Teaching the Power of Literature through Songs, Poetry, and Independent Reading


Show students the power of literature in our lives: the power to make us think, to make us feel, to make us look at the world in a whole new way. The power of literature is the reason why we read, and teaching students that power creates lifelong readers.

Last week I introduced my students to our newest independent reading study: stories and poems with enduring power. Using task cards, students walked around the classroom visiting four different stations where they brainstormed powerful content of their favorite books or movies, a powerful theme based on their own life experiences, powerful language from a scattering of poetry books provided for them, and powerful images based on a quick skim of Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day."

After our gallery walk, students returned to their desks and, in groups, read through their classmates' sticky notes on one of the class-created posters, synthesizing what makes that particular element of literature--theme, content, language, or images--powerful. Our whole class followed up with a discussion about powerful literature, and then students were tasked with finding their own powerful stories to read for independent reading.

Throughout the week, students tracked their reading on logs. Today, one week after our gallery walk of powerful literary elements, students came to class prepared with books and reading packets. Our focus: exploring powerful content in the literature students read independently.

The Power of Songs

We started class with an entry task: Students were directed to write the name of a song with powerful content on a sticky note and post it on our Smartboard. The students LOVED this activity. It's always a good sign when I hear students bragging after class to their friends in the hallway about an activity we did in ELA! Music is so accessible to students at all levels, so discussing the content of songs was a great way to tap into prior knowledge. By the way, who knew Wiz Khalifa was so profound?!

The Power of Poetry

Next I wanted to apply students prior knowledge to something new: poetry. I love using poetry to demonstrate elements of literature. Poetry is short and sweet, so I can easily squeeze an entry task, the reading and analysis of a poem, and an exit ticket into a 40 minute class period!

Since our objective was to examine the power of stories and poems, today was the perfect day to have students start exploring the poems in my March Madness, Poet VS Poet packet (see my post on March Madness and poetry).

Students simply flipped through the 16 poems in the packet looking for a poem that, in their opinion, had powerful content. The focus of Poet VS Poet is to determine which poems, when compared face to face, are the most powerful, so this activity worked perfectly!

Once students had their powerful poems picked out, I cold called on students using index cards with their names. The student then shared the title of his or her poem and explained what made the content powerful. I read each poem out loud to the class and projected it on my Smart board.

The discussions about the power of each poem blew my mind. Without providing highly structured lessons on reading poetry at this point, the students still had in depth, insightful, and compelling discussions about the power of poetry. Focusing on the power of one element alone--content--allowed students to focus on how the overall ideas made them think and feel. Students felt familiar and comfortable easing into poetry this way, and the way the theme of powerful stories and poems also connects to our independent reading helped students to develop an even deeper understanding of powerful literature and the elements of literature that make us think and feel.

The Power of Reading

Finally, after examining the powerful content of songs and poems, it was time to connect what students learned to their independent reading. The students completed exit tickets describing how the content of their independent reading book was powerful:

Looking through students exit tickets, it is clear that they developed an understanding and appreciation for powerful content in literature. In the next few weeks, we will focus on powerful themes, language, and images in poems and stories. Each week, we will focus on a single element and explore that element through different genres.

We read to feel and to think about the world in new ways. Helping our students to understand the power of literature to impact their lives will help them to become the lifelong readers we want them to be.

#CommonCoreStandards #Reading #IndependentReading #Poetry #MiddleSchool

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