Poetry Virtual Library

As an elementary librarian, I am always on the lookout for books that will interest my readers, keep them engaged, and at the same time, leave them wanting more. This sounds so simple on paper, but it is definitely a huge endeavor. With that, I have created a Poetry Virtual Library to share with you to kickstart Poetry Month all during the month of April.

Our Virtual Library includes some classics, such as Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, and The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. In addition, it also includes some books that many might not think of as poetry since it looks more like a picture book than a typical poem. However, many, many picture books are actually indeed poems eloquently spread across 24 pages with lots of exciting illustrations along the way. Please enjoy our list of Poetry Books for the month of April.

Click here to grab your Poetry Virtual Library Google Slides today:

Book #1: Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. But there is no answer. Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is.

Distinguished author Jane Yolen has created a gentle, poetic story that lovingly depicts the special companionship of a young child and her father as well as humankind’s close relationship to the natural world. Wonderfully complemented by John Schoenherr’s soft, exquisite watercolor illustrations, this is a verbal and visual treasure, perfect for reading around and sharing at bedtime.

Book #2: 16 Words, by Lisa Rogers

Publisher’s Synopsis:

This simple nonfiction picture book about the beloved American poet William Carlos Williams is also about how being mindful can result in the creation of a great poem like “The Red Wheelbarrow”–which is only sixteen words long.

“Look out the window. What do you see? If you are Dr. William Carlos Williams, you see a wheelbarrow. A drizzle of rain. Chickens scratching in the damp earth.” The wheelbarrow belongs to Thaddeus Marshall, a street vendor, who every day goes to work selling vegetables on the streets of Rutherford, New Jersey. That simple action inspires poet and doctor Williams to pick up some of his own tools–a pen and paper–and write his most famous poem.

In this lovely picture book, young listeners will see how paying attention to the simplest everyday things can inspire the greatest art, as they learn about a great American poet.

Book #3: I Got the Rhythm, by Connie Schofield-Morrison

Publisher’s Synopsis:

On a simple trip to the park, the joy of music overtakes a mother and daughter. The little girl hears a rhythm coming from the world around her- from butterflies, to street performers, to ice cream sellers everything is musical! She sniffs, snaps, and shakes her way into the heart of the beat, finally busting out in an impromptu dance, which all the kids join in on! Award-winning illustrator Frank Morrison and Connie Schofield-Morrison, capture the beat of the street, to create a rollicking read that will get any kid in the mood to boogie.

Book #4: Water Can Be, by Laura Purdie Salas

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Water can be a . . .
• Thirst quencher
• Kid drencher
• Cloud fluffer
• Fire snuffer

Find out about the many roles water plays in this poetic exploration of water throughout the year.

Book #5: Wet Cement, by Bob Raczka

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Who says words need to be concrete? This collection shapes poems in surprising and delightful ways.

Concrete poetry is a perennially popular poetic form because they are fun to look at. But by using the arrangement of the words on the page to convey the meaning of the poem, concrete or shape poems are also easy to write! From the author of the incredibly inventive Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word comes another clever collection that shows kids how to look at words and poetry in a whole new way.

Book #6: The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein

Publisher’s Synopsis:

“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”

So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein. This moving parable for all ages offers a touching interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return.

Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk…and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave. This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation.

Book #7: Imagine, by Juan Felipe Herrera

Publisher’s Synopsis:

A buoyant, breathtaking poem from Juan Felipe Herrera — brilliantly illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Lauren Castillo — speaks to every dreaming heart.

Have you ever imagined what you might be when you grow up? When he was very young, Juan Felipe Herrera picked chamomile flowers in windy fields and let tadpoles swim across his hands in a creek. He slept outside and learned to say good-bye to his amiguitos each time his family moved to a new town. He went to school and taught himself to read and write English and filled paper pads with rivers of ink as he walked down the street after school. And when he grew up, he became the United States Poet Laureate and read his poems aloud on the steps of the Library of Congress. If he could do all of that . . . what could you do? With this illustrated poem of endless possibility, Juan Felipe Herrera and Lauren Castillo breathe magic into the hopes and dreams of readers searching for their place in life.

Want any more poetry? Grab our NEWEST Spring Bulletin Board with Spring Writing Prompts and Spring Writing Papers today.

Conclusion:

We hope you have enjoyed discovering so many beautiful poetry books. The next time you have a few extra minutes in your schedule, grab a poetry book or a eloquently written picture book to read aloud to your students, no matter the age. These few minutes of reading give them an escape and teaches tons of figurative language all in the same amount of time. As I always say to my older students when they say they are too old for such, I remind them that children didn’t write these beautiful stories, but grown ups who have learned to appreciate the magic of a well written story, or in our case, a poem.

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Poetry Madness Challenge

I was born and raised in North Carolina, where college basketball and March Madness were a religion. In both middle and high school, a big, box television set was wheeled in to watch the basketball tournaments in the afternoon. Normally the math teacher would be the one to do this. Their reason for this would be to incorporate fractions, probability, and statistics within these March Madness Math viewing sessions.

I wasn’t much of a sports fan, but I enjoyed having the afternoon “off” to watch a game or two. I remember even teachers turning on the corner TV to March Madness in the cafeteria, which normally blared our school announcements during lunchtime. It was definitely a big deal! When I became a high school English teacher, I discovered Poet vs. Poet, an exciting and fun way to merge March Madness with National Poetry Month in April.  It was a way to incorporate more poetry analysis, competition, and literature all in one fell swoop! I first used Emily’s Poet vs Poet resource from Read It. Write It. Learn It. Since the best resources come from actual classroom teachers. I utilized Emily’s resources for the first two years of completing Poet vs Poet when I taught high school. 

Eventually, I realized that I wanted to incorporate March Madness into my middle school classroom with poems that related specifically to my student’s interests and hobbies, yet still had classic poetry intermixed that I wanted students to read and analyze. 

Here is the FREE Poetry Madness Challenge Google Slides that I utilize in my classroom. It has poems by Kobe Bryant, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Amanda Gorman, Shel Silverstein, and Alfred Lord Tennyson to name a few. 

It also contains a free student bracket that goes along with the Google Slides presentation.

Let me explain to you how I complete the Poetry Madness Challenge in my classroom and get middle school students excited about poetry.

Step 1: Choose a time to begin. 

It takes about a full month to complete the Poetry Madness Challenge. I always begin in April, since it is National Poetry Month. Some teachers I know complete a similar activity using picture books, and they complete it during March to coincide with March Madness.

Once you’ve picked a time, decide what portion of your class time will be devoted to it.  I used the Poetry Madness Challenge as my bell ringer, and it is the very first thing we do in English class. 

Step 2: Brackets

Give students the poem bracket the day before you begin and have them do some research. They can google the poems and read them, and then decide who they believe will be the winner in each match, who will be the final 8, and then the final 4. Some students like to choose based solely on the titles or the authors they know. Some love to read every poem ahead of time and really get inside the heads of their classmates to see how they will vote.

Every year, I hype it up and tell them about the grand prize. The student that makes the most correct guesses on their bracket by the end of the month gets a mini trophy, a certificate, their favorite candy bar, and a homework pass. You wouldn’t think this would excite middle schoolers, but it really does. 

Step 3: Sweet Sixteen

We begin by reading the first two poems on the left side of the bracket, which are the first two in the “Sweet Sixteen.” We read each one slowly, discussing its meaning, word choice, and any interesting things that stand out. We discuss if the poem uses any figurative language, has any specific visuals, and what some students interpret the poem to mean from their viewpoints.

Next, we vote. I do not give students their brackets back until after we vote. This is to avoid any type of cheating. Sure, they can see what poems they picked for the next day’s poet vs poet, and try to skew the classroom votes by voting for only their picks, but it never ends up working out for them. I encourage the students that even if they chose a certain poem on their brackets, but after reading it really like the other one, then they should vote for the other poem.

After I tally up the votes, I record the winner on my central classroom bracket and they can also choose to do this on theirs once I give it back to them. 

Step 4: SOAPS

Next, students pick one of the two poems we read that day and complete a SOAPS analysis on a piece of paper or in a notebook. (This year, I plan on using Poetry Madness Challenge notebooks that they record their SOAPS analyses in.) 

SOAPS stands for Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, and Subject.

Speaker is asking the reader to understand who is writing this poem, or if it’s a particular character, what point of view is shown?

Occasion is another way of examining the setting. What’s the setting of the poem? What’s taking place? When is it taking place? 

Audience refers to who the speaker is writing or talking to. Is it a random reader, is it a specific character, or both?

Purpose refers to the author’s reasoning and core purpose for writing this poem. Was it to inform, entertain, or persuade? Did the author use the poem to get something off their mind? Was it a way to draw attention to something happening in the world at the time?

Subject refers to what is this poem about. What is the topic? What is it specifically referring to?  

Step 5: Comparison/Contrast Paragraph Responses

Once the first “Sweet 16” poems are read aloud, I reread the poems as they challenge other poems and advance in the competition.  When we have to read poems once more, I will utilize YouTube videos.. In some cases, wonderful videos have been made visualizing the poem too. 

Here is a neat video of The Creation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service:

I love the comparison of The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson to football in the movie The Blindside.

By viewing videos of the poems, students can analyze or find other elements they did not notice before.  

Since some students will have likely completed a SOAP analysis on one of the poems, they may choose to complete a SOAP analysis on another poem they had not chosen. Sometimes, the way the brackets happen, students have already completed a SOAP analysis on both poems, and therefore they can choose to write a paragraph response comparing and contrasting the two poems read aloud that day to each other. 

Also, when rereading the poems, it is a good idea to focus on elements not discussed previously. For instance, if you first focused on figurative language, then you may focus on sensory words the second time.

Step 6: Discussions

Once the SOAP analysis and comparison/contrast paragraph responses have been written, I like to just discuss the poems even further. At this point, the students will not have to write anything else. If you would like to keep your students writing about each poem, you can ask them to specifically write about the individual elements of each poem, like rhyme scheme, meter, particular events, settings, etc. 

Step 7: Determining the Winners

Once the winning poem has been chosen, it is time to analyze the students’ brackets. I like to go by a point system. First, if a student predicted any of the Elite 8 finalists correctly, they receive a point.

If any of the students have the final 4 predicted correctly, the students will receive 2 points. In addition, if the students have the final 2 predicted correctly, that’s three points. If they predicted the actual winner correctly, that’s five points. Sometimes, students believe they have won simply because they guessed the final winner correctly. However, that is not always the case. 

You can decide how best to come up with the winner yourself, as the teacher. However, this seems to work out well.

Conclusion:

If you are looking for a fun and engaging way to teach poetry this spring, try the Poetry Madness Challenge. The free challenge and bracket on Google Slides will help your middle schoolers become excited about poetry. It will introduce them to new and classic poets. Furthmore, it will help them see literature as enjoyable, and even related to something they love: sports. Happy Reading!

6 Black History Month Activities

Black History Month is observed every February to honor the accomplishments of Black individuals and to recognize the important roles they played in the United States, from the past to the present.

At the beginning of this school year, when I polled my class to see what their favorite concept, holiday, or idea to learn about was, several said Black History Month. My students really looked forward to this month of history every year, and I was thrilled to learn that!

Every February, I like to do some additional activities for Black History month to honor this special time. Here are just a few!

1. Instagram Biography Project

Using Who Was or Who Is books and a variety of other biographies from the library, I like to have students complete an Instagram Biography Project. Students are responsible for picking out a person they would like to study by perusing the books provided. Then, they are responsible for skimming and reading this particular book over a course of a couple of class periods. Next, they utilize the Instagram Biography Project template to create a timeline of their famous person’s accomplishments.

Students copy and paste photos in the boxes and provide a caption for each picture. The caption must be 2 or more sentences and should explain what is going on in the picture and why it is significant. Next, students must make sure their photos are in a sequential timeline as well. I encourage the students to use hashtags to add that Instagram feeling to their post. Finally, students present their Instagram Biographies to the class and everyone learns a little something about each famous person.

2. Honor Lesser-Known Individuals through Books and Media

Every year, I like to bring up lesser-known stories of Black individuals who should be recognized. 

Claudette Colvin is a young girl I especially like to teach about as many students do not readily know her name like they do Rosa Parks. A book I recommend to students to read independently is called Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. 

Claudette Colvin was a fifteen-year-old teenager who did the exact same thing that Rosa Parks did, except nine months prior. On March 2, 1955, Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Colvin didn’t receive as much attention because she was younger and there were other issues. Based on in-depth interviews with Claudette and other pivotal people, this book makes history come to life.

Paerdegat Library: Kids in Black History

Here is a video all about Claudette Colvin: Paerdegat Library: Kids in Black History

Other people that are not as widely known are Lewis Latimer, who developed a filament that helped extend the life of a light bulb. Thomas Edison may have invented the actual light bulb, but his invention did not last extremely long. Enter in Latimer, an inventor, and son of escaped slaves, he developed the key to allowing the light bulb to last. 

Check out this video about Latimer:

Bessie Coleman is another hidden person of Black History. She was born in 1892, and became extremely interested in flying after hearing about the war stories from pilots in WWI. Although female and African-American, she did not let this hold her back. She became the first African American woman to get both a national and international pilot’s license after traveling to France to become trained.

A wonderful picture book about Bessie Coleman is called Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman

To incorporate these individuals into your school schedule, you can do a “Person-of-the Day” highlight, in which you read or teach about that individual or even simply show a video, which would open the floor up to discussion about the hidden figures of Black History.

3. Explore Poetry

April is National Poetry Month, but that shouldn’t stop you from incorporating the poetry of famous Black writers into your lessons. 

Just like you can incorporate a “Person-of-the-Day,” you could also utilize “Poet-of-the-Day,” and read about a Black poet and a poem they have written. Students can then write a paragraph response to it, or you can utilize the time for discussion of symbolism and in-depth meaning of the poem. 

Students can even illustrate the poem after they visualize it while reading it.

Some wonderful poets and poems you can highlight in your classroom that are favorites among my middle school students are below:

Upper Elementary and Middle School:

Langston Hughes-The Weary Blues

Langston Hughes-Mother to Son

Maya Angelou-And Still I Rise

Maya Angelou-Caged Bird 

Kobe Bryant-Dear Basketball 

Amanda Gorman-The Hill We Climb

Gwendolyn Brooks-We Real Cool 

Kwame Alexander-The Crossover

4. Virtual Museums

The internet is a beautiful thing, especially when it comes to virtual field trips. Take your students all over to explore Black history, using museum virtual tours.

Here are three virtual museum field trips your students can take today!

1. African American History and Culture

This virtual tour is especially expansive as it begins with slavery, spans emancipation, segregation, and explores the present day. This museum has 3,500 exhibits featured online.

Click here for Virtual Tour

2. African American Baseball Museum

One of my favorite books to read with upper elementary and middle schoolers is Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis.

It touches on the Baseball Leagues as the main characters enjoy watching their favorite players on the diamond. It was so important for the characters to see themselves in sports and for those players to become notarized for what they achieved. 

Click here for Virtual Tour

This virtual tour contains video interviews with former players, several exhibits, and countless pictures of the league. 

3. The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site 

If you teach about World War II, then this virtual tour would flow nicely right into your lesson plans. If you don’t teach this concept, February would be an excellent time to introduce your students to the Tuskegee Airmen, the African American WWII pilots who made an important impact in history. 

Click here for Virtual Tour

Virtual tours are free and convenient as you can explore them from the comfort of your classroom. 

5. Teach the History of Black History Month

How did Black History Month come to be? We celebrate this month, but many do not know how this commemoration even started. It’s important to teach students how this month began.

An African-American historian, Carter G. Woodson, wanted to celebrate Black History for a full week in February. He chose February because Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and Frederick Douglass’s birthday were within the same week. He wanted to honor President Lincoln’s birthday because of his critical role in the Emancipation Proclamation. Additionally, Douglass was honored because of his powerful oration and writing skills and his work as an abolitionist.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the month of February as Black History Month. 

To learn how the month began, students can learn about Abraham Lincoln, as well as Frederick Douglass and why Carter G. Woodson would choose this month. For more information, grab a copy of Carter Reads the Newspaper today.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

The first-ever picture book biography of Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History Month

Carter G. Woodson Book Award (Honor Book), NCSS
Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Award
Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Book
Top 10 Books for Kids ―New York Public Library
Best Children’s Books of the Year (Starred) ―Bank Street College of Education

Carter G. Woodson was born to two formerly enslaved people ten years after the end of the Civil War. Though his father could not read, he believed in being an informed citizen, so Carter read the newspaper to him every day. As a teenager, Carter went to work in the coal mines, and there he met Oliver Jones, who did something important: he asked Carter not only to read to him and the other miners, but also research and find more information on the subjects that interested them.

Also, to learn more about Frederick Douglass, here is a wonderful video.

6. Black History Month Reflection

I believe February is a wonderful month for Black History commemoration, also because of Valentine’s Day. While not chosen on purpose, it coincides nicely and we can see how love and kindness was spread through the actions of social justice activists, whether it was Martin Luther King, Jr. to Harriet Tubman, from Barack Obama to Sojourner Truth. 

Once Black History month is over, students can spend some time reflecting on what they have learned. 

Here is a free worksheet that helps students reflect about everything they’ve learned and allows them to think to the future for what they could learn later. It incorporates Black History Month and the February theme of love. 

Conclusion:

We hope you are able to utilize some of these ideas in your classroom at any point in the year, not only during Black History Month. From the Instagram Biography activity to learning about lesser-known individuals, students can learn about a variety of people. Even by exploring various Black poets, virtual museums, and the background of how the commemoration month began, students are ensured to have a rich time exploring the excellence of these individuals that contributed so much to America. 

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