moving, to avoid editing, and not to think too hard. One more important element: we always begin with one minute of silence: it’s a time for daydreaming and settling the mind.

This year, without any prompting or coordination, a handful of fifth graders wrote frequently about the writing process.

I’m anxious. I’m scared. I have so many thoughts. I’m stuck. But there you are, you’re the thing that brings me up… I can write about anything, an alligator, a bee, but I choose to write about you. My love for poetry. You free my mind and I thank you for that...

– 5th grade poet

Before we know it, it’s time for Poetry Night planning! Our talented young poets contribute ideas, short poems, and editorial suggestions; the spirit of camaraderie and collegiality among these students is truly refreshing.

Soon we’re ready to put it all together with Marissa (dance/fifth grade teacher), Mike and Greg (music), plus Dakota, Liz, and Debbie, the rest of the fifth grade teaching team.

Fifth grade Poetry Night is quite the theatrical experience! This year, we’re going for a Beat Poets vibe with musicians, movers, and speakers, so come along and be prepared to snap your fingers…

Join us in the gym at 7:00pm on February 19th for Poetry Night at The Willows!

To learn more about what Deb does, feel free to check out her website at: www.debstudebaker.com

You can follow her on Twitter: @mindbodypoetry

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