4 Mentor Texts and Activities for National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. With so many forms of poetry to explore and share with students, what will you choose? 

Here are 4 ideas for using mentor texts to guide students in poetry study.

Additional bonus: a letter to teachers from author and poet, Pat Mora, on the power of poetry.

Poetry MonthPoem type: FOUND POETRY

Mentor Text: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

Activity with students: Students select words and phrases from a primary text and use those words to create their own unique poems.

As “Primary Sources + Found Poetry = Celebrate Poetry Month” suggests, the Library of Congress proposes an innovative way to combine poetry and nonfiction. Teaching With The Library of Congress recently re-posted the Found Poetry Primary Source Set that “supports students in honing their reading and historical comprehension skills by creating poetry based upon informational text and images.” Students will study primary source documents, pull words and phrases that show the central idea, and then use those pieces to create their own poems.

This project not only enables teachers to identify whether a student grasps a central idea of a text, but also encourages students to interact with primary sources in much the same way as Etched In Clay’s Andrea Cheng. When researching Dave’s life and drawing inspiration for her verses, Andrea Cheng integrated the small pieces of evidence of Dave’s life, including poems on his pots and the bills of sale.

Lee & Low teacher’s guide

Poem type: HAIKU

Mentor Text: Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa

Activity with students: Students write haiku using sensory language and drawing inspiration from body movement, music, and art to create their own haiku.

Check out the classroom-tested, standards-aligned lesson plan Experiencing Haiku Through Mindfulness, Movement & Music by Rashna Wadia with Cool Melons— Turn to Frogs! provided by ReadWriteThink.org, a website developed by the International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Additional resources:

Lee & Low teacher’s guide

Poem type: CONCRETE OR SHAPE POETRY

Mentor Text: Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building

Activity with students: Students choose a building to describe in a poem and shape the poem to look like the building.

In Reading is Fundamental’s educator activity guide for, Dreaming Up, encourage students to try the writing activity “Shape It Up:” Let students pick a type of building and write a poem describing that building (how it looks, its purpose, etc). Students should write their poems on white paper in the shape of the building and decorate the background. (RIF)

Lee & Low teacher’s guide

Poem type: NARRATIVE POETRY

Mentor Text: Chess Rumble

Activity with students: Students compare narrative and lyric poetry and write their own narrative poem based on real or imagined experiences or events.

Check out the research-based novel study unit for Chess Rumble created by the staff at the award-winning, non-profit ReadWorks.org. Students will compare the story elements of Chess Rumble to Where the Sidewalk Ends and Keeping the Night Watch.

Next, students write their unique narrative poem—for tips “by youth for youth” check out How to Write a Narrative Poem from Power Poetry.

Further reading on using poetry in the classroom:

What are your favorite poems to enjoy in the classroom? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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