Much of learning new content is learning new vocabulary. I am excited to share with you my secret strategy for getting students to write using these new words: poetry. Most people think of poems as writing that rhymes, but there are dozens of poetry forms that use different syllables and parts of speech. Even my most reluctant writers are willing to attempt these forms.
For the last few years, I have been exploring forms of poetry that fit with my science and social studies units. I use a planning worksheet to help my students increase their vocabulary. I encourage them to use tools such as a dictionary and thesaurus to expand their word bank. Here are three examples of using poetry in a content area.
When studying Arctic Animals, I used poetry as a response. You can download a set of worksheets I used here. The first page has a collection of vocabulary words from a study of the Arctic habitat. The next two pages are sorting sheets for number of syllables and parts of speech. Students can cut and paste the words or write them. The final page lists two poetry forms and a sample of each.
For other topics, I use a similar procedure. As a class, I have them brainstorm a list of words or short phrases that go with a set topic. We work through the list together creating one class poem. Then I give some time for partners to work on the form. Finally, I have students try the form on their own.
Another form of poetry that works well with content reading and writing is the clerihew. A clerihew is a humorous four line poem about a famous person. The end of the first line contains the name of the person. The second line rhymes with the first. The third and fourth lines rhyme and tell more about the person. Here is an example:
A team named Lewis and Clark
Decided they’d make their mark
They journeyed across the land
And returned later than they planned.
This type of poetry is appropriate during a unit on biographies. Students research their famous person and use this poetry form to tell something important about this person’s contribution to history.
Rhyming poetry works well for science words that end in -tion or -sion. For example, consider this quatrain that is based on the water cycle:
Water Cycle Poem
When water disappears, that’s evaporation.
When water reappears, that’s called condensation.
When water falls from the sky, that’s precipitation
Now you know the water cycle, by my recitation.
When teaching students to write poetry that rhymes, I always start with couplets. Some students struggle with the idea that the two lines need to have the same meter or rhythm.
Once the poetry is complete, I have had students share poems in a sharing circle or as a piece of artwork. When someone reads a poem, it is traditional to snap ones fingers in appreciation instead of clapping. My students enjoy this tradition.
I have found that integrating poetry in the content areas stretches my students as writers. Shorter pieces with deep meaning are much tougher to write than the endless unorganized paragraphs students this age write. I find that even reluctant writers are willing to try these short pieces. Also, I can teach all sorts of language lessons: personification, metaphors, similes, parts of speech, syllabication, and using dictionaries.