Poetry Palooza at P.S. 149: A National Poetry Month Celebration

Today guest blogger is Ashley Shank who currently serves as a corps member at PS 149 in East New York, Brooklyn. Ashley graduated from Ohio State University where she studied Creative Writing and English. In honor of National Poetry Month, Ashley lead her team through the planning and execution of a month long literacy initiative focused on poetry called Poetry Palooza. Read along to find out how Ashley’s passion for words inspired the students she serves.

The first question I ask when a few of my teammates and I walk into the classroom is: “Who knows why City Year is here today?” One or two rather excitable students are completely out of their seats, flailing their arms in the air. I call on a quiet student near the window who tells the class that we are here to talk about poetry. I ask, “Why?” and quickly one student yells, “NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!” And she is right.

At P.S. 149 in East New York, our team is reaching the end of a month-long poetry celebration in honor of National Poetry Month. The celebration involves workshop-style poetry lessons in four different classes a week. With the younger groups we’ve been working from a book called Kindergarden Kidsby Stephanie Calmenson. The book includes several poems that explore the excitement of elementary school – the first day, show-and-tell, a run-away class pet, loose teeth. We discuss rhyming words, have students draw their own imaginary pets, and give them names that rhyme. We end the lessons with my teammate, Michael Verdi, accompanying me on guitar while I sing Shel Silverstein’s poem “Peanut-Butter Sandwich.”  Each stanza ends with the phrase “peanut-butter sandwich” and we have the students sing (rather, scream) along.

Ashley (top left) and her teammates shared a collage of pictures from one of the Poetry Palooza lessons. Photo Credit: Batsheva Greenwood

The third through fifth grade lessons run a bit differently with a focus shifted more towards figurative language and imagery. Students are led through reading and discussing poems by Langston Hughes and Carl Sandburg. We guide the conversation toward the more specific topics of simile, metaphor, and imagery. The lesson ends with students creating their own Found Poems by compiling lines of famous poems that I’ve cut up and distributed. Students make the lines their own by rearranging, mismatching, and gluing the lines onto a piece of construction paper.

My goal with what we’ve come to call Poetry Palooza was simple: I wanted to share my love for poetry with my students. I wanted the students we work with every day to have a positive and fun experience with poetry and I am very grateful that our team has been able to have just that over the past month.

Students created their own poems during a Poetry Palooza lesson. Photo Credit: Batsheva Greenwood