Poetry: Explore the Power of Words
A new sound, raucous and sassy
Cascading over the asphalt village
Breaking against the black sky over
Riffing past resolution
—from Harlem by Walter Dean Myers; illustrated by Christopher Myers
“A poem,” wrote Robert Frost, “begins with a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness."
Most young readers understand those feelings, but the compressed language of poetry is not always accessible. To help your students explore the power of words, start by moving from the concrete to the abstract. Choose a topic that is rich with nonfiction, fiction and poetry, and offer selections of each to your students. This multi-genre approach will help young readers build knowledge and vocabulary—and have fun making connections.
To get you started, we've listed titles here for each grade band, followed by activities that can adapted for your classroom.
FUN WITH MATH
Math Fables: Lessons That Count
Greg Tang (Scholastic Press, 2004) Nonfiction
Young learners see the basics of addition and subtraction in completely new ways.
Just a Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book
Yuyi Morales (Chronicle Books, 2003) Literature
In preparation for her birthday party, Grandma Beetle sweeps the house, makes tortillas, and does other chores, each linked to a number from 1 to 10, uno to diez.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems
J. Patrick Lewis (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2012) Poetry
A reimagining of classic poems—by Poe, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, and others—with a dash of math
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle
Claire A. Nivola (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) Nonfiction
The life of a scientist who continually probes “the blue heart of the planet.”
The Mixed-Up Chameleon
Eric Carle (HarperCollins; Reprint edition, 1988) Literature
Colorful collages illustrate the story of a chameleon that learns to change not only his colors but also his shape and his dreams.
Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night
Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010) Poetry
This picture book combines poetry with facts about the forest.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp
Jerry Shanley (Crown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition, 1993) Nonfiction
The story of how children of migrant laborers got a school of their own
Bud, Not Buddy
Christopher Paul Curtis (Laurel Leaf, 2004) Literature
When 10-year-old Bud decides to hit the road to find his father, nothing can stop him.
Out of the Dust
Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1997) Poetry
Luminous poetry conveys the struggles of a girl in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.
HARLEM AND THE GREAT MIGRATION
Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance
Laban Carrick Hill (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition, 2009) Nonfiction
The story of the violence, frustration and hopes of economic opportunity that led to the African American migration to the North in the early 20th century.
Not Without Laughter
Langston Hughes (Dover Publication, 2008) Literature
Hughes’s 1930 novel tells of a lonely boy who finds solace in literature, “where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas."
Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic Press, 1997) Poetry
This illustrated poem chronicles the journey of black Americans who move to Harlem for the “promise of a better life.”
Diego Rivera: The Detroit Industry Murals
Linda Bank Downs (W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition, 1999) Nonfiction
How Mexican painter Diego Rivera’s Detroit murals came to symbolize America’s industrial might.
The House on Mango Street
Sandra Cisneros (Vintage, 1991) Literature
A series of vignettes—sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyful about a young Latina’s life in Chicago
My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults
Pat Mora (Arte Publico Press, 2000) Poetry
Mexican phrases and cultural symbols are woven throughout these poems, which address a life in two cultures and the meaning of family.
THE CIVIL WAR
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War
Drew Gilpin Faust (Vintage; Reprint edition, 2009) Nonfiction
A look at how death on an unprecedented scale forever altered the United States
Charles Frazier (Grove Press, 2006) Literature
A Civil War soldier and a lonely woman take similar journeys of danger and discovery.
Words for the Hour: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry
Edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005) Poetry
Verses about the Civil War by famous poets and ordinary citizens
- A Sense of Touch
Find words in the poems you read that convey a sense of touch, or texture. Do these words describe something that is soft, rough, smooth, or sticky?
- Fact Versus Fiction
Make a list of five made-up scenes from your readings and five that are based on historical events.
- Collage Art
Create a collage that illustrates a poem you’ve read.
- Character Development
Write a brief essay describing a character in one of the texts you've read. Use quotations to amplify your description.
- Leading Letters
Write a poem that uses at least 10 words that begin with the same letter. Read your poem aloud to the class.