Sharing Poems With Children………. some thoughts and ideas from Caren Stuart
I celebrated this past National Poetry Month (April 2003) by offering to visit my son’s
second grade classroom to share a poem. The teacher was delighted and the kids enjoyed
my sharing so much that I ended up visiting every day in April, May, AND June! My
goal was simply to share something I love with the children. I didn’t “explain” too much
about the poems… just enough for the kids to “get it”. As a result of my 5-10 minute
visits, the kids were introduced to some poems that I love, they became really excited
about poetry as a whole, and I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I
HIGHLY recommend sharing your love of poetry with children. I guarantee that teachers
will appreciate you, children will embrace you, and you’ll be completely delighted with
Here are some comments on my experiences with sharing poetry with second graders.
1- Kids love to see grown-ups being enthusiastic and excited. I explained to the kids
that I love poetry. I love to read it. I love to write it. And I love to share it. I
emphasized that I was NOT going to ask quiz questions after sharing the poems. I
just wanted to share something I’m really crazy about. Period.
2- Before I read each poem, I explained WHY I like the poem. (It might be because
of the meter, the way the poem looks on the page, the story behind the poem, the
images the poem gives me, it’s fun to say aloud, or any number of reasons.) If my
reason for liking the poem introduced a new concept to the kids, I took a brief
moment to explain that concept. (For example: “The alliteration in this poem
makes it fun to say out loud. Alliteration is where the sounds at the beginning of
words are repeated. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers is a tongue
twister because it’s hard to say, but all those beginning “p” sounds are what’s
called alliteration.” The kids especially liked this example because they were
familiar with Peter Piper and now they knew WHY it was so fun to say. They
started looking for alliteration in other places afterwards.)
3- Kids like to participate and contribute when they know they won’t be “scored” on
their remarks. After each poem I shared, hands shot up into the air and I called on
every child. Sometimes they wanted to say what THEY liked about the poem.
Sometimes they asked questions. Sometimes they talked about something that
didn’t seem to have anything to do with the poem at all, but the point was, the
poem triggered SOMETHING in them. When I didn’t have TOO many hands in
the air, I would ask the class, “What did that poem make you think about?”
Almost every child would have an answer and nearly every answer was unique.
Time and again this gave me the chance to point out one of the coolest things
about poetry: since a poem often doesn’t come right out and say EXACTLY what
it’s all about, the reader can bring his own ideas to the poem and take away
something uniquely his own.
4- Kids like to hear about your personal experiences. I told them I’d been writing
poems since I was six years old. I talked about contests I’ve won, places I’ve been
published, opportunities I’ve had to share my work. I showed them certificates of
award, rejection letters, and magazines where my work has appeared. I read them
poems by people I know and told them about those people. I encouraged them to
write their own poems, save copies of them forever, give them to friends and
family members and teachers, and read lots of other people’s poems.
5- Kids can enjoy “grown-up” poems too. While a lot of the poems I shared were
“poems for children”, many were not. Before I read any poem, I would explain
words the children might not be familiar with or contexts they might not pick up
on. (For example: In England at the turn of the last century, many families had
live-in nannies to raise the children. These nannies were “nurses” and the
children’s rooms “nurseries”. A.A. Milne wrote stories and poems for his real life
son, Christopher Robin, peopled with his “nurse”, Alice, and his stuffed bear,
Winnie the Pooh.)
Kids have a natural love of poetry. As adults, we can nurture and encourage this love
in children. Following are some ways I found that worked. (I’ve listed some of the
actual poems I shared, why I picked them, what I had to say about them, and how
they were received.)
Show that YOU love a poem and explain why.
“To Any Reader” by Robert Louis Stevenson from A Child’s Garden of Verses.
Robert Louis Stevenson was born over 150 years ago in Scotland. He wrote
several exciting books that you may have read or heard of or even seen made into
movies like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Treasure Island” and he wrote this
very famous collection of poems called a “Child’s Garden of Verses” which was
one of my favorite books when I was a child. I love this poem because it says to
me that I can see what someone was seeing or hear what someone was hearing or
feel what someone was feeling over a hundred years ago by reading the words
that he wrote down.
Kids love having some background for a book, a story, a poem, or an author.
They were fascinated to hear that people wrote cool stuff THAT long ago, that
book writers can write poems too, that most movies were stories, books, or poems
FIRST, and that if a book is really good, it will be published again and again so
that you can buy a “new” book that was actually written a hundred years ago or
Share a poem that’s funny.
Pretty much anything by Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky.
I didn’t know these poets when I was a kid, but now that I’ve had a son, I’ve
discovered how fun they are.
I explained that Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky have each written tons of
poetry books. Book stores and libraries have lots of great poetry books to check
out. With such an emphasis in the schools on computerized fiction and non-fiction
reading tests, some of the kids didn’t realize that their libraries even have poetry
books that are available to them! I explained that some poetry books are
collections of poems by just one poet and some are anthologies or collections of
poems by many different poets.
Share a poem that’s fun to see on the page.
Poems by Douglas Florian including “Porcupine” from Mammalabilia, and
Inchworm” and “Whirligig Beetles” from Insectlopedia
Douglas Florian is an artist and a poet. He painted the pictures in these books to
illustrate the poems. These are shape poems. The words in a shape poem are put
on the page so that they actually look like what the poem is about or so that they
look like the way the subject of the poem moves.
After explaining what a shape poem is, I showed the painting for the poem,
THEN showed the actual poem, THEN read the poem.
Share a poem that has to be figured out.
“The Wind” by Canaan Taylor in NCPS Award Winning Poems 2002
This poem was written by an elementary school student and won 2nd place in the
NCPS Travis Tuck Jordan contest in 2002. Canaan got an award certificate, a
copy of this cool book with the poem in it, and got to read the poem to a big
crowd at the Awards Day Ceremony in Southern Pines, N.C. I like the poem
because it’s a good metaphor. A metaphor is when you show how one thing is like
another by saying it IS that other thing, not just that it’s “like” the other thing.
For example, if I say, “The sun is a big, orange flower”, that flower is a metaphor
for the sun. I don’t mean that the sun has actually become a flower today. I’m just
describing the sun as being big and orange the way a flower is.
The kids were excited to hear about another kid winning a contest, getting
published, getting an award, etc. They really liked the whole concept of
metaphors and started making up some of their own.
“Tornado” by Jamie Powell in NCPS Award Winning Poems 2002
Jamie was a middle school student who won 2nd place in the Frances W. Phillips
contest in 2002. This poem is a metaphor AND a shape poem. The title and the
shape of the poem give away the metaphor so I’m not going to say the title or
show the poem to you until after I’ve read it. We’ll see if you can guess what the
poem is ACTUALLY about. I’ll give you a hint, it’s NOT about a lion. The lion is
just the metaphor for what it’s really about.
Hands shot up into the air. The kids were really excited that they could figure out
what the poem was about without the poet actually saying it. They were delighted
when I showed them the poem on the page and they could see that it did, in fact,
look like a tornado.
“How To Eat A Poem” by Eve Merriam from A Child’s Anthology of Poetry
Edited by Elizabeth Hauge Sword
I love this poem because it’s a metaphor and the descriptions are so TASTY!
There were LOTS of opinions as to what type of thing this metaphor actually was.
The kids found it hilarious that they had so many different ideas about what Eve
Merriam was trying to say. We agreed that she didn’t mean eating the piece of
paper the poem is written on and we came to the conclusion that it was okay if we
didn’t all agree on exactly what she was comparing the reading of a poem to. It’s
okay if we each have a slightly different take on the poem.
Share a poem with great meter.
“Buckingham Palace” by A.A. Milne in The Complete Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh
This was one of my favorite poems when I was a child and it’s one of my son’s
favorite poems. It was written by A.A. Milne who you know best as the guy who
wrote the Winnie the Pooh stories. Mr. Milne enjoyed writing stories and poems
to entertain his son, Christopher Robin. Many of the stories and poems had
Christopher Robin as well as his friends in them. Winnie the Pooh was
Christopher Robin’s stuffed bear and the “Alice” you’ll hear about in the poem
was actually his “nurse” or nanny who lived with the family. This poem is about
going to see the soldier/guards at Buckingham Palace in England where the King
and Queen live. The great thing about this poem is the meter. Meter means the
beat or rhythm of the poem. This poem has a marching beat that you can help me
with by softly clapping your right hand then your left hand on your legs like
you’re making the marching sounds of the Guards . You’ll hear a pause in the
words at the end of each stanza (which is like a paragraph in a poem) and the
marching will continue for a few beats till I end with “says Alice”. Here’s what
the poem looks like on the page. A.A. Milne showed us that he wanted us to pause
the words but continue the beat by leaving this long space at the start of the last
line in each stanza and by skipping a big space between stanzas. See if you can
keep the same beat or meter with me while I read and see if you can hear the
This was by far the kids’ favorite poem of all the poems I shared. They hounded
me day after day to do it again. We ended up doing it together several times. Kids
LOVE the fun flow of poetry naturally and they were excited to have it identified
as METER and to now know to look for METER as a reason they might like other
poems as well. I’ve copied the first stanza of the poem below with bold print to
indicate where we slapped our legs to mark the meter. I got the kids going with
the steady rhythm for several beats before beginning the poem.
(clap) (clap) (clap) (clap)
They’re changing guards at Buckingham Palace-
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
“A soldier’s life is terrible hard,”
(clap) (clap) (clap) Says Alice.
(clap) (clap) (clap) (clap)
They’re changing guards….. and so on.
I clapped four times between each stanza to keep the same meter going. The kids
loved “helping” me keep the meter of this poem and they loved anticipating when
I’d say “Says Alice” and when I’d start the next stanza.
Share a poem that’s fun to read aloud.
“We’re Loudies” by Jack Prelutsky from A Pizza the Size of the Sun
I like this poem for several reasons. It’s a fun poem to read out loud because it’s
about being LOUD so I’m going to read it LOUDLY. Jack Prelutsky shows us
where to be especially loud by writing the loud words larger than the rest and in
bold print (darker writing). Also, he uses repetition which means repeating and
it’s always fun to repeat yourself. It’s always fun to repeat yourself. Repetition in
poetry can help make a point sink in or it can make the poem flow nicely, like a
song. This poem also uses a lot of alliteration and alliteration is one of my
favorite poetic devices. Alliteration is the repetition (repeating) of the same
beginning sounds in different words, like the “p” sound in Peter Piper Picked a
Peck of Pickled Peppers.
The kids enjoyed my yelling this whole poem. Afterwards, they were anxious to
point out the repetition and alliteration they had heard.
Share a poem that’s a riddle or a joke or has to be figured out in some way.
“I Sailed on Half a Ship” by Jack Prelutsky from A Pizza the Size of the Sky
I love this poem because it has a lot of repetition, the meter is fun, and the rhyme
scheme is interesting. Not all poems rhyme, but for the ones that do, there are
LOTS of different WAYS that they can rhyme. Some poems rhyme at the end of
every line, some rhyme every other line, some poems have INTERNAL rhyme
which means there are words in the middle of some of the lines that rhyme. When
you find poems that you like, see if you can figure out the rhyme scheme. The
MAIN thing I like about this poem though, is that it got better AFTER I read it the
first time. On the first reading, it seems like a nonsense poem but after I read it a
few times, I found its secret. If you take something away from the poem, it actually
makes sense! I’ll read it the way it’s written and see if you can figure out what we
can take away to make it make sense.
After I read the poem, there were a few ideas about the “secret” but nobody hit on
it exactly so I told the kids if they had time in the next week or so, they could look
at the poem in the book and see if they could figure it out. By the next day, it was
driving the kids nuts so I gave it away and told them if you take the word “half”
away from the poem, it all makes sense. I read the poem without the “half”s and
everyone was immensely satisfied. I’ve written the first part of the first stanza
below to give you an idea how this worked.
I sailed on half a ship
On half the seven seas,
Propelled by half a sail
That blew in half a breeze.
The next day I shared a poem I had written called “I Only Took a Half a Look”. I
explained to the kids that I actually saw what I describe in the poem on the way
home from school the day before and I was inspired by Jack Prelutsky’s poem. I
challenged the kids to listen to my poem and see if they could figure out what I
Here’s the poem:
I Only Took a Half a Look by Caren Stuart
It was just a half a day ago,
I saw a half a house, you know,
from just a half a mile away.
I had a half a mind to say-
out loud, “I see a half a house!
In half a parking lot!”
I wondered why a half a house
was there and half was not.
But then I saw that half a house
was on a half a set of wheels
and on the side it said WIDE LOAD.
What things a second look reveals!
It only took the kids a few “off” guesses before they figured out that I was
describing a half of a modular home or mobile home on wheels parked in a
parking lot. I explained how one of the fun things about poetry is that a lot of
times, the poet doesn’t tell you EXACTLY what he or she is talking about and
you get to figure it out on your own. The kids were excited to hear a poem that I
(someone they now knew) had written. They were tickled that I wrote it as a result
of reading a poem by someone else (which they had all heard the day before) and
they liked the fact that it was about something I had actually seen after leaving
school the day before. They were excited to realize that they’d just heard a poem
about something which they too had seen.
Share some haiku!
Haiku Moment An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku edited by
Bruce Ross is an excellent source for a variety of modern haiku
The kids surprised me with their enthusiasm for haiku. I explained haiku simply:
as a type of poetry that has a lot of rules but basically, it’s a VERY short poem
that deals with some aspect of nature or human nature and it doesn’t have a title.
Naturally, the kids all wanted to come up with titles for the haiku I shared. And
everyone wanted to tell “what the poem made me think about”. VERY interesting.
The kids were amazed that such a short work could make so many people think of
so many different things. I was also amazed, and took the opportunity again to
emphasize that since poems often don’t say EXACTLY what they mean, the
reader gets to bring his own interpretation to the poem. As it turned out, the haiku
were VERY popular with the class. The kids were VERY excited to be able to
translate so few words into such big personal associations.
The time I spent sharing poems with second graders could NOT have been better
spent. My own enthusiasm for poetry multiplied after experiencing the
enthusiasm of the children.
If you love poetry, share your love with some young people.
I hope this inspires you.
You can inspire others.