Our Fourth Grade Curriculum: Poetry


South Dakota sunsetLullabies aren’t really to soothe the baby.  No.  Lullabies are to soothe the frazzled parent putting the screaming child to sleep.  Thus enters poetry into our homeschooling curriculum.  That’s how I feel about poetry in our studies; it soothes and benefits me as much, if not more than, the kids.  For the last couple of years, we’ve been pretty diligent about poetry memorization.  We probably work on recitation, on average, about three days per week.  We have no formal lesson plan and I haven’t marched out the poems to be learned for the year.  I know nothing in particular about poetry, other than I like to read it.  My fourth grader and second grader usually do poetry together at the same time.

Besides the “soothe factor,” these are my logical reasons for incorporating poetry memorization and recitation.  My children appreciate and learn:

  • Vocabulary:  Reinforcement of known vocabulary and introduction to more difficult, unknown vocabulary.
  • Concise expression of thought:  Poetry requires some precise, concise grammar, often to relay something complex and abstract.
  • Value of oral sound: In poetry, each word choice and phrase must make maximal impact on the listener, creating emotions and mental images.  Later in the school years, I anticipate that we can apply some poetry skills to our speech skills.  (Sometimes when the kids memorize, they’ll change a word which changes alliteration or rhythm.  We correct the word and talk about how the simple word change disrupted how the poem was experienced.)
  • Memorization skills:  Memorization of massive volumes of information is sometimes required in various subjects, whether we like it or not.  I believe that helping my kids recognize early on that they CAN memorize large volumes of information using their own methods and tools will benefit them in all their schooling endeavors.  I‘ve noticed that each of my children overcome memorization difficulties in ways unique to them.  One child literally seems to see the poem on a page in the sky.  The other sets the poetry to song. 
  • Shared feelings:  She can always nod her head and say, “Yes.  That line of poetry captures this nicely.  Thank you, Mr. Poet.  I’m so happy to share this moment with you.”

At this point, we keep it pretty informal.  We don’t study the poems in-depth.  We haven’t gone over types of poetry or written poems much yet (although they’veBlack Hills done a couple on their own).  Pretty much, we just memorize, enjoy, and internalize the poems.  I anticipate beginning more formal poetry teaching, poetry writing attempts, and learning about the poets at about the sixth grade level and thereafter. Here is what we often do with a poem:

  • Explore spelling and phonics concepts that we’ve worked on using select words in the poems
  • Talk about simple poetry concepts:  rhyme, rhythm, alliteration
  • Act them out
  • Watch them being recited on You Tube
  • Use fine art supplies to create art based on the poem
  • Recite them to grandparents

How do we choose our poetry selections?

  • What’s the weather outside?  Pick a poem about it.
  • Are we taking a vacation somewhere (such as to the beach or mountains)?  Learn a poem to complement our trip.
  • What are the animals doing this time of year?  Find a poem to describe it.
  • Is it time for a complex poem?  Pick a long one or “deep” one.
  • Is it time for a simple, fun poem?  Pick a silly one.
  • Is there something I need them to do (like have better table manners, pick up the house, eat a particular food)?  Find a poem about it.
  • Peruse our poetry anthologies (James Whitcomb Riley, The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, Whisper and Shout, plus another one or two).  Just pick one we like.

Snow fortWhat poems are in our repertoire now?  We review all memorized poems often enough to keep them in recall.  The following list has been accumulated over the last two years since we started memorizing poetry as part of our curriculum.

The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost)
Something Told the Wild Geese (Rachel Field)
Beautiful Soup (Lewis Carroll)
Weather (Anonymous)
maggie and milly and molly and may (E.E. Cummings)
The Germ (Ogden Nash)
Long-Leg Lou and Short-Leg Sue (Shel Silverstein)
The Sun-Dial (Adelaide Crapsey)
The Duck (Ogden Nash)
Windy Nights (Robert Louis Stevenson)
A Book (Emily Dickinson)
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven (William Butler Yeats)
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost)
The Star (Jane Taylor)
Hope (Emily Dickinson)
When the Frost is on the Punkin (James Whitcomb Riley)
Little Orphant Annie (James Whitcomb Riley)
No Man is an Island (John Donne)
Captain Hook (Shel Silverstein)
This is Just to Say (William Carlos Williams)
Bed in Summer (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Dreams (Lanston Hughes)
The Caterpillar (Christina G Rossetti)
Work (Anonymous)
Hearts are Like Doors (Anonymous)
The Months (Mother Goose rhyme)
Mr. Nobody (Anonymous)
The Goops (Gelett Burgess)

Closing:    I’m curious how much poetry work other families do and what benefits they see in making this effort.  I’d love the devil’s advocate to say how much they detest poetry and see no point in all that memory work so I can see that point of view, too!  For us, we enjoy it, and it doesn’t feel like a chore.  We will keep it going.




20 thoughts on “Our Fourth Grade Curriculum: Poetry

  1. andthreetogo

    I cannot remember if I studied poetry in school, although I know I probably did in my you get years. I know I definitely did not in college (English/literature was not my favorite). I wish I would have been more exposed to memorization and poetry though. I am not very good at either.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      We did just a tad in my public school. I remember memorizing maybe two poems ever. However, I read that young kids did well with memorization so we tried it a couple of years ago! I was amazed! After they showed me their stuff, we kept at it! As you know, with homeschooling, there are just so many fascinating subjects you can tackle!

  2. All Seasons Cyclist

    I am surprised you didn’t ask your children to write a poem about “apples, oranges, carrots, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, almonds, and plain yogurt.” I am guessing you left out sauerkraut because not many words rhyme with it. It is amazing that in all of the poems I’ve read by Frost, Stevenson, Riley and Dickinson I couldn’t find one single reference to sauerkraut—even Mother Goose couldn’t work it in. However, someone did write an entire poem about it (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-sauerkraut-study/).

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Laugh out loud! How did you ever find that? I should have my kids learn it–they’d giggle about a few lines there. They won’t eat sauerkraut–yet. But they’ll do a bit of kim chi and of course my plain yogurt!

      1. All Seasons Cyclist

        Next month it will be 36 years! Of course, we got married when were were way too young! Last month our daughter-in-law informed us that she is expecting in August—which, if memory serves me correctly, means I am going to be a grandfather (though I am way to young for such an awesome job).

      2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        That is awesome! 36 years and a grandchild! Congratulations! I like being a mom, but I’m going to LOVE being a grandma. I just know it. Volunteer to keep the baby after the 5-ish AM feed so mom can sleep in just a bit longer and you’ll be hero forever. 36 years–I love to hear of marriages that successful and their “secrets.” We’re on 15 this year but I started culling him way back in junior high! Those Hoosier boys need some pruning…

  3. IrishMum

    We do poetry for all the same reasons you mention. I did a lot of poetry in school, and hated every single word of it! Now my hatred has turned to acceptance, and maybe one day I will like it? Our list looks rather like yours, are you guys using First Language Lessons?

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hi! We used First Language Lesson, Book 1 for my first for the first two years. And then for my second child for one year. So some of our selections come from there (Rossetti, Mother Goose, Mr. Nobody), and I make sure they keep them up. Do you use First Language Lessons? I really liked it for my first, but it is very parent dependent in those early books so I gave up on it. If you use it beyond that first book, I’d love to hear more about it! Does it keep up on poetry recitation?

      I didn’t memorize much (maybe two poems) poetry. Did you start poetry young in your schooling and still dislike it? I seem to remember my poetry exposure coming late–like at 13-16 years old. Seems a little late in my mind to capture that non-fear of memorization.

      1. IrishMum

        We uses First Language Lesson 1 and 2 (It does continue with poems), but it’s too teacher intensive so we dropped it too! We were also using Writing With Ease, but again too teacher intensive.
        We started about 12, and I never got into it. Most of the time I didn’t even know what the poems were about, and I was always looking for hidden meanings in the obvious ones. Yeah, the fear was HUGE! Oh, the embarrassment of not knowing it in front of the class! Scary!!

      2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        Yes, with several children, the parent involved texts (that can’t be done simultaneously) just can’t be used anymore. (At least for us.)

        I think beginning memorization very young is much better than at TWELVE! For crying out loud, life is awkward enough at 12 without standing up in front of a class to recite! What do some teachers think!?

  4. MikeW

    Can’t muster a serious devil’s advocate argument, other than to say that I’ve run across a literature professor or two over time that treated poetry as if it was a cadaver on a table, rather than living thought-beings, so to speak. Fortunately not all tried to over-dissect it, which I think gets so subjectively into what the reader brings to the verse that there is less room for the writer to take the reader somewhere new. I remember wanting to approach poems as if meeting a new person with no one else around to modify the social freedom of conversation. Each poet, poem, and each person should have the freedom to be a new person, a new entity, a different window to discovery. We surely don’t define a scientist whose experiments leading to advances in applied science by their experiments that hit dead ends, failed for funding, or which got buried by others’ envy. Neither should we do that to poetry.

    BTW, hello there Doc!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hello to you, too! I didn’t have much poetry exposure back in the day, but when I did, I hated dissection! I like your thought, “I remember wanting to approach poems as if meeting a new person with no one else around to modify the social freedom of conversation.” I hope I let my kids do that with the assigned poems and any stories. Sometimes we do look up internet commentary on the poems, and I’m like, “Wow. I never saw that there!” What’s interesting, is the kids often ask on their own, “What does ‘that’ mean?” I love curiosity!

      1. MikeW

        Good on ya mate! I think that you are on target. Some lit teachers can hit just the right balance, keeping the inquiry open rather than trying to convince the students of how brilliant the critic is…al mismo pagina, amiga.

  5. rantsrulesandrecipes

    I’m always amazed at how much poetry my mother can recite (and how much I cannot) I love that you are exposing your kids to a variety of forms, abstract thought, and unique form of expression! Lucky them!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Your mother can recite poetry! Wow! I’ll bet you just transferred that ability to memorization of amino acids, Kreb Cycle, types of ACE inhibitors–rather than poetry. 🙂

      I was always jealous when I read those old classic books and the characters would sit around and play games revolving around finishing lines of poetry. I always thought, “Who can do that? How could they do that? Did they really do that?” [I wish I could do that.] So my kids get the education I wanted–although I won’t complain about my simple, country school education–it gave me what I needed!


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