Thursday, April 03, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Animal Senses

Teaching the five senses is an important part of the elementary science curriculum. While we generally focus on how humans use their senses to explore and understand the world around them, we don't often think about how animals use their senses to thrive and survive in the wild. Two poetry books that describe how animals use their senses are Voices from the Wild: An Animal Sensagoria and Animal Sense.
Voices from the Wild, written by David Bouchard and illustrated by Ron Parker, was awarded the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award in 1997. In this collection of imaginative and expressive poems, animals relate the ways in which a particular sense helps them hunt, avoid predators, and care for their young. The book is divided into five sections, one for each of the senses (sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste). Each section features five poems, each one accompanied by a lifelike painting of the animal.

Animal Sense, written by Diane Ackerman and illustrated by Peter Sís, explores the ways that animals navigate the world using their senses. This book is also divided into five sections, each representing one of the senses. The poems are funny and clever and occasionally include made-up words. This book begins:

A stapler with its tiny fangs
cannot outwit

Rocks are very good at sitting
but never walk
or take up knitting.

Living things all feel the sense
their way through
every happenstance. . . .
Both of these books provide excellent read aloud opportunities for discussing the five senses.
I like to pair these books with What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and robin Page. This Caldecott honor book examines the function of ears, eyes, noses and other body parts. Each double-page spread pictures a body part of several different animals, such as noses, accompanied by the question, "What do you do with a _____ like this?" The next double-page spread shows each animal and includes an explanation of how the part functions.

After reading several poems on how different animals make use of the same sense, I share the appropriate set of pages from the Jenkins/Page book. First we look carefully at the "teaser" pictures and try to determine which animals are being pictured. Then we turn the page and read about how the animals use that body part. After this, select one animal and ask students to brainstorm some words and/or phrases that might be useful in a poem describing how the animals uses this sense. Write their ideas on sentence strips. Once you have a number of suggestions, rearrange them and put together a class poem. After you have collaboratively written a poem or two, encourage children to write their own poems that focus on animal senses.

Here are some additional resources for learning about animal senses.

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