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Poetry #1: Painting with Words, An Introduction to Poetry

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students learn what poetry is and that poetry is meant to evoke emotion.  They also learn where to find the library’s poetry collection.  Classroom teachers typically take a more traditional approach to poetry through its forms, number of syllables, rhyme, or structure.  I usually teach a less structured and more literary approach and emphasize that poetry is “painting with words.”  Help your children “paint with words” by connecting them to masterpieces of the genre and showing them how to enjoy a new form of language.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



Children will understand that poetry is a special kind of writing designed to evoke emotion, and that poets “paint with words.”  (AASL 1.2.3, “Demonstrate creativity by using multiple resources and formats.”)

Suggested Time:

35-45 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each child will understand the poetry is different from prose because the poet uses specially chosen words (according to meaning, sound, and rhythm) to evoke an emotional response.  Each child will understand that poetry is “painting with words.”

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Ask the children a few of these thinking questions and scribe their responses on a board or flipchart paper at the front of the room:

  • What is poetry?
  • How is poetry different from regular writing?
  • What does poetry sound like?
  • What do poets work with? (Answer:  Words or language)
  • Who can be a poet? (Answer:  Anyone)

If the teacher has already covered this material in a “tuning-in” lesson, don’t take too long.  Just elicit enough responses to make sure that the kids are engaged.

If they have not yet “tuned-in” with the homeroom teacher, simply collect their ideas in a graphic organizer.  Put the word “Poetry” in the middle and work from there.  If you use Padlet, ask the children to post sticky notes in response to these questions.

2. Main:

Explain to the children that today they will listen to three poems and that they should be able to explain the difference between the poem and the same ideas expressed in non-poetic form.  In other words, talk about the difference between poetry and regular prose or regular spoken language.  Also, explain that after you share three poems, they will have a chance to browse through some of the library’s poetry collection and find a poem to share with a friend or with their families.

I typically choose three poems to share with the children.  I find that we only have time for three, especially given the emotional connection the kids may have to the material.  These are the poems I often use: 

  1. The Purple Cow by Gelett Burgess (nonsense poem, rhyming and unusual meaning)
  2. Although I Conquer All the Earth, a poem from the Sanskrit (love poem)
  3. I Met A Dragon Face to Face by Jack Prelutsky (reading and Imagination)

I start with The Purple Cow because it is hilarious and grabs their interest.  This poem is so short that the kids should be able to learn it by heart in just a few minutes.  After they have heard it and tried it themselves, ask them open-ended questions such as:

  • Why do people enjoy this poem?
  • Why is it funny?
  • What does it make you think about?
  • How would someone who is not a poet convey the same idea? Which way is more effective, poetry or normal speech?

I always emphasize the part about non-poets.  In this example, a person who is not a poet might say, “I’ve never seen a purple cow.  I don’t want to be a purple cow.”  That is plain and boring!  But, as a poem, it is delightful!  A poet’s skill with words makes all the difference.

I follow the funny poem with the love poem, Although I Conquer All the Earth.  Explain that they are hearing the voice of a very important and powerful man, a man who is traveled widely, who is probably very rich, and who probably holds political power.  I usually say that this rich, powerful conqueror has one treasure that means more to him than anything in the world, then I leave the kids try to guess what it is.  Usually they guess a jewel or a lot of gold.  Allow them a few guesses, then share the love poem.

Afterwards, ask the children:

  • How does this man feel about his wife?
  • Do you think he misses her while he is away?
  • How could one person be so precious to another person?
  • Are people easy to replace? How precious are people?
  • Could a person be more precious than jewels and gold?
  • How does this poet structure his poem? (Answer: He focuses or telescopes in, from the wide to the narrow.  His words focus our attention on the single woman about whom this poem was written.)

Point out that this poem uses very simple, straightforward language.  A non-poet might have written, “I love my wife more than anything.”  What is more powerful, the poem or the sentence?

Finally, I like to close with I Met A Dragon Face to Face by Jack Prelutsky.  Go through a similar routine of sharing the poem with the children.  Then ask, “What is this poem about?”  (Answer:  How reading can give us imaginary adventures.)  Ask the children, “What is more powerful?  A teacher like me saying, “Hey, reading is really exciting!” or a poem like this one?”

3. Conclusion:

Remind the children that they have heard three poems: a funny poem, a love poem, and a poem about reading.  Ask which they like more, the poems or the same ideas expressed as normal sentences.  What is it about poetry that is so special?

Explain that poetry is like painting with words.  A poet uses carefully chosen words, rhythms, and sometimes rhymes to make the language special.  Poets must work and work with the language to get it to come out just right.  People write poetry in many languages, not just English!

Encourage the children to have a look at the library’s poetry collection and to share a poem with a friend.  When the kids leave, as their exit ticket, ask “What is poetry?”  Each child should give the answer, “Painting with words.”

  1. Copies of three poems that have touched you and that you feel the children could relate to. I have suggested three, but you should choose three that you feel would best match your own students.
  2. Some of the library’s poetry collection, gathered and attractively displayed where the children can easily access the materials.
  3. poetry4kids.com by Ken Nesbitt.

Try to avoid using a Shel Silverstein poem in this first lesson.  His work is fabulous, but I use it in a following lesson.

Some countries recognize National Poetry Month, National Poetry Day, or a National Poet Laureate.  Check your country to see what poetry celebrations and festivals might be available.  This unit is often taught in the spring.  In the U.S.A., National Poetry month is celebrated in April, so there are even more resources and events then.

The most comprehensive web site for help with teaching poetry to children is Ken Nesbitt’s www.poetry4kids.com.  Ken Nesbitt is a prolific writer and teacher of poetry.  Not only can you find poems, but you can find dozens of lesson plans on poetry!  Here is a link to his lesson plans in case they would help you or your teachers:  http://www.poetry4kids.com/lessons/poetry-writing-lessons/  If you are ever stuck for a poetry lesson or activity, go to Ken Nesbitt!

Some school libraries have quite old and dated poetry collections.  If this is the case in your library, take the time to read a few reviews and update your collection.  In the Recommended Books section, I’ve listed a few of my students’ favorite poetry books.

Finally, I have attached a reflection sheet for the Jack Prelutsky Poem, I Met a Dragon Face to Face.  I find that the children like to follow along, see the words, and perform the poem themselves.  You can use this or not, include the reflection questions or not, depending on your timetable and the kids’ interest.

Recommended books for this lesson:
  1. Good Books, Good Times! Collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson.  (Includes I Met A Dragon Face to Face by Jack Prelutzsky.)
  2. Links to two of the three poems I have recommended:
    1. The Purple Cow by Gelett Burgess: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/purple-cow
    2. I Met A Dragon Face to Face by Jack Prelutzsky: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/i-met-a-dragon-face-to-face/
  3. Text to Although I Conquer All the Earth from the Sanskrit:

Although I conquer all the earth,

Yet for me there is only one city

In that city there is for me

Only one house

And in that house, one room only

And in that room, a bed

And one woman sleeps there

The shining joy and jewel of all my kingdom.

  1. An assortment of your library’s poetry collection. Pull collections by specific poets as well as anthologies of collected poems.  Remember to include nursery rhymes!  A few of our favorites include:
    1. See You Later, Escalator: Rhymes for the Very Young by John Foster.
    2. The Fish Who Could Wish by John Bush and Korky Paul.
    3. Eric Carle’s Animals, Animals by Eric Carle.
    4. Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin and Lois Ehlert
    5. Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom! by Bill Martin and John Achambault, illustrated by James R. Endicott.
    6. A Pizza the Size of the Sun by Jack Prelutzky.
    7. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Rex Adam.
    8. Sling a Jammy Doughnut by Joan Poulson (author) and Kelly Waldeck (illustrator)
Key Terms:

Poetry, Children and Poetry, Children’s Poetry, Humorous Poetry, Love Poetry

Reflection Sheet, I Met a Dragon Face to Face