Writing poetry with children is delightful for all involved in the process.
Step one: read poetry to children. Lots.
Step two: give them the guidelines. Poetry does not have to rhyme. Poetry may rhyme. Sometimes. A few of my favorite types of poems to teach to children and teens include: haiku, limrick, cinquain, color poems, spanglish poems, comparison poems, superhero poems, question poems, wish poems, dream poems, prose poems, stream of consciousness poems, acronym poems and ecopoetry. More on these in future learning activity blog posts here on EnlightenEd.
For today’s lesson, we will use the “I Used to Be / But Now I” structure.
Here is my model:
I Used to Be an Eraser, but Now I am the Pen.
I used to be a teacher, but now I am a learner.
I used to watch a lot of TV, but now I see television for what it is.
I used to do yoga, but now I practice mindfulness.
I used to have a little black dog but now I have a long black cat.
I used to live in Texas, but now I live in Guatemala. I leapt over Mexico to get here on my rainbow-colored unicorn, Stacey.
I used to be a daughter, and now I am a mother, too.
I used to be a sneaky trickster but now I am nonviolent and loving.
I used to work at Life but now I live Life.
Step three: let them write! Tell them not to worry about spelling or punctuation or making sense or sounding perfect. Let them write in pencil, pen, marker, crayon. Let them paint their poem.
Step four: let them share. If they want to. In partners, small groups or the whole group. Let them show what they did. Let them read it out loud. Let their voices be heard.
Step five: let them revise and edit.
Step five: let them publish and select what to write next.
By “publish,” I mean make a final copy, in digital and/or analog form, to conclude the work on any particular poem. Put it into a personal portfolio. Publish a class collection as an anthology. Hang it on the refrigerator with your best magnet. Submit it to the New Yorker. Hold a poetry slam. Serve juice and cookies.
Writers (of all ages) write best when they are choosing what to write. Let them choose what to write next. Another poem. A story. A letter. A comic strip. An essay. Another poem.
Now you try! Write a poem with eight lines or more using the general structure of “I used to ___, but ___.” Share it in a comment or email if so inspired!
Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Poetic Freedom – a collection of student poetry compiled by Michelle Margaret Fajkus