Monday, April 07, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Rulers of the Earth

They are found nearly everywhere on Earth and comprise the largest phylum in the animal kingdom. In fact, there are more species of arthropods than all other animal species combined. While many people call them "bugs," this name is misleading, as it includes only insects. Arthropods include animals as diverse as spiders, centipedes, scorpions, crabs, barnacles, butterflies, bees, ants, beetles and many, many others.

Examining arthropods up close can be a very interesting unit of study in the elementary, particularly if teachers can get past butterflies. Yes, I know that metamorphosis and life cycles is part of the curriculum, but there are so many other fascinating species to consider. Introducing some of these creatures through poetry is one way to begin. Two books that I find helpful for doing this are insectlopedia by Douglas Florian, and Water Pennies and Other Poems, by N.M. Bodecker.

The 21 poems in insectlopedia provide an imaginative romp through the world of arthropods. Yes, I know the title says insect, but this collection includes poems about spiders and ticks as well (no crustaceans or centipedes/millipedes, however). Using clever wordplay and illustrations that reflect the humor in the poetry, this volume provides a wonderful introduction to animals as varied as weevils, locusts, mosquitoes, caterpillars, water bugs, and others. The illustrations were done in watercolor on primed brown paper bags with collage. One of my favorites depicts three crickets playing violins, around an image of the moon. The poem reads:
The Crickets
You don't need tickets
To listen to crickets.
They chirp and cheep for free.
They fiddle and sing
By rubbing each wing,
And never will charge you a fee.
Other poems in the collection take concrete forms, like those for the inchworm and whirligig beetles. Overall, this is a strong and entertaining collection.

Water Pennies contains 32 poems that reflect the variety of life found in, on and around a pond. Illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Erik Blegvad, this posthumous collection is lively and full of delightful imagery. Here is an excerpt from the poem entitled Seeing a Dragonfly Over the Pond on a Sunny June Morning.
So dragonfly
is on
the wing,
the shiny

and bold
as brass,
but clear
and brittle
as fine
The bulk of the poems in this collection do focus on arthropods of one form or another. For poems in which readers may not know about the animal in question, they will find a footnote with a brief bit of information. For example, the poem Summer Skaters includes a footnote that reads, "A skater is a mosquito-like surface skimmer that sticks around until first frost."

In addition to these two fine poetry books, I recommend including April Pulley Sayre's book, Ant, Ant, Ant! An Insect Chant, in which an ant and 59 other insects are named. The book ends with a short informational section that describes the animals.

For those of you looking for additional resources for the study of arthropods, I recommend you explore these sites and materials.
  • This spider unit from Paso Partners includes bilingual information (Spanish) and activities for integrating math and language arts into the study of science.
  • Yucky Roach World lets kids explore life through the eyes of a cockroach.
  • The Glossopedia site on arthropods contains useful information for kids.
  • Try this Education World lesson plan entitled What's Bugging You?
  • The Understanding Evolution web site has a comprehensive section on arthropods entitled The Arthropod Story.
  • Kids can play a game called Monster Bugs at Scholastic's Magic School Bus site. Given a drawer full of bug parts, kids put them together to create bugs found in nature or new bugs of their own.
  • If you want to use live animals in your class, check out this lesson on using stick insects in the classroom.
  • The University of Iowa College of Education has created an insect bibliography. (This one has not been updated since 1999, but you will still find many useful titles here.)
  • Orkin has some bug and insect games for kids.
  • The University of Kentucky department of entomology has a variety of fun bug activities.
  • A large collection of insect illustrations are available from the University of Illinois.
  • If you want to integrate even more children's literature into your study of insects, take a look at this Eric Carle insect unit study.

1 comment:

  1. Great resources! I'm going to have to check out Water Pennies, which I'm not familiar with.

    I do love Song of the Water Boatman, by Joyce Sidman, all poems about animals and life found in and maybe around the pond. It's a fabulous book!