Wednesday / May 22

Purposeful Poetry Can Help Prevent Reading Difficulties 

April is National Poetry Month — but please don’t relegate poems to only one month! Rather, use them all year long tget kids excited about language and to build foundational literacy skills.  

Poems can be used to teach fluency, vocabulary, phonic patterns, text structure, speaking and listening, author study, and comprehension. Most children find poems engaging and enjoy reading, writing, and presenting themPerhaps this is due to the brevity, rhythms, and rhymes of poems, as well as their ability to evoke a wide variety of feelings.  

Set a goal for presenting three or four poems every two weeks – if not a new poem each dayA wide variety allows for choice, differentiation, and a variety of classroom activities. From Shel Silverstein (Falling Up) to Nikki Grimes (Two of a Kind), there’s an author and poem for every child. The Children’s Poetry ArchiveLit2Goand The Poetry Foundation, as well as the books listed below, offer many options of poets and poetry favored by students and teachersAlso, you can find free poems and sound files in the file cabinet at Mark Weakland Literacy 

Poetry Collections for Children   
Naomi Shihab Nye   A Maze Me: Poems for Girls 
Shel Silverstein   Where the Sidewalk Ends 
Nikki Giovanni   Hip Hop Speaks to Children 
Francisco X. Alarcón   Belly Button of the Moon 
Judith Viorst  


Sad Underwear and Other Complications 
Kwame Alexander   Out of Wonder 

Some poems come with a Lexile. But I suggest using your teacher sense to roughly determine the level of a poem and its appropriateness for any  studentWhen choosing, consider vocabulary load, sentence structure, complexity of concepts, total number of words, and number of phonic patterns presented. 

Re-reading Practice for Word Recognition 

When students have strong automatic word recognition, they are less likely to experience reading difficulties. Re-reading is an excellent way to build this critical ability. Here are ways of re-reading in school or at home: 

  • I Read, We Read, You Read 
  • Read and re-read to the wall for two minutes 
  • Read and re-read with a partner (or parent) 
  • Re-read with a whisper phone or paintbrush 

Consider this three-day routine that incorporates a variety of practices: 

First Day (15 to 20 minutes) 

  • Start with an upper-level poem. To build background and vocabulary knowledge before reading, discuss the title and preteach vocabulary words using direct and explicit instruction.  
  • Next, read the poem three times using the I Read, We Read, You Read routineAfter the first read, point out any rhyming words and spelling patterns. 
  • After I Read, We Read, You Read, discuss the poem using shared reading or interactive read-aloud techniques. Pick one instructional focus, such as text-to-text connections, thin and thick questions, or visualizing.  
  • Read a section of the poem, do a think-out-loud (saying such things as “I think the author is trying to...” or “I notice this sentence connects back to the beginning where . . .”), and ask questions, such as “Why did the author use this word and “What is the author trying to say here?” 

Second Day (10 to 15 minutes) 

  • Using  midlevel and lower-level poems, talk about the titles and preteach vocabulary words. Also, point out any rhyming words and spelling patterns. 
  • Next, read each poem three times using I Read, We Read, You Read. If a poem lends itself to movement, fold that into your instruction. Giving students opportunities to move is always a good idea! 
  • After the You Read, ask a comprehension question that centers on your comprehension skills for the week. For example, if I was focusing on text-to-text connections, I might ask, “What do these two poems have in common?” or “How do these two poems relate to the poem we read yesterday?” 

Third Day (10 to 15 minutes) 

  • Pick the appropriate poem for each student and have copies on hand. Also, have additional copies ready in case students want to read and practice other poems. 
  • In a whole-group, keeping the pace brisk and using a poster or smartboard slide, read each poem using I Read and We Read.  
  • Next, assign individual poems for fluency practice. Students receive the poem most appropriate for their reading level. 
  • Using a quiet “1-inch” voice, students practice their poem for a total of two minutes. If in school, students pair up; if online, consider breakouts or ask kids to practice with their mics mutedIf a student says, “I’m done” or stops reading, say, “Practice it again. Time is not up yet.” Prompt students to build expression, phrasing, and accuracy. 
  • Randomly call on students. When called upon, they can either “pass” or present their poem to the class. 
  • After each presentation, directly and explicitly describe appropriate reading behaviors, such as effort, accuracy, phrasing, a strong voice, and expression that demonstrated meaning. Give that student a cheer! 

Personal Poetry Anthologies 

Personal poetry anthologies grow as the months goes by, reflecting a child’s reading preferences. Each anthology poem is an opportunity for students to reread, build fluency, and share their reading. To create an anthology, student puts an already read poem into a binder or folder with their name on it. Give students the option to take a second or even third poem (typically at a different level of difficulty). Thus, after two months some children will have a dozen poems in their anthology while others may have only four or five.

Here are options for reading poetry anthologies: 

  • At your desk or in the cozy chair. 
  • Taking turns with a partner. 
  • With a whisper-phone or paintbrush (For a video demonstration go to Mark’s YouTube channel.) 
  • During shared reading time: 
  • Dramatically present a poem, 
  • Present a poem with buddies, using two or more voices. 
  • End of the month Poetry Slam 

Have fun reading poems in April, during National Poetry Month, but consider presenting and reading them every month: September to May, keep poems in play!  

Written by

Mark Weakland’s book How to Prevent Reading Difficulties, Grades PreK-3: Proactive Practices for Teaching Young Children to Readbrings new energy to teaching high-priority foundational skills. By blending the science of reading with the best instructional practices that lead to authentic reading—the ultimate goal of balanced literacy—teachers can prevent many reading difficulties in preK-3 learners. Mark is a national consultant, teacher, writer, and musician who approaches every endeavor with wonder and creativity. Learn more by visiting his website ( and YouTube channel, and follow him on Twitter @MarkWeakland. 

No comments

leave a comment