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Poetry for Children

Module 4
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Poetry Across the Curriculum 

INTRODUCTION:  Before reading the poem below, ask students what they think the first Thanksgiving was like and have them share their responses aloud.
A poem relevant to social studies
The First Thanksgiving
by Jack Prelutsky
When the Pilgrims
first gathered together to share
with their Indian friends
in the mild autumn air,
they lifted their voices
in jubliant praise
for the bread on the table,
the berries and maize,
for field and for forest,
for turkey and deer,
for the bountiful crops
they were blessed with that year.
The were thankful for these
as they feasted away,
and as they were thankful,
we're thankful today.
From It's Thanksgiving, Scholastic, 1982
EXTENSION:  After reading the poem, read passages and show pictures to students from the book A Pioneer Thanksgiving:  a Story of Harvest Celebrations in 1841, Kids Can Press Ltd., 1999.  To further extend this lesson, instruct the students in the making of a pioneer craft or recipe described in this book.
A poem relevant to mathematics
INTRODUCTION:  Ask young elementary students whether or not it is possible to come up with the same answer twice by adding two different numbers together.  Ask for one or several examples of this from the class.
2 + 2
by Brod Bagert
I know that two plus two is four,
But so is one plus three.
Now someone please explain to me
How such a thing can be?
And then there's four plus zero,
And the answer's four again.
Why not some other number
Like seven, eight, or ten?
I'm going to learn to add
But it's such a crazy task.
How can the answer be the same
When a different question's asked?
From The Gooch Machine:  Poems for Children to Perform, Boyds Millls Press, 1997
EXTENSION:  Assign each student in the class a different number.  Ask the students to write down all the different addition problems they can create and still achieve that number as the answer.  Have students share some of their results and make observations about the properties of addition.
A poem relevant to science
INTRODUCTION:  Ask students to think about what they already know about the planets of the Solar System.  Then have them create a K-W-L chart of what they know and what they want to know.  Then read the poem below. 
Children of the Sun
by Brod Bagert
Mercury's small,
Almost nothing at all.
Venus is bright and near.
Earth is a planet with deep blue seas
And a sky that's blue and clear.
Mars is red and angry.
Jupiter has an eye.
Saturn has rings of ice and stone
That circle around its sky.
Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto
Are far away and cold.
So now I know my planets,
And I'm only eight years old.
From Elephant Games and Other Playful Poems to Perform, Boyds Mills Press, 1995
EXTENSION:  Have the class read the poem together several times to imprint the images on their minds.  Divide the class into nine groups and assign one planet to each group.  Have each group create their planet out of construction paper to glue on a class poster of the Solar System.  Consult pictures in library books or on the Internet for accuracy in design of the planets.  Include a copy of the poem on the poster too. Have students finish their K-W-L charts by filling in the "what I learned" column.  See if anyone still has unanswered questions in their "what I want to know" columns on their charts, and share and discuss.
A poem that can be matched with a nonfiction book
Poem:  "The Runaway Slave by Walt Whitman" (From the poem "Song of Myself") in Walt Whitman:  Poetry for Young People by Jonathan Levin ed., Sterling Publishing, 1997.
Nonfiction book:  Daily Life on a Southern Plantation 1853 by Paul Erickson, Puffin Books, 1997.
INTRODUCTION:  Have your students imagine for a moment that they are slaves who have run away from their master's plantation.  Ask students where they would go and whether or not they think it would be safe to rely on the kindness of strangers during their flight.
The Runaway Slave (From the poem Song of Myself)
by Walt Whitman 
The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside,
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile,
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,
And went where he sat on a log and led him in and assured him,
And brought water and fill'd a tub for his sweated body and bruis'd feet,
And gave him a room that enter'd from my own, and gave him some coarse clean clothes,
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,
And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;
He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass'd north,
I had him sit next me at table, my fire-lock lean'd in the corner.
limpsy-limp from weakness, plasters-medicated dressing for a wound, galls-skin sores, fire-lock-rifle
From Walt Whitman:  Poetry for Young People, Sterling Publishing Co., 1997
EXTENSION:  Read sections and show pictures from the book Daily Life on a Southern Plantation 1853.  Be sure to include the sections on The Slave Trade, Slave Discipline, and A Slave Meeting.  Share with students the fact that the speaker in the poem assists the runaway slave even though this defies federal laws that would have required him to turn the fugitive slave over to authorities.  Ask students to consider if whether they would take such a risk.
A poem that can be matched with a picture book
INTRODUCTION:  Play parts of songs from a jazz CD for students.  Find out if any of them ever listen to jazz music or have parents who listen to jazz music.  Ask them if they like the jazz music you played for them and why they liked it.  
Poem:  "Sound Advice" by Brod Bagert
Picture Book:  I See the Ryhthm by Toyomi Igus, Children's Book Press, 1998.
Sound Advice
by Brod Bagert
I asked the jazzman if he could say
What instrument I should learn to play.
The trombone, the saxophone,
The lead guitar, the base?
But the jazzman only shook his head.
Then he made a funny face and said,
"Listen close and open your eyes.
You young cats got to realize
That everything is synthesized
Now that the sound is digitized.
If you want to get a gig
That ain't gonna go away,
Multimedia computer
Is the instrument to play."
From The Gooch Machine:  Poems for Children to Perform, Boyds Mills Press, 1997
EXTENSION:  Ask students if they think "Sound Advice" is a good title for the poem.  Ask if they agree that the advice given by the jazz man is "sound."  Ask students if they would give different advice and what it would be.  Ask students where they have seen live musicians playing instruments in our society.  Share the picture book I See the Rhythm.  Be sure to cover the sections on jazz music from pages 12-21.  Ask the students if they think learning how to play a muscial instrument is a worthwhile activity to pursue.  Ask if anyone in class is currently playing an instrument.  Take a poll.  Find out what type of instrument students would choose to play if they could pick any instrument and why.  Tally up the results on the board. 
A poetry book review ideally suited to science, math or social studies instruction published since 1995
Book:  Walt Whitman:  Poetry for Young People, edited by Jonathan Levin, from Sterling Publishing Co., 1997.
Suited for:  Social Studies instruction
The poetry book Walt Whitman: Poetry for Young People would be a perfect complement to Social Studies instruction especially at the middle school to high school level.  The book, which is edited by Johnathan Levin, is a collection of twenty-six poems and excerpts from longer poems by the nineteenth-century poet Walt Whitman.  It also contains bright illustrations which complement the poems, painted in watercolor by Jim Burke. 
The book begins with the poem "I Hear America Singing" and is divided into four other collections of poems based upon locations where one could "hear America singing"--On Land, At Sea, At War, and Sky and Cosmos.
Although some poems in this collection seems to be included simply for the  celebration of nature in America as can be found in "Miracles," "On the Beach at Night," "A Noisless Patient Spider," and "The Dalliance of Eagles," other poems more readily fit the mold of a poem that could support Social Studies curricula.
"A Man's Body at Auction" would work very well in a lesson on slavery in an American History class.  In this poem, the speaker is a man who is describing a slave who is being sold by an auctioneer in America before the Civil War.  The poem is written in free verse which is characteristic of Whitman's usual style.  The lines of the poem are long and sprawled out across the page.  Whitman uses alliteration in lines such as "flakes of breast muscle ... flesh not flabby," and "They shall be stript that you may see them, and "rich republic."  He uses repetition in words such as"blood" "fathers" and "offspring" which is used to entice a prospective slave buyer into thinking of the generations that will be born from the loins of this slave.  This poem helps the reader travel through time mentally and feel as though he were actually present at a slave auction. 
"Come up From the Fields Father" is a poem which describes a scene where an Ohio farm family learns of the death of their son and brother from injuries sustained in the war.  At first the family thinks the letter that has just arrived is from their son/brother, then they learn the devastating news.  The poem begins with a happy tone of the children joyfully beckoning their parents to "come" because a letter has arrived from "thy dear son."  The second stanza is filled with pleasant images of the colors of autumn and ripe fruit such as apples in orchards and "grapes on the vine."  There is a wealth of positive imagery in the third stanza also, such as "wonderous clouds" and all that is below the sky is described as "vital and beautiful" with prosperous farms.  The tone quickly changes to depair with the lines "Oh stricken mother's soul!"  This is when the mother realizes what has really happened to her son.  Then the language becomes obviously more negative with terms like "flashes with black," "sickly white in the face and dull in the head," and "very faint."  In the final stanza, Whitman repeats the word "longing" to describe what the mother is feeling for her dead son.  He also uses alliteration with the words "waking, weeping, and withdraw" which is also repeated to further illustrate the suffering of the mother.  This poem does an excellent job of making real the grief felt by families who have lost loved ones in American wars.
Another poem in this collection that would support a Social Studies curriculum is the poem "The Artilleryman's Vision."  This poem is about a Civil War soldier's haunting memories of being on the battlefield that replay in his mind after returning home from the war.  Although this poem is about the Civil War, it's content is relevant to today's soldier's struggles upon returning from combat.  The poem begins with peaceful images of home and family.  "My wife slumbering at my side," "my head on the pillow rests at home," and "I hear, just hear, the breath of my infant" support this observation.  Then the speaker awakens and begins to struggle with images in his mind.  Lots of sensory imagery follows.  The speaker describes the "snap" of missles, the "t-h-t! t-h-t! of the rifle balls," and the "shells exploding and shrieking." There are also visual images of war in the words "the pride of men in their pieces," and "flat clouds (of smoke) hover low concealing all," and "the wounded dripping and red."  The reader is transported to a battlefield with a Whitman free-verse poem as his vehicle.
This poetry collection also contains several other poems that would be excellent for Social Studies students to delve into such as "The Runaway Slave," "O Captain!  My Captain!," and "Did You Read in the Seabrooks ..."     

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