Teaching Poetry: Tools of the Trade: Rhythm
Welcome to Post #2 about using rhythm to help students understand poetry. It is the second post in a series of posts about my journey teaching poetry to a group of 60 students composed of 4th, 5th, and 6th-grade students. If you missed the intro post to this series, click HERE and check it out.
Reflection: I was excited to start teaching the tools of poetry because that is where the students would get the chance to WRITE some poetry. I also planned to integrate our grammar study into this unit. Having tried to do a grammar lesson and then integrate it into the writing later was a total bust for me. I figured that I would have a longer block to teach poetry AND it would be more authentic for my students. It turns out I was right!
What is Rhythm?
We started by labeling the top of “the next clean page” in our journal (the next page after our listing of the difference of poetry and prose, and of the six tools) with “Tool #1- Rhythm”. Students then wrote what they thought the definition of rhythm was. It was an interesting discussion. My musical students could show me examples with clapping and tapping, but couldn’t put it into words. After sharing several ideas, we decided that rhythm is comprised of beat and repetition.
First, for our study of finding the beat, I handed out rhythm sticks (thick dowels cut into thirds) to each student and reviewed the expectations for use. This included statements such as:
“When I am talking, both sticks are in one hand,”
“No drumming on your desk or neighbor,”
“Drumming while I am talking means you lose the privilege to use them.”
Next, I asked them what was something that most people had around them every day that has rhythm.
It was pretty quickly decided that MUSIC has rhythm. What I did next shocked them.
I cranked the music, and we practiced finding the rhythm of different genres of music. We played everything from country to heavy metal- (WHOA ON THE HEAVY METAL- more than I can take, I think). But they LOVED it. Whenever they struggled to find the beat of the song, I would have them close their eyes and listen before tapping. It was incredible how fast they were able to find it when they weren’t distracted by their neighbors tapping.
After we had jammed out for a bit, I read several poems and had them tap the rhythm. I read some rhyming poems, but also many that were not rhyming because I wanted them to see that more than just rhyming poems have a rhythm to them.
Repetition in Poetry
Then we studied what was meant by repetition. Both in beat AND in words. I read them the poem “Negro” to them, and we discussed possible reasons that Langston Hughes would have repeated the words, “I am a Negro: Black as the night is black, Black like the depths of my Africa.” at the end of the poem. I was surprised at their thoughts about this. Many picked up that he wanted to show that, despite the trials and problems his people had faced, they were still a proud people.
I then handed out all the poetry books again and had the students scavenger the pages looking for places where words were repeated. It was great fun to hear what they found and watch as they made connections between what we discussed to what they were reading.
For their homework, I gave them a poem called “Snowflake Souffle” by X. J. Kennedy. The students were to read it to a parent/family member and get it signed, underline common nouns, and circle proper nouns.
It was an excellent end to a wonderful lesson. Don’t miss Post #3 coming soon.
Please Note: This post (and the others in the series) were the basis of my Easy Teach Poetry Unit. This unit will cover all the types of poetry found in this series in a simplified and flexible format.
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