Thursday, April 17, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Mud, Stone and Fossil Bones

When I was growing up I had a rock collection. Not your everyday "rocks from the side of the road" collection, but an honest-to-goodness collection of rocks and minerals purchased at rock shows, scavenged from the rock pile at Ward's Scientific, or presented by family and friends from faraway places. The eruption of Mount St. Helens during my freshman year of high school cemented my fascination for all things geological.

Earth science has always been one of my favorite subjects to teach, and one in which there was a terrific dearth of poetry until the publication of Earthshake: Poems From the Ground Up, written by Lisa Westberg Peters and illustrated by Cathie Felstead.
Earthshake is a collection of twenty-two poems that introduces geologic concepts through metaphors and word play in a variety of poetic forms. The poems are accompanied by vibrant illustrations that combine brightly colored hues and collage. What I love most about the pieces in this book is the inventiveness with which sometimes difficult concepts are presented. Here are short excerpts from a few of my favorites.
Instructions for the Earth's Dishwasher
Please set the
continental plates
gently on the
continental shelves.
No jostling or scraping.

Please stack the
basin right side up.
No tilting or turning

Obituary for a Clam
Clam. Marine.
Age, 10 years.

Died 300 million years ago
in underwater landslide.
Native of the Tethys Sea.
Loving mother of 198 clams.

Recipe for Granite
Melt a chunk of continent.

Heat at a million degrees,
long enough for the world
to spin a trillion times,
long enough for the Milky Way
to make it partway to infinity.
In addition to these gems you will find poems about sedimentary rock, continental drift, minerals, meteors, geysers and more. Three pages of endnotes provide additional information about the concepts in each poem. You can download a Minnesota Storytime guide for the book to further enhance instruction.

While I haven't found many other poetry books that focus solely on earth science concepts, there are a few books of nature poetry that include some poems related to these topics. One of my favorites is Footprints on the Roof: Poems About the Earth, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Meilo So. Even though some of the poems in this volume are about the natural world, the vast majority deal with things like natural disasters, volcanoes, caves, fossils and other such topics. Here is a short excerpt from the poem entitled Islands.
Dad likes to talk
about islands--
how they sink
how they rise
How some are bred
by volcanoes
and others built from coral bones
In addition to these poetry books, here are a few other resources that you may find helpful for the study of earth science topics.


  1. "The eruption of Mount St. Helens during my freshman year of high school cemented my fascination for all things geological." CEMENTED your fascination!!!! You get an A+ for word choice!!

    I'll share these with our third grade teachers -- a perfect addition to their unit! Thanks, by the way, for ALL the great poetry resources this month! WOW!

  2. Earthshake is one of my favorite collections! Lisa Westberg Peters was my mentor for a year (on a nonfiction project, not poetry, though), and she has a forthcoming collection about volcanoes, too!