Poetry activities for kids with low literacy
April 2, 2015 9:59 AM   Subscribe

What are some poetry activities that might be fun for kids ages 8-13 who struggle with reading and writing?

I work at a public library, and I'm organizing some poetry-related programs and activities for kids in celebration of National Poetry Month. For the most part, the plan is to have many different small activities that the kids can choose off a list and do any time that works for them. All standards of participation would be loose and adaptable, and librarians would always be available for one-on-one assistance, discussion, and sharing. As the kids complete the activities, they earn tangible, gamified badges (wearable pins they get to press themselves) and other benefits for participation.

There are a lot of suggestions for such activities out there, but I am having some trouble deciding which ones might best fit the kids who frequent our library. Some context to consider, which might differentiate our situation from some others out there:

* Most of the kids are between ages 8-13
* Most live in poverty in a uniquely precarious neighborhood (the library acts as a safe space to decompress)
* The kids generally read and write below their age level and have not had good experiences in school or school-like environments
* Some parents have their kids stay at the library all day on days off school (for them, larger "special" activities help keep them engaged over the long day)
* Some kids are only allowed to come to the library briefly at inconsistent times (for them, quick "pick up" activities are all they might have time for)

I've got some ideas that I think might be okay for our situation, but I'd love to hear more ideas from you all. Thanks!
posted by banal retentive to Education (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This particular rhyming dictionary is fantastic for kids (it's interspersed with little cartoon drawings and silly rhymes). You should definitely have one on hand.

You could do something like have a kid write a poem using at least two new-to-them words that they find in the rhyming dictionary.
posted by phunniemee at 10:09 AM on April 2, 2015

How about prizes for memorizing poems or parts of poems, even Dr. Suess stuff? Memorization is so, so good for little brains. Memorize a couple, you get X, memorize a stanza, you get Y, memorize a page or two, etc.... Invite them to recite what they've memorized in front of other kids for even more credit towards a prize.
posted by resurrexit at 10:42 AM on April 2, 2015

I got this from a friend ...


One thing one of our teachers did was put words and ideas in a jar on little slips of paper. We'd pull a couple and write about it. A poem, a limerick, a little rhyming poem.

And the kids this year, when they had an option to present their reports in one of four ways, had an option of a "rap" which is kind of poetry, right? Approach it that way.

Also, put this or similar sites on your white list and put them on the desktop for the computer literate kids.

One thing our local library does is let kids "earn" to payback late fines by reading for X amount of time. Maybe have the same thing and extend it to poetry?

have a visible "poet's tree" and the kids can write poems on leaves. Keep them in rotation, and give the kids a 'tree trunk' to take the leaves home eventually and decorate their own.
posted by tilde at 10:44 AM on April 2, 2015

Can you get some poetry slam performers to come by?
posted by vignettist at 10:45 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

You may find something appropriate here: Shel Silverstein | Poetry Month
posted by lyssabee at 11:26 AM on April 2, 2015

I loved (and still love) mad libs at that age. Could you have them complete some mad libs style poems, but have them select only rhyming words to create rhyming poems, or create your own mad libs from simple poems, but replace some of the words with blanks for them to fill in?

It's easier for kids to recognize/read words than to spell them out, most of the time. In activities where they have to write, could you write out 3 or 4 words and have them find and choose the correct one?

Also, I like to have kids write a sentence (or write a sentence out myself) and cut out the words individually. Then, scramble the words, and have kids put the words back in order to make a sentence. This could be fun with a haiku activity.
posted by shortyJBot at 11:35 AM on April 2, 2015

How about listening to a song, and either write down the lyrics or look them up online (both useful skills), and then a worksheet about what makes that like a poem. (rhymes, rhythm, metaphor, etc) For some kids, especially the struggling-readers that you describe, that will be way more appealing than opening a book to pick a poem. A next step might be to then have them read a poem from a book, and talk about how that is or isn't like a song.
posted by aimedwander at 11:35 AM on April 2, 2015

* The kids generally read and write below their age level and have not had good experiences in school or school-like environments

At one time, my sons both read above grade level but wrote below grade level (and had dysgraphia) and my oldest had a lot of reading comprehension issues. He also read late. He was 7.5 before the reading thing really caught on.

It helped to do things with them orally, so I will second some kind of poetry slam (Rap music might also be a thing to try to work with). Illustrated works were also really helpful. So things like Dr. Seuss and Calvin and Hobbes were a big hit that helped my oldest get on firmer footing.
posted by Michele in California at 2:34 PM on April 2, 2015

The only poem I ever memorized was Suzy had a mustache by Dennis Lee.

I agree that music will probably help. I like songs that allow people to come up with their own rhymes, like Down by the Bay
posted by Gor-ella at 2:49 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Word picture poems. It is when you arrange words on a page to create a picture/poem. It is a legitimate genre of poetry with many famous practitioners in history. I think the kids could just enjoy the words and let their creativity flow without worrying about grammar and readability.
posted by incolorinred at 4:11 PM on April 2, 2015

I like tilde's suggestion of computer based magnetic poetry, but I'd also suggest you get some of the real stuff too: First Words, Really Big Words. Low literacy kids (and adults) often learn well with words they can pick up and move around.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:55 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was actually at my local library yesterday and saw a display with poetry activities done by local children. One that caught my eye was called 'word weaving'. From the looks of it, children wrote random words at regular intervals along 1-2cm wide strips of coloured paper. The words seemed random, but you could encourage a mix of verbs/adjectives/nouns etc. Then the strips of paper were woven together, resulting in an interesting mish-mash and juxtaposition of words. Some were hidden when the strip of paper was woven under another, but that didn't matter.

They didn't do this, but I think you could use the word weaving to then write a free-verse poem. Encourage kids to make up lines based around words woven close together, so the words 'cat', 'bubbles' and 'skipping' could become 'the cat, blowing bubbles, skips along the pavement'.

I am a teacher and when I teach poetry to my class one of the things they enjoy most is learning about personification and simile. I have had great success with low ability and/or reluctant poets in asking them to personify a room - 'the computer blinks slyly at me while the tv hums a lullaby'.

A short, easy activity might be to provide a structure. Something like 'happiness is...' or a spoof 'rules for using the library'. Something to make them see that poetry doesn't have to be high-brow or difficult.
posted by schmoo at 11:30 AM on April 3, 2015

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