I’ve always struggled with teaching poetry and felt nothing but dread and trepidation toward the 6th-grade Core Knowledge poetry unit each year. My discomfort stems from high school and college-level English courses in which I felt there was only one correct answer to questions about poetry. The likelihood of my interpretation being incorrect was HIGH, and in turn, this made my excitement and willingness to engage LOW.
In my own classroom, I felt comfortable teaching poetry only when I held the answer key firmly in my hand and could guide students to the correct answers with little breadcrumbs I’d found in the teacher’s guide!
Answer Keys No More
At the end of the last school year, I was bound and determined to make my poetry unit feel like a slam dunk just like my narrative and informative units. So I spent a significant amount of time with a list of poetry recommended for 6th graders that would offer a unique balance between fun, diverse, thought-provoking, and challenging poems. I turned to the poetry list from “What Your Sixth Grader Needs to Know” by E.D. Hirsch and the Core Knowledge Series.
The list invites sixth graders to read poems from well-known poets such as Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Rudyard Kipling, and more.
As I began building out a unit for my 6th graders, I knew that while I wanted them to do important work, I also wanted them to love the experience and come away with their own understanding and connections. So I vowed to do away with the answer key and instead focus on making the experience of reading poetry a very personal one. As it should be.
I decided to use foldables so students could build a mini-poetry portfolio in their interactive notebooks and also because my students beg for hands-on activities. I wanted each poem students encountered to have a quick “how-to” reading guide that would help them focus on what to do during a first read, second read, and so on. I also wanted each poem to contain only open-ended questions where a wide-range of answers could be accepted.
Here’s What We Did
In the beginning, we spent at least three days with each poem. The first day we would read for the gist and acknowledge gut reactions, questions, and confusion. We would spend ample time researching under the pretense that we were detectives trying to solve a puzzle. Our research would obviously include vocabulary, but it would also include snippets about the poet, the time period in which the poem was written, the historical context, and any other references we could find. We tried to finish our first day with the poem by reading it a second time with our newfound understandings so we could understand the key ideas.
On our second day, we would take a look at the poem through a different lens. This time, we were looking at how the poet conveyed his or her message. Particularly, the craft and structure of the work. We would look at the physical structure (length, stanzas, lines, rhyme scheme, meter, etc.) and we would look at the poet’s language. We would discuss our various interpretations and why the poet made the choices they did, and then we would shift into uncovering meanings. I encouraged students to share their thoughts no matter how different from others they may seem.
Our third day (if needed) was often spent wrapping up the poem and possibly doing a fun extension task. Some days this looked like crafting our own poem in response, while other days this might have been listening to a different version of the poem and comparing the two. (The Raven, The Walloping Window-Blind)
We did not use an interactive foldable with every poem because some days we needed to read poetry for no other purpose than to enjoy it. Some days I wanted to change it up, and some days I could tell my kids needed me to change it up.
Check Out My 6th Grade Core Knowledge Poetry Foldables
If you are interested in checking out the poetry foldables I created and used with my students, you can access a freebie for the Chippewa poem A Song of Greatness here.
Other poems included in the unit are:
- Mother to Son by Langston Hughes
- Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson
- Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
- I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud by William Wordsworth
- Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar
- The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
- The Walloping Window-Blind by Charles E. Carryl
- A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- Woman Work by Maya Angelou
- A Narrow Fellow in the Grass by Emily Dickinson
- There is no Frigate like a Book by Emily Dickinson
- All the World’s a Stage by William Shakespeare
- If by Rudyard Kipling
- Apostrophe to the Ocean by Lord Byron
If you are interested in implementing the entire unit, you can purchase all 15 poem foldables at a 20% discount here.
I’d love for you to tag me in any pictures you snag of your students engaging with these poetry foldables at @heynatayle. Feel free to drop a comment or send me a note if you have any questions about the poetry foldables or how I use them!