Does your district use the MAP test? We take this computer-based test three times a year in math and reading. The test gets easier or more difficult based on student responses, and students are expected to make growth throughout the school year. Once kids start scoring in the top 10 or 15 percentiles, the questions can be suuuper difficult. My kids' have been asked to read Shakespeare, Poe, and any number of difficult poems. Because our literacy series is definitely on the light side (and that's an understatement) when it comes to poetry, my team tries to supplement it in as a shared reading activity every other Friday or so. This year, I made it a goal to use as much classic poetry as I can--"grown up poems" I call them--because the kinds of poems the kids see on MAP tests and the kinds they need to be able to read to meet Common Core Standards are definitely not the cutesy ones about leprechans or school buses I may have used with students in the past. Don't worry, we are still reading plenty of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutzky, but this year my students have been exposed to Poe, Wordsworth, Dickenson, and other classic poets.
The goal of sharing these heavy poems with my third and fourth graders is not that they can demonstrate complete comprehension--some of the poems we've read I first read in my high school or college literature classes! Instead, I hope to show my students that they don't need to be intimidated by tricky poems. We read with the goals of visualizing what the poet is describing and identifying the types of figurative language used by the poet. When given a smaller purpose, my students have found that they can attack the poems and begin to understand pieces of them which, for an 8 or 9 year old, is definitely a great step into the world of poetry.
When we were working on personification, I shared the poem "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud." We did a class close read, reading the poem a few times together for different purposes. First, I had the kids listen for the rhyme scheme. Then, they listened to one stanza at a time with the purpose of visualizing. We did Turn and Talks to share which parts we were able to visualize. The kids realized when they broke it into bite-sized pieces, they were able to better understand the poem. (This was definitely all guided, btw!!)
After reading the poem together a few times, I reviewed personification and modeled identifying an example in the poem. I then gave the kids copies of the poem, highlighters, and had them work in pairs to reread the poem a few more times, looking for more examples of personification. They also hunted for similes and imagery, two other literary devices we'd learned earlier in the year. The kids marked the figurative language and coded the text. We then came back together as a class, and the kids shared the examples they'd found, underlining and circling them on the board.
This lesson had a few goals--to give my students practice at identifying examples of figurative language in a quality text, and to help my students become comfortable with unpacking a high-level poem. My hope is that not only will they be less intimidated when they encounter poems on standardized tests, but that they will see the beauty in poetry from a young age and be less intimidated by poetry their whole lives!