Teaching Poetry in Upper Elementary with a Guided Approach

One way to overcome the poetry mountain is by teaching poetry in upper elementary with a guided approach that includes examples and templates.

I often read articles and see news clips about people climbing mountains, and I wonder how they knew what to train for.

Obviously, they knew they would need to train physically for the hike by taking regular smaller hikes, lifting weights, and general survival training, but how did they know what to expect or how to prepare for the elements?

The truth is, even professional hikers, who do the biggest climbs, need help.

In fact, many people who choose to do a great climb (like Everest) will seek out and hire a guide (called a Sherpa) to help them work their way through the terrain and manage the harsh conditions.

Sometimes teaching our poetry unit is like trying to hike a mountain. For many students, they don’t even really want to think of it. Like me, they have no interest in hiking “Everest” (aka poetry). They are afraid of all the details and rules, and they have a general unease of the unknown. 

They are afraid of having to put themselves out there only to fail. It is not uncommon for many students to feel very insecure about writing poetry. It is an art form, and people (students and adults alike) get very protective and conflicted when it comes to their art.

Like those hikers who hire Sherpas with the hope that their guide will help them to summit Everest, our students need a guide; someone who understands the rules and what to expect. Someone who can help them along by showing them what path to take.


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Teaching Poetry in Upper Elementary with a Guided Approach

Teaching poetry in upper elementary with a guided approach means to support students with examples and templates as they try out each poetry type.

In general this 3 step approach: rules, example, template, gives students time to consider each poetry type, see and reverse engineer an example, and then try their hand at writing in that poetry style within a safe environment.

Teach poetry in upper elementary

When I designed the Pockets of Poetry Activity (a Poetry Accordion Envelope Book), I considered these steps and made sure to include them for each poetry type included in the book. Not sure what an accordion envelope is or how it’s made? Check out this blog post!

Note: The Pockets of Poetry Accordion Envelope Book includes details, examples, and templates for each of the following: Limerick, Haiku, Cinquain, Acrostic, Shape, Diamonte, and Free Verse. There is also a pocket with examples of common poetic devices.

Poetry is an Art Form

Poetry is an art form that requires both creativity and an adherence to rules. It is the juxtaposition of these two pieces that can cause students to struggle to find balance.

Poetry often makes students uncomfortable and reluctant because it looks daunting. Also, poetry is often very personal, and students feel uncomfortable expressing themselves through it.

Giving our students specific models with step-by-step instructions helps to put them at ease. By breaking down the different types of poems, their unique rules, giving examples, and then providing specific guides to help them create their first example, the task of writing poetry feels more doable and the environment is more controlled.

Making Poetry Fun is Step #1

Poetry can be a lot of fun, and there are many ways to make even the most rigid of poems…hello Haiku… a lot of fun. Here are 3 ways to ease the stress, but also keep the emphasis on the learning!

#1 | Colorful Print-outs and Notes

Take the time to print out the pieces of the Poetry Accordion Envelope Book in color. Use different colors for each type of poem, and then use those colors as the inspiration for that poem the first time you write an example. For example, if you print out the Haiku part in green, then your first drafts of a Haiku could be about (or related to) the color green or something that is commonly green. Here is a little example I ‘cooked’ up for this post.

I eat the tops off

Munching on tiny green trees

Healthy broccoli


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Clearly this is not a lovely nature inspired haiku that is going to rock anybody’s socks off, but it is silly and sometimes our students need a little silly to help ease the discomfort of getting started.

#2 | Choose a Common Theme

Sometimes the biggest hang-up is just getting started. Take away that issue by pre-assigning themes for students to write their poems about. It is okay if every one of the first drafts have to do with winter. That topic (or any other relevant topic) can be used to practice and get started. Then, once students are warmed up and feel more comfortable, they can select their own topics.

#3 | Dramatic Poetry Readings

Again, we are aiming to create a safe, comfortable space for our students to be creative, so why not drive that home with a dark, suspenseful poetry reading complete with dramatic music playing in the background, mood lighting, and snacks.

Take a moment after students have written some samples of poetry to do a dramatic poetry reading. Students will take their silliest poems (maybe their color poems or themed poems) and read them suspensefully (with lots of pauses and dramatics) in front of the class while the whole class enjoys a snack and some suspenseful music.

This dramatic reading helps to take off some pressure and makes the whole experience feel very High School Musical…you know “we’re all in this together.” 

Once you’ve added in some fun elements, built up a comfortable environment, and tried out these poems on topics chosen by the teacher, then students should be much more prepared to take the step of creating examples for their poetry types using topics and interests of their own choosing.

Teaching poetry in upper elementary with a guided approach is about making sure that students feel prepared and are in the right headspace before sending them out to try this art form on their own. Using a guided approach that includes examples and templates and mixing that with some colorful paper, pre-chosen topics, and a dramatic classroom poetry reading will hopefully help your students feel safe enough to take on this new mountain head-on.

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