“Truly fine poetry must be read aloud. A good poem does not allow itself to be read in a low voice or silently. If we can read it silently, it is not a valid poem: a poem demands pronunciation. Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song.”
—Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights
There is something special about hearing the words of a poem delivered slowly, with perfect emphasis on the right words. Children naturally love the lilt and cadence of poetry, and the best way to get them engaged with poetry is to read it aloud. April is National Poetry Month, and a perfect time to engage children, especially ones who are bored and stuck at home. Silly poems about the things your children love are sure to spark their interest, but your enthusiasm and appreciation for a poem will breathe life into the words on the page.
I used to be intimidated by poems, but there’s no need to be afraid when reading poems aloud to your children. There’s no right or wrong way to read poetry. While reading, it’s helpful to follow the punctuation in the poem and read it slower than you would normally talk. Choosing poems that don’t have too challenging vocabulary will help you and your child understand them. In addition to reading poems aloud yourself, help your children do some of the following things to spark their imagination and love of poetry:
- Explore narrative poetry. Since narrative poems are like stories, they may be easier for your young readers to understand. Much of narrative poetry has a beginning, middle, and end, so drawing pictures about the poem may be a good way for readers to respond to it.
- Memorize silly poems. Some would argue that the best poems are those that play with words or have great rhymes. Memorizing a silly poem is a great way to learn vocabulary and become familiar with wordplay. When learners are done reading silly poems, they can write their own.
- Create poetry in motion. Don’t let that memorized poem go to waste! Acting out poems is a fun family activity that can get the whole family laughing and participating. Encourage your family to perform the poem in different ways to emphasize that poems can have many different meanings depending on which words young actors decide to accentuate.
- Write a poem with a template. Even though there is no wrong way to write poetry, some novice writers may benefit with a template as they build confidence in their writing skills. Use one of the Education.com templates below, or search online for examples of a specific type of poetry to inspire their poems.
- Create a shape poem. Have your child choose a favorite object or animal as inspiration for their shape poem. Read a book or watch a video about the object for more inspiration.
- Read classic poems. The impact of classic poems permeate long after the author has passed. Many classics are free of copyright and easy to interpret with stunning visuals.
- Host a poetry reading night. Culminate National Poetry Month with a poetry get-together. Invite friends that have memorized or written poems. If guests cannot be there physically, they can participate digitally! Livestream the event or host a meeting together so people from around the world can be involved in the poetry night as well. After the first reading, ask some questions and then have the poet reread the poem while listeners focus on deciding on the answer to the questions. Some helpful questions to ask after each reading could include the following:
- Where does this poem start, and where does it finish?
- What else does it make you think or ask yourself?
- What sounds or words caught your attention?
When the reader is finished, ask them, “What did that feel like to read?”
By Jennifer Sobalvarro, who has experience teaching in 3rd and 5th grade classrooms as well as ELL instruction.