Was memorising and reciting poetry a part of your primary school experience? It was for me, but it seems to rarely occur nowadays.
Yet, there appears to be a number of benefits from incorporating poetry and learning poems as a component of of a literacy program:
1. Development of phonological awareness
In a lot of poems, various lines end with rhyming words. Initially, children’s attention can be drawn to the words that rhyme. As they become more competent, they can exchange the words in the poem with another rhyming words.
Poems often have a rhythm based on the number of syllables in each line. Children can work out this syllable rhythm.
Some poems are based on alliteration. These poems can be used as the basis of activities designed to help students identify initial phonemes.
2. Development of prosody
Pitch, voice inflection, pauses, speed and volume are all important elements in reading and reciting poems. For children who have difficulty reading with expression, poems provide a vehicle for understanding the ‘power of voice’ variables and a way to practise this skill.
Different poems with different messages enable children to associate different emotions with speech and behavioural patterns that reflect these emotions.
3. Development of vocabulary
Poems lend themselves to repeated exposure to the same text. It can therefore be a useful medium for exposing children to and then helping them learn new vocabulary.
4. Development of memorisation skills
The process of memorising and then reciting a poem helps children pick up patterns and sequences and appreciate the value of repetition in learning.
5. Development of public speaking skills
Reciting or reading practiced poetry to an audience helps students gain confidence in public speaking within a controlled structure. It also helps them learn to make use of gestures and facial expressions to connect with their audience on an emotional level as well as learning to project their voice.
- Begin with short and simple poems, so success can be experienced in a relatively short time frame. Rhyming poems with a standard structure tend to be easiest poems to learn.
- First read the poem to or with your students. Discuss the meaning and pronunciation of unfamiliar words and make sure they understand the poem’s message.
- If the poem has a repeating verse or chorus, teach this first.
- Have students read the first line, then cover the line and try to remember. I suggest repeating the line 3x.
- Students then read the 2nd line, cover and repeat 3x.
- Now have students say the 1st two lines 3x.
- Repeat with the next two lines. Then have students say the who verse 3x.
- Have students recite the verse multiple times throughout the day. If a particular line is causing difficulty, repeat just this line 3x, then recite the whole verse again.
- DO NOT have individual students recite to the whole class, as this could be very embarrassing for those students having difficulty remembering the poem. However, you might get them to work in pairs to help each other.
- The next day, begin by having students recite the verse learnt the previous day. Then learn the next verse using a similar format to that discussed above.
- Throughout the day, students should begin by reciting the verse currently being learnt, then recite the verse from the previous day, and finish by reciting the verse currently being learnt (i.e., the new material is repeated more frequently).
- Continue using this strategy until the whole poem has been learnt.
- Use poems to teach concepts such as parts of speech, metaphors, sensory imagery, personification and other literary devices.
- Once students have learned a poem, use this as the basis of writing their own poems using a similar structure.
- Use poetry as a way of introducing a topic or to activate prior knowledge.
- Challenge students to create poems to memorise as a way of remembering facts.
- Use a collection of poems on the same topic to expose students to different perspectives
References and Useful Resources
The Children’s Poetry Archive groups poems by themes
Extensive glossary of poetry terms
Type a word and find a rhyming word: Rhyme Brain
Simecek, K., & Rumbold, K. (2016). The uses of poetry, Changing English, 23:4, 309-313, DOI: 10.1080/1358684X.2016.1230300