For years now, I have been advocating for greater use of poetry and song in our work with young, struggling readers. And yet, it is not unusual for me to hear from teachers who are told that reading poetry is “fluff” and to minimize their use of poetry with their students. In honor of National Poetry Month, here are several reasons why poetry should be at the heart of instruction for younger and struggling readers.
1. Poetry is fun!
Have you ever watched how joyful children are when reading and reciting poetry or singing a song? It is a delight for me to watch their heads bob and bodies move to the rhythm of the words in poems or songs. School is supposed to fun and engaging. Poetry helps to bring fun back to the classroom.
2. Poems are easy to learn.
Success produces success, and failure yields to frustration and avoidance. We want our children to enjoy success as they read, not have to stumble over every third or fourth word they encounter when reading. The brevity of poems and songs for children, along with their rhythmical and rhyming structure, make them easy to read and easy to learn.
3. Poems can easily be memorized.
Because poems are easy to learn, they are easy to commit to memory. How many of us can recall poems and songs that we first learned years ago? Those memorized lines in poems can evolve into memorized words. Words that are memorized by sight and sound have a special name in reading: sight words. Poetry is a great way to build sight vocabulary!
4. Poems rhyme.
Most poems for children have a rhyming structure (such as “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight…”). Most rhyming words are made up of phonograms, a fundamental building block of phonics instruction. When children study the “Star Light”poem, they learn and practice the –ight rime that not only shows up in the rhyming words in the poem itself, but also in many other words that contain the rhyme, such as knight, fight, sight, slight, right, and tight.
5. Poems are designed to be rehearsed and performed for an audience.
Rehearsal for an oral reading performance is an authentic form of repeated reading, a proven method for improving reading fluency. Because the rehearsal for a poetry performance is aimed at an expressive oral reading, this form of repeated reading improves both word recognition automaticity and reading prosody, both critical components of fluency.
6. Poems are meaningful.
Although poems are generally short, they usually contain meaningful content. Poetry allows children to gain and discuss meaning in condensed texts.
I am convinced that if we could teach children to read—really read—a poem every day, we would solve many of our early reading difficulties. My own work with children and teachers has shown this to be very possible.