Teaching Poetry in Kindergarten

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

It can be intimidating to work on something as complex as poetry with young children, but kindergartners really benefit from engaging with poems. This lesson will give you some ideas about how and why you might use poetry with your kindergarten students.

Why Poetry?

Ms. Castle is an experienced kindergarten teacher whose students always love her and learn so much in her classroom. This year, one of Ms. Castle's professional development goals has been to incorporate more poetry into her practice with students. Her school principal asked her to explain her rationale for this goal, and Ms. Castle explained that poetry is a beautiful form of literature that can bring students together to discuss important themes while also providing them with a strong literacy foundation. Teaching students how to read and appreciate poetry sets them up well as literate individuals who understand the beauty and meaning of written language. Ms. Castle also reminds the principal that the concepts embedded in poetry, like rhyme, alliteration, personification, and imagery, are foundational to decoding, comprehension, and fluency--the backbones of good reading. Finally, she explains, poetry can be so much fun, and there is a tremendous amount of multi-cultural, interesting, and humorous poetry available for young children to enjoy.

Poetry and Read-Alouds

Ms. Castle begins her incorporation of poetry by using more poems during read-alouds, the times of day when she reads to her students while they listen and discuss. Ms. Castle chooses short and engaging poems for her read-alouds. When she reads poetry to children, she always reads the same poem at least twice. The first time, she asks them to simply listen. The second time, she asks them engaging questions such as:

  • How is this poem different from a story?
  • What exactly did you like and dislike about this poem?
  • What do you think this poem was about?
  • What special tricks did the poet use to make this poem beautiful or special?

Through reading poetry aloud, Ms. Castle teaches her students about the aesthetics, or inner beauty, of poetry. In contrast to listening to picture books, listening to poetry is often largely about the appreciation of beautiful language. This capacity for appreciation will serve Ms. Castle's kindergartners well as independent readers and writers.

Poetry and Shared Readings

Next, Ms. Castle begins incorporating poetry into her shared readings, or works that she and her class read aloud together. She projects poetry on her Smartboard or on a large chart paper that the whole class can see. Ms. Castle reads the poem out loud once with a pointer, then asks her class to join in for the next several readings. Shared reading of poetry is a great way for students to begin to get more familiar with conventions of written language and grow more fluent as oral readers. When her class reads a poem together in this way, Ms. Castle might have them do the following activities:

  • Highlight or notice high-frequency words or particular spelling patterns in the poem
  • Try reading the same poem multiple times using different voices or intonations
  • Talk as a class about themes or ideas the poem evokes for them

Shared reading of poetry is significant in kindergarten as both a literacy activity and a way of building stronger community in the classroom. Before too long, Ms. Castle finds herself incorporating a new poem into shared reading every week! She gives students copies of their class poems to take home in a special poetry folder for practice.

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