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Imagination and Storytelling #3: Performance Poetry #1

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson students learn to tell a story with words and hand movements.  Best on a rainy day, Martin and Archambault’s rain storm masterpiece lets children perform a piece of poetry together.  Children will learn to perform the poem which is perfect to share in an assembly!

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



Students will understand that poetry is a form of expression and that poetry can tell a story.   Students will act out Listen to the Rain with simple hand movements and by controlling the volume of their voices.

Suggested Time:

30-40 minutes

Success Criteria:

As a class, students will be able to perform Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Remind students that in the last two lessons we worked on story sequencing and story mapping.  Today we’ll also work with a story, but it is a story told through poetry.  Also, we won’t make any written notes.  Instead, we will act it out!  Explain to the students that the language in this poem is very beautiful and that it uses some words they might not have heard before.  Explain that poetry is “painting with words.”  Because of this, the story will sound different that most stories.  Challenge the students to listen carefully so that they will be able to bring this poem story to life.

2. Main:

Ask the children what they know about rainstorms.  Key questions might be: What do rain storms look like?  What do rain storms sound like?  What should you do if there is a rain storm coming?  How long can rain storms last?  Can rain storms ever be loud or scary?  They will have a lot of ideas!

Then tell them that two very special people worked on trying to make a rain storm with words. They wanted to choose just-right words that painted a mental picture of the storm.  Ask the children to listen to the poem, especially its unusual language, and see whether they can find out how the authors approached their project.

Don’t’ tell the children this, but Listen to the Rain is a poem with four parts.  It breaks down as:

Whisper – the beginning of the storm

Singing – the onset of steady and consistent rain

Roaring – the height of the storm with thunder and lightning

After-Rain – the ebbing and passing of the storm

As you read the poem through the first time, vary the volume of your voice, intonation, and delivery, to accompany the words.  For example, when you read, “ . . . the dripping, dripping, dropping, the slowly, slowly stopping . . . . . “ be sure you slow your words to mimic the slowing of the raindrops.  You will need to make other adjustments to your delivery.  Be creative and do your best.

Probably only a few children will understand the poem’s “crescendo” structure and that the “crescendo” structure fits a rainstorm.  Work with them until they understand these concepts.  You will need to go back and reread sections to help them understand how the poem mimics a complete rainstorm.

To help the children internalize the language, have them perform this poem.  I usually have the children sitting in a circle on the floor.  Show them how to use their fingertips to make sprinkles, splashes, and lashing rain.  Show them how to make thunder (a big clap) and lightning (ten fingers blinking).

Once you have agreed on the movements, have the children perform the poem with you.  Read a line of the poem and have the children repeat the words while making the actions and sounds.  The start of the storm should be quiet and gentle.  The pitter-patter part should be normal finger strikes against their laps.  The height of the storm is much louder and much more animated!  Then, they’ll need to pull the volume and movements back in for a hushed, after-the-storm wind down.

Perform the poem with them at least twice until they understand that the poem builds a storm as a crescendo, but that the storm, once over, leaves the world clean, fresh, and quiet.

3. Conclusion:

Congratulate the children on their first-ever effort at performance poetry.   Ask them if they think they would like to try writing a poem like this one.  Ask them how the descriptive and unusual language makes them feel.  If possible, help them perform this piece at an assembly or for their families.

  1. Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault.
  2. Recording of a rain storm (optional).

I have used this lesson many times over the years, always with excellent results.  The kids usually don’t understand the story at first.  You must really work with them to help them understand that the storm begins slowly, builds, rages, then breaks and fades away.  Once they understand it, though, they are eager to “perform” the storm and act out the different stages of the weather.

This lesson is best taught on a rainy day.  It could also be used in a poetry unit, a weather unit, or this unit on imagination and storytelling.  If you want to teach the poem and it’s not actually raining, it helps to have a recording of a rainstorm playing as the kids come into the library.  They will hear something unusual and will quiet down immediately!

Recommended books for this lesson:

Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by James Endicott

Key Terms:

Rain, Storms, Poetry, Descriptive Language, Word Choice, Weather, Rainbows