Friday, April 04, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - A World of Wonders

I have been teaching a course on integrating science and social studies for some time now. While I often get puzzled looks from folks when I try to explain this, the elementary teachers I work with recognize that this makes perfect sense. There is tremendous overlap between the science and social studies curriculum, particularly with respect to the topic of geography. The book A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme, written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Alison Jay, nicely captures this relationship.
The book opens with a poem entitled Places and Names: A Traveler's Guide, in which a number of cities and sites with interesting names are named. The poem concludes in this way.
Thousands of spaces are places to be--
Discover the World of GE-OG-RA-PHY!

Travel by boat or by car or by plane
To visit East Africa, Singapore, Spain.
Go by yourself or invite a good friend,
But traveling by poem is what I recommend.
What follows are poems about explorers, places on the map (Sandwich Islands, Italy, Angel Falls, Mount Everest etc.), the globe itself (latitude v. longitude, equator and the poles), earth science topics (aurora borealis, San Andreas fault, stalactites v. stalagmites), and many other things.

This is a wonderful book for introducing a mix of geography topics, as well as science topics like biomes, ecology and natural resources. There are a few poems that encourage readers to think about their impact on the earth. The last poem, entitled Walk Lightly, begins this way.
Make the Earth your companion.
Walk lightly on in, as other creatures do.
Let the Sky paint her beauty -- she is always
watching over you.
A range of activities can be conducted with respect to these poems. Many of the poems lend themselves to mapping activities. In addition to the opening poem, there are riddles where readers must identify a city, as well as a poem entitled New Names, Old Places, where countries with changed names are described. In addition to the standard calendar bulletin board that appears in many elementary classrooms, I highly recommend a permanent board with a world map in which students can place push pins or "markers" to identify locations studied. This works not only for these poems, but also for places identified in current events and others books students read.

I also recommend laminating the map or placing a layer of plastic over it so that students can label and color areas of the map. For example, the poem 136ºF in the Shade describes the hottest day ever recorded in history. It occurred in the desert of Libya. There is also a rhyming couplet describing the size of the Sahara Desert and a poem on the Mohave Desert. While reading these poems, students can research other deserts of the world and color all of them on the laminated map. From here they'll be able to draw some conclusions about the characteristics of deserts and the geographic features they share.

For those of you looking for additional resources for using poetry in the teaching of geography and related fields, here are a few ideas.
  • Learn more about the poet J. Patrick Lewis.
  • Poetry of Place - This site encourages the reading and writing of poetry in geography instruction and includes many fine examples of student work.
  • Got Geography! by Lee Bennett Hopkins - This book contains poems about maps, globes, far away places and more.
  • In the 2007 September/October issue of the Journal of Geography you will find an article by Joseph Kirman entitled Aesthetics in Geography: Ideas for Teaching Geography Using Poetry.
**Updated** - My blogging friend at Wild Rose Reader, Elaine, posted an interview with J. Patrick Lewis today! It's terrific, so do check it out.


  1. I like "traveling by poem," although I don't want to give up the real thing, either. Except for the part about having to force everything into 3 oz liquid bottles. Poems give you more room!

  2. This book sounds fabulous! I'm putting it on my "need to buy" list. Thanks so much for the post!