Poetry Unit


Grades 4-6





















This unit is designed specifically for the group of children I am working with this year. They are a class of 5th and 6th graders, most of whom come from homes where English in not spoken.  In this class of 26 children, 10 different languages are spoken.  Because most are still acquiring English, the level of literacy and oral language is about 2 years below their actual grade level.  Poetry has been low on the list of priorities for these children so, for many, this will be their first lengthy exposure to poetry.


 Each lesson is designed to take one to two days with plenty of time allowed for exploration.  I have included a variety of lessons, some address technique and some address form, intended to give the students a kind of crash course on poetry and variety of experiences.


          Elements of Instruction


Listening to poetry


Reciting poetry


Looking at poetry


Writing poetry


Sharing poetry


This is not a linear progression but one that circles back to include all elements.









Table of Contents



What is Poetry?                                                               1


What Does a Poem Look Like?                                  3


What is a Simile (Metaphor)?                                     4


Color Poem                                                                  7


What is Imagery?                                                          9


What Are Powerful Words?                                        13


Haiku                                                                            15


What is Voice?                                                             19


What is Revision?                                                        23


Personality Poem                                                         29


Bibliography                                                                 31










What is Poetry


Objectives:  Children will be able to create their own definition of poetry


Materials:     Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog

Writing journals

                   Books of poetry




1.   Begin the class by reading Love That Dog which will serve as read aloud for this unit.  It is the story of a boy who learns to use poetry to express his feelings. 


Then have children write for a few minutes in their journals about poetry.  Ask the questions:

What is poetry?

Do you like poetry?

Have you ever written poetry?

Then as a class take responses and record them on the board or large sheet of paper.  Keep this up as the unit progresses.    


2.     Begin by reading a few poems out loud to the class.  Read each poem twice.  If there is a rhyme scheme to the poem, leave out the second rhyming word and have the students supply the word as you read.  This helps them with listening skills as well as rhythm and rhyme.


3.     Distribute books around the class and ask students to look through the books and select one or two they like.  In small groups, have the students read them to each other.  Students should read their poem twice.


4.     Then ask each student to select one of those poems and write in their journals about why they liked it.  They should address the subject matter, the sound, what images it produces in their minds. 


Model this by selecting one of your own and explaining why you liked it.  A good one for this is the illustrated version of Robert Frost’s poem, ”In Snowy Woods.”


Ask them to then look back at their definition of poetry and see if they want to add or change it.


Homework:  Memorize a poem to share with the class.  Students can be called upon during the day to share their poems with the class.  This is good for those minutes before lunch and to start each poetry session with.  Have students recite the poem twice through.





















What Does a Poem Look Like?


In my experience, one of the hardest things for children to do is to create a poem that looks like a poem and not a paragraph.  By being able to establish the line early on in their writing, editing comes much easier and students see themselves as poets.


Objectives:  Students will see the importance of establishing the line in poetry.


Materials:     Copies of famous speeches, i.e., “I Have a Dream”

                   Encyclopedias and Recipes




1.     After a few students share poems they have memorized, read the next section of Love That Dog placing on the overhead, a copy of the text as it is being read (it is written in free verse) providing a near point copy for those that need it.  Brainstorm with students why the author chose to write it this way and why she established the line where she did.  Then give pairs of students copies of a portion of the novel (a part you have already read) you have transferred to standard narrative text.    


Have students change the narrative version you gave them into a poetic version.  Ask them to be able to justify why they broke the line where they did.  Compare their versions with the original.


2.     Brainstorm with students the importance of establishing the line.  Ask why the author established the line where she did in Love That Dog. Have them add any new information they have gathered to their definition of poetry.  Add suggestions to the class definition.


3.     Next give students copies of previously selected speeches, encyclopedia articles, recipes, etc. and ask them to turn them into poetry by establishing a new line.  These are called “Found Poems.”  Model how this is done by doing one as a class on the overhead.



Homework:  Create a Found Poem from a section of your independent reading book.


What is a Simile (Metaphor)?


Students are often able to identify similes if they are read to them but have more difficulty picking identifying them on their own and even more difficulty creating them. They tend to look for any statement that contains the word “like” or “as” and/or make comparisons that absolutely no sense or create no mental picture when extended.  For instance, they could say, “Love is like a turnip” but have no idea why.


Objective:  Students will be able to identify and use similes as a poetic technique.


Materials:     Books of poetry

                   Using Picture Books to Teach Literary Devices




1.     Read from Love That Dog.  This novel has few similes or metaphors but the poems cited in the novel do.  Ask a few students to recite poetry they have memorized.  Listen for any similes in those poems.  If there are any, point them out during the second recitation.  Point out how similes, and metaphors, can add to the mind movie of a poem and enhance understanding.


Students should already be familiar with the definition of a simile and metaphor since they are both taught in our reading program.  Just as reinforcement, however, use the suggestions in Using Picture Books to Teach Literary Devices to review with students. If they need more reinforcement in creating similes, read a few more from the book but stop short of making the simile and ask students to create it and extend them.


2.     Pass out the poetry books and ask students to find and identify similes and/or metaphors on their own.  Many of my students, at this stage, will need the “like” or “as” to help them out.  Metaphors may not be concrete enough for them.


3.     Practice writing similes by doing a self-portrait along the following pattern:



My___________________is like______________________



My___________________are like_______________________________



My ___________________ is___________________________________


My heart holds_______________________________________________


That is ________________________ as__________________________


I live in ___________________________________________________


And eat____________________________________________________


I live in a __________________________________________________


An eat ____________________________________________________

Here is one I would use as an example and ask the students to guess who it is:


My hair is like steel

That gleams in the summer sun.

My eyes are like lasers

That can bore into your soul.

My laughter is a song

That sings through the halls.

My heart is as big

As a giant cuddly bear.

I live in a portable

And eat fourth graders.


4.     To further reinforce the use of similes and metaphors, have students write several more poems suggesting a pattern such as:

Feelings: When I am happy 

              I feel like______


              When I am sad

              I feel like _____


              When I am afraid

              I feel like______


              When I am sad

              I feel like______


Remember to have the students extend their similes or metaphors,

              When I am happy

              I feel like deer

              Running in an open field


              When I am sad

              I feel like a basketball

              That needs air.






1.  One year I gave students the topic, ITBS (the name of our standardized test) and asked them to create similes for it.  Since they all had definite thoughts about it, this was not difficult.  We then made a large group poem about the ITBS and hung it in the hallway.  Some of the similes were:

          The ITBS is like eating a watermelon,

          You spit out the information like seeds until its done.


          The ITBS is like my grandmother’s vegetable soup

          You can’t wait until it is finished.


2.  Another idea is to draw the shape of a star on a large sheet of tag board, then cut it up into puzzle like pieces, giving one to each student or pair of students.  Ask them to write about stars, making a simile out of it as a clue to what the shape is.  Then put the pieces together to make the shape.  You can either tell the students







Color Poems


This lesson can be used after exploring similes and metaphors or after looking at imagery.  It is based on the book Hailstones and Halibut Bones.


Objectives:  Students will write poetry about a particular color.


Materials:     Hailstone and Halibut Bones

                   My own poem, “Blue”


1.     Read a few poems from Hailstones but don’t mention the color when reading the poetry.  Let students try to guess what color is being described.  Point out any similes and/or metaphors during the second read through.


2.     Model brainstorming about a color by examining one of the poems from this book.  Write on the board senses, feelings, thoughts, images, etc. and dissect one of the poems writing under each heading the images from the poem.


3.     Ask students to select a color and make a similar graphic organizer brainstorming all they can about their color.  At this point I would share my own poem “Blue” and all the brainstorming and images I came up with when writing this poem.  Ask them to treat their color freely, listing anything that comes to mind, referring back to exercises we do as a class on brainstorming (see notes under the Powerful Words lesson).


4.     Students are then free to write a poem about their color.  They can be published on construction paper of that color with images from magazines, etc. of that color, a bit like a collage.













The heavy sound of a lonely sigh

And Toni Morrison’s poetic eye.


So flows the great Danube River

And the quiver in an ice-cold shiver.


Oh! Welcome relief of a summer rain

And the pie plate left with a berry stain.


In honor of June’s second full moon

And the style given a sad, sad tune.


The feeling of an unending gloom

And the Forget-Me-Not’s summer bloom


What name do we give to this fair hue?

Why it could only be the color blue.


31 December 2001











What is Imagery?


It is important for my students to move away from the ease of using forms and structured activities to writing poetry and creating images of their own.  We again bring in the language and use of a mind movie, a device used in reading comprehension.


Objectives:  Students will use poetry to create images in the reader’s mind.


Materials:     Poetry books

                   My own poem, “Dragon”



1.     Read Love That Dog. Ask students to make a picture in their minds while reading.  Have students continue to recite poetry they have memorized and point out the imagery that the poems present (if any does).  Ask students if any of the poems they memorized have strong images. 


2.     Discuss with students what imagery is, making pictures in your mind. How is this different from humorous poems, limericks, etc.  Share with students poem that produce images, examples can be found the books listed in the bibliography.  Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening” can be shared again here.


3.     At this point I would share with the students the poem I wrote about the hike I took with them at our Outdoor School earlier in the year.  I would ask them to close their eyes and see if they can imagine how and when I got the idea for this poem.  I would then go through the process of how I came to this poem.


4.     Help them begin writing by closing their eyes and waking up in their favorite place and ask these questions: 

What is the first thing they hear?  

How do those sounds help us identify where this place is?

What do you smell?

What kind light is there? 

How is the light getting there, through a window, trees, etc.

Can you associate a color to this place?

What feeling does it give to your skin?

Now open your eyes and describe what you see.  The poem can begin “I awake to . . . “.


5.     We use lots of graphic organizers in my class.  If necessary, before having them write independently (Step #4), I would have them first close their eyes, and have them wake up in a place with in we have a common experience such as the classroom or lunchroom.  We could then brainstorm the different senses that are awakened in these situations.  I would record them as the students suggest their images.


6.     Have students either continue with Step #4, write an independent poem of an image they may already have in their head, or even revise a poem they have already written adding imagery to it.  For those that are ready for this, I would show them the many drafts of “The Dragon” I wrote before I came up with the images I did.


















The Dragon


Rumbling through the trees

the dragon snakes toward the river

its scales singing like multicolored

jewels in the sun.


Slipping into the ribbon of water

the meandering course struggles

with the wildly writing motion

spilling over its steep banks


The dragon listens to the

river whispering in its ear

“be still” its head and tail

succumb to perfect unison.


As the water deepens the

dragon is contained

undulating with rhythmic flow

a peace comes over the beast.


The current quickens as

the river sniffs its outlet

no longer caged

the dragon roars again.


Revised January 2002



Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.








What are Powerful Words?


Students often use familiar and boring words in their poetry.  This lesson is intended to help them find powerful words to depict an image.


Objective:    Students will use powerful words to write poetry in response to art of Jacob Lawrence


Materials:     Jacob Lawrence post cards – one for each small group

                   A stack of index cards


                   Optional – Music by African American artists of the 30’s and 40’s




1.     Break up students into groups of three or four  (If you want to do the extension of this activity, it works best if two small groups work from the same Jacob Lawrence print.  See Extension at end).  Give each group a stack of index cards and several markers.  For some reason, they like having their own and they like using the different colors.


2.     Pass out one postcard print to each small group.  In silence, ask each group to respond to the print with words or short phrases.  Record those words or phrases on the cards.  (See note below on how I managed this). Allow the class about three minutes to record as many responses as they can.  You can play music during this time but ask the students not to talk with each other.


3.     Once the time is up, ask students to create a poem using only the words and phrases generated by the group.  Using the cards allows them to move words around, change the line, etc., and promotes more cooperation than pencil and paper.I allow students to trade “boring” words, “phrases”, or any repetitions for conjunctions, prepositions, and articles.  I have these written on cards so I can “trade” the students straight across the board. 



4.     After students have arranged their poems, they record them on the larger paper and share them with the class.  It is interesting to see the other students match up the poem with the print.




Once students have written and published their poetry, cut up the postcard print into enough pieces for each member of the group to have one.  It becomes more interesting if you can cut it up into at least six pieces.  Give each student a piece of drawing paper, some art medium (oil pastels work best since the colors are deep and vivid).  Have them scale up their piece of the post card print on to the drawing paper, then piece their drawings together to form a larger version of the postcard print.  This is why I like to have fewer people writing the poem, but more doing this part of the activity, it makes a more interesting puzzle. Their poetry can be displayed along side this larger piece.




If asking students to write the poem individually, I suggest students record all their responses on one sheet of paper.  Then all the responses are accessible to the whole group.  You can work out “trading” words by having them cross out the word traded and adding the new word to the sheet of paper.  If students write as a group, the cards work well as they can move them around, discard some, etc.


I gave students one minute of think time, just studying the print, before I asked them to start recording.  This is a technique my class is familiar with by doing some of the “Spontaneous Response” activities from Odyssey of the Mind.  Doing these activities has helped my students feel comfortable with working together, responding quickly, and thinking out of the box. For my class, this was an introductory activity to poetry.  They needed little direction, quickly got into the activity and were able to generate great words.  I don’t think it would have been so successful, however, if we had not had previous experience with this kind of brainstorming and group work.


This activity was done with my homeroom students, a 5th and 6th grade combination.  Most of the students come from homes where English is not spoken, with about nine different languages in this room alone.  Needless to say, their language needs are very high so I wanted to make this, our first foray together into poetry, as non-threatening as possible (both to the students and myself).  

Previous to this, I had asked students to write in their journals about what they thought poetry was, and to then write a short poem.  Almost all of them said poetry had to rhyme, and if any did write a poem, it was just a few lines such as “Roses are red, violets are blue.”  These kids don’t even know simple nursery rhymes.  This became clear when, before we went to science camp, I tried to teach them a song that was based on familiar nursery rhymes.  The only ones they knew were the “ABC Song” and “Humpty Dumpty.” 

I had to find something that would give them immediate success, involve cooperation, take them away from their traditional way of thinking about poetry, and, if possible, pull from some common experiences.  In library, the librarian had been studying contemporary artists and had done a big unit the previous year on Jacob Lawrence.  The artist we used as the catalyst for the poetry was, therefore, familiar to the students and the format in which it was conducted, also familiar and comfortable (see end notes).  As a result, I think they made some great poems.  I must acknowledge inspiration from Carol Thue, who gave me the extension idea at the end of the lesson, and to the class activity we did creating a group poem from words we were given. 




















After working with powerful words, students might like to write a Haiku.  They are fun to write and give students immediate success.


Objectives:  Students will read and write Haiku


Materials:     Basho and the Fox

                   Copies of Haiku maze from Dr. Alphabet

                   Blank mazes




1.     Read aloud the picture book Basho and the Fox. Discuss with students the definition of Haiku (three lines, five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables) and why that definition may not work with Basho’s poetry (because it was written originally in Japanese which doesn’t translate strictly to English).  Have students give examples of words in English that have different syllables in their native languages.  Some students have trouble with syllabication so at this point we may practice counting syllables (a very fun oral activity).


2.     Pass out copies of the Haiku maze and let students practice making Haiku from the maze.  It is fun to see how far down they can get.  Challenge them to start at different points in the maze.


3.     If interest still seems high, pass out blank copies (actually only partially blank to give them some help) and have them fill in the missing words.  They can easily see some need to be prepositions, some conjunctions, ing words, etc., without having to go through a whole lesson on parts of speech.  Create a new Haiku from this maze and trade with a partner to write a Haiku from their maze.


4.     When it comes time to write original Haiku, ask students who have a second language (in this class that is all but two) to use a word from their language for one of the English words, even if the syllable count is wrong.  Some of the words are far more beautiful in languages other than English.  Most students aren’t literate in their native language but they can spell phonetically.


5.     Students can publish their poetry using drawing paper.  They can use a watercolor wash as the background for their poetry suggesting the images the Haiku explores.
























What is Voice ?


 I want to kill two birds with stone, so to speak, and look at voice as well as personification with this lesson. 


Objectives:  Students will write poetry that uses personification.


Materials:     Books of poetry

                        Using Picture Books to Teach Literary Devices

                   “To a Pencil”

                        A Poke in the I




1.     After reading Love that Dog (a great one for voice, by the way), have students recite poetry they have learned, asking in particular if any have poems that are in the voice of an animal or some other object or describe some animal or object.  Charles Simic’s “The Stone” is a good and can be found on the Internet.  If not, have students look through books to find such poetry or have a few chosen before hand. 


2.     Read students the poem I wrote, “To the Pencil”.  Ask them to identify the voice (Who is reciting the poem?  What is the attitude of the poet?)  If students have difficulty with this concept, review it with Using Picture Books to Teach Literary Devices. 


3.     As a class, select an object and brainstorm the thoughts and feelings this object may have.  Use graphic organizers as much as possible.  It might be helpful to put the object in a specific situation such as I did with “To the Pencil.”  Model a few lines of poetry using the ideas from the class.


4.     Ask the class to select an object they would like to write about.  First identify the voice and audience.  This is a technique we use in all of our rough drafts so should not be unfamiliar with this group (We identify form (poem), audience, voice, and purpose prior to writing any rough drafts).


5.     Prior to writing, have students share their brainstorm with a partner and ask for any input. Have students then turn their brainstorms into a poem that uses personification and voice. 


6.     Students share poetry with the class. 


Note:  At this point in the unit, if students wish to publish their poems, they need to show evidence of revision and students can break up into writer’s groups to help with this process.


As a culminating activity, this may be a good time to share A Poke in the I, a collection of concrete poems, and allow students to publish their poem in the form of a concrete poem.






















To A Pencil


Please find me

Please find me

I’m here

I’m here

Thank you

Thank you



Put me down!

Le me go

Let me go

I’m not yours

I’m not yours






Please save me!


Help me!

Help me!

I’m here

I’m here

I’m found

I’m found










Go inside a stone

That would be my way.

Let someone else become a dove

Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.

I am happy to be a stone.


From the outside the stone is a riddle

No one knows how to answer it.

Yet within, it must be cool and quiet

Even though a cow steps on it full weight,

Even though a child throws it in the river;

The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed

To the river bottom

Where the fishes come to knock on it and listen.


I have seen sparks fly out

When two stones are rubbed,

So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;

Perhaps there is a moon shining

From somewhere, as though behind a hill-

Just enough light to make out

The strange writings, the star-charts

On the inner walls.

              -Charles Simic



What is Revision?


I saved all the brainstorm cards the kids used to write their original poems from the lesson “What is Imagery?” and created one from them to use as a model.  This is at least a two-day lesson.  The first day should probably end after Step 3.


Objective:  Students will revise their poetry.


Materials:     Copies of poetry written from attached lesson to hand out to students.

                        Overhead copies of revisions of my own poetry

                   Poem written with their leftover words

                   Questions for students to use in peer editing




1.     The story line in Love That Dog is not just about introducing poetry to children, or how a boy learns to use poetry to express his feelings, but is also a great lesson in revision.  The boy takes his first attempts at poetry and learns to expand and use the best parts. This would be a good time to point out how he grows as a poet and how he makes some of his poems better.


2.     On the overheard, show students copies of your own stages in writing a poem (mine are attached, even the really sloppy copies).  Model with them what it was that made you want to revise what you did.  Kids love it when you aren’t perfect. Ask students if they have any more suggestions for revision.  I use “The Dragon” because they have some ownership in it.


3.     Then put an overhead copy of the poem you put together with their leftover words and do a whole class revision.  Have students consider the attached questions.  Then hand each student a copy of the group they wrote and try their hand at revision.


4.     Provide students with copies of their revisions to use in writer’s group.  This is a two-day lesson so there would be time to make the copies.  Have them get back into their original groups and go through the process of peer revision.  Our rules are as follows:


a.      Read the piece through once with no comments or writing.

b.     Second time through, peer editors can make written notes.

c.     Each peer editor must comment on the poem, first by saying something he or she liked, then asking questions and making any suggestions.

d.     The author must write down any questions asked of them and the suggestions made.

e.      The author may or may not accept any suggestion.


5.     Students revise and publish their new poems.


Homework:  Revise one of the poems we have written in the unit thus far.
























Questions for Revision:


Do you like the way the poem begins?  Does it draw the reader in right away? 


Is the ending satisfying?  Do you leave the reader hanging or go on too long?


Are the words you use easy to understand? 

Did you use any new words in the right way?

Do you tell instead of show?

Do you have too many unnecessary words?

          the’s, and’s, ing’s

Are your words boring?

          good, fun, really, very


What about the details of your poem? 

Do you give enough details to similes and metaphors? 

Can you expand any of your descriptions?

Are your descriptions clear and easy to understand?


When you read your poem out loud, does it have a sense of rhythm and flow?


Can the reader make a picture I his or her mind?












(first draft)


The dragon snakes toward the river

Its scales reflecting like multicolored jewels

     Singin in the sun.


To contain its energy with the

     Wildly writhing motion.


The ill defined banks struggle to contain

     Its wildly writing motion


     River deepens

     Dragon is contained

     A peace comes over the beast

     As the river finds its outlet

     The dragon roars again.


November 2001











(second draft)


The dragon snakes toward the river

Its scales reflecting like multicolored jewels

Singing in the sun.


To contain its energy within the

          Wildly writing motion.


The ill defined banks struggle to contain

          Its wildly writhing motion.


          River deepens

          Dragon is contained

          A peace comes over the beast

          As the river finds its outlet

          The dragon roars again.


November 2001












The Dragon


Rumbling through the trees

the dragon snakes toward the river

its scales singing like multicolored

jewels in the sun.


Slipping into the ribbon of water

the meandering course struggles

with the wildly writing motion

spilling over its steep banks


The dragon listens to the

river whispering in its ear

“be still” its head and tail

succumb to perfect unison.


As the water deepens the

dragon is contained

undulating with rhythmic flow

a peace comes over the beast.


The current quickens as

the river sniffs its outlet

no longer caged

the dragon roars again.


Revised January 2002



Personality Poem


This is the last formal poetry activity in this unit.  In this activity, I ask students to write about themselves.  Having become familiar with various forms and techniques, this is usually pretty easy for students and the results are always great.


Objectives:  Students will use various poetic devices to write a poem about themselves.


Materials:     Art materials for extension




1.     Discuss with students the various poems they have written.  Review terms (similes, rhyme, etc.) and the kinds of poems we have written.  Discuss the character in Love That Dog and how and why he changed.


2.     Tell students to write a poem about themselves.  Some suggestions for voice, audience, purpose are as follows:


a.      Pretend you are your father or mother.  What would frustrate them and please them about you?

b.     Pretend you are your brother or sister.  What would they want to say about you?

c.     What do you see when you look in the mirror?

d.     What does your best friend think of you when he is mad at you, when she isn’t mad at you?

e.      What are you afraid of, not afraid of – write a poem of contrasts about yourself.


3.     Allow time for students to write.


4.     Share those that students feel comfortable with



Last year, when we did this, we made life sized paper dolls out of cardboard, tracing our bodies for form but using actual measurements.  We make clothes out of construction paper (some students even brought in old clothes) and attached our poems to our bodies.  It was time consuming but very successful. 

Another idea would be to have students do a collage of their faces.  They sketch their faces then fill in with small torn pieces of paper being careful for gradation of color, etc.  When I have done this, it takes less time but the results are kind of like a caricature.