If you frequently celebrate poetry in the classroom, you can transform your students into more enlightened readers and writers. Light verse is defined as “poetry that is playful or humorous and usually rhymed.” If we extend the umbrellas of “light verse” to include such poetry as what we find in the late Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends or Falling Up, which is full of quirks, surprise rhymes, and free verse, then light verse becomes music to the soul of most students.

Children love the poetry books of Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Judith Viorst, Bruce Lansky, Jeff Moss, and Kalli Dakoa. At first glance, their poems look easy to write. Just pick a topic – any topic – from apples to zebras, and write a poem. You don’t have to worry inordinately about the rhyme scheme, as long as the words make sense and sound good being read.

Oh, yes, when writing these poems, poets draw heavily from the palette of their essential tools – similes, metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia. Of course, whether the poet is a professional or a student, it will take more than one sitting or class period to finish a polished poem, one worthy of posting or publication. Light verse, in the hands of those who love it, is a labor of love. Much time will be spent picking the right words, metaphors, and more.

When done well light verse is lightning verse. Crack! Snap! Crack! Words come out of the writer’s synapse popping mind, ignited by the teacher as a literary guide to poems about feelings, emotions, and more. Words are written with zest that tells a little story or communicate with humor about the joys and challenges of being a child. For example, this is from Picture Poetry On Parade! “My ABCs Riddle”:

My ABCs are sticky.

My ABCs are icky.

My ABCs are germy.

My ABCs are a janitor’s nightmare.

My ABCs are found on desktops,

Chairs, floors, and more.

My ABCs,

have you guessed

them by now?

I bet you have –

Already Been Chewed gum.

Good poetry sticks to our dendrites, and we never forget the likes of Silverstein’s Hector the Collector or Captain Hook, or what it is like to be in class with Lansky’s Gloria, who has a king-sized zit.

When I taught grades three and four, I used light verse to open the door in my room to the wonderful world of poetry and writing. I had many students who couldn’t wait to have me for a teacher because they had heard through the grapevine or their older sibling that kids in my class had it easy. Kids in my class wrote “short things” – that is, polished poems. And they had “long recesses” – that is, a few extra minutes of oxygen on the playground after lunch. Each year they marched in with high hopes of short things and more oxygen, and I never disappointed them. They earned those extra those extra gasps of fresh air by writing their hearts out in the classroom.

Oh, how their eyes twinkled when they realized this teacher had only two things on the immediate agenda – poems and recess! And everyone was welcomed, “including liars and magic bean buyers!” They knew instantly this was going to be a special year.

What they didn’t know was that they were going to write and write, while learning to appreciate good children’s literature, prose, and poetry. Light verse wasn’t just used on day one to reduce first day jitters. It was utilized to get the poetry wheel of good fortune and teaching rolling. We each wrote our “Name Poem” in acrostics and illustrated them with magic markers. Then we introduced ourselves and our poems to the class while becoming part of an extended family of happy poets and learners.

First day jitters were gone, promises were kept, and the love of learning was set into motion.

Joe taught grades 2-6 for thirty-three years. On the first day of school, he shook the hands of his students, smiled at them, let them choose their own seats, and shared the wonderful world of poetry with them, both hilarious and serious poems, including “It’s Okay to Cry.” On Day One, he used the power of poetry to create a safe, caring environment for his students that lasted all year long. Each poem in his book was inspired by his school experiences.

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