Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Poetry Aloud

I love reading poetry, but I like it even better when it's read aloud. I like the sound of the rhyme, the feel of the meter, and the way words swim around inside my head before escaping from my lips. Poetry was spoken aloud long before it was written down. Since poetry comes to us today on the page, we often forget that. Here are some books that have been written expressly to be read aloud by more than one speaker.

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows, was the recipient of the 1989 Newbery Medal. It could easily have appeared on my post about arthropod poetry, Rulers of Earth, but I was saving it for this entry! The book begins in this way.
The following poems were written to be read aloud by two readers at once, one taking the left-hand part, the other taking the right-hand part. The poems should be read from top to bottom, the two parts meshing in a musical duet. When both readers have lines at the same horizontal level, those lines are to be spoken simultaneously.
From here, readers/speakers must jump right in. As a former member of a crew team, the poem Water Boatmen particularly appeals to me.
All the poems in this book celebrate the lives of insects, from grasshoppers and honeybees to moths and fireflies. The poems are indeed joyous to recite. I read a few aloud with my middle school students by posting the poems on the overhead (ah, the joys of the pre-technology days) and reading in chorus with them. It was great fun and provided much for us to discuss in a scientific context.

Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Beppe Giacobbe, takes the ideas presented in Joyful Noise and ramps up the volume (and chaos) to four voices. There is no particular theme to these poems, but they are fun and will appeal to a wide range of readers/speakers. In describing the book Fleischman said, "Families used to play games together and make music together. We did both all through my childhood. I wanted to give families something they could perform together—not in Carnegie Hall, but around the table." You can download an article about the book and learn more about how the poems were inspired. Instead of voices reading columns of information, readers this time find their parts on colored bars, reminiscent of reading music. Don't fret if you don't have this skill, as clear instructions for reading are included.

Math Talk: Mathematical Ideas in Poems for Two Voice by Theoni Pappas is a quirky little book that encourages readers/speakers to think about math in a different way. The book begins this way.
Mathematics may not seem to inspire poetry, since it is usually linked with the very logical.

Learning takes place via all our senses and by all forms of communication. Mathematical ideas can be learned through art, reading, conversations, lectures. Therefore, why not link mathematical ideas and poetic dialogues?
The book was published in 1991, so I'm guessing it was inspired by the success of Joyful Noise. The poems are not nearly as elegant, but I have enjoyed using them in math class. Here is an excerpt of the poem Infinity.
These books provide but one way to enjoy spoken poetry. For those of you interested in including more poetry exercises in listening and speaking, check out some of these resources.


  1. This is such an awesome and impressive list of smart resources you've gathered. I can't wait to share it with the teachers I work with--thank you!!!

  2. At the risk of tooting my horn ... I would like to add to your impressive list, another way to uses mathematics and poetry.

    Please see my blog.