Hanging Poems in Trees: Surround Students with Opportunities to Interact with Poetry

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

Hanging poems on a cherry tree, 1741

Hanging poems on a cherry tree. Woodblock print by Toyonobu Ishikawa, 1741. 

In 2015, in one of my earliest Teacher’s Corner posts, I wrote about short poetry activities to use at the beginning of class, also sometimes referred to as “bell-ringers.” To accompany the post I chose an illustration, “[Hanging poems in cherry trees].”  I recently revisited that post and was again inspired by the idea of poems in trees, which I interpret as surrounding students with poetry in both expected and unexpected places waiting for them to discover. In order to make students comfortable with poetry as a way to connect with others and a means of self-expression, we may decide to promote their engagement by ensuring they have opportunities to see, hear, and read poetry regularly.

Some possibilities include:

  • Team with the librarian to create a display of poetry books and novels in verse. Consider placing these displays in areas other than the library such as a main hallway display case, a table in the cafeteria, or on a counter in the main office. Or, create a bulletin board of covers in a hallway with arrows pointing toward the library where books can be found.
  • Ask teachers to choose a favorite poem or one they have written. Post these poems outside classroom doors for students to see as they enter or for passersby. (We also made laminated signs for each of our teachers saying “School Name” Reads followed by the teacher’s name and a blank line for them to write in what they are currently reading.)
  • Host a class or school-wide poetry cafe.
  • Read a poem at the beginning of every class. Provide a visual of the poem for students who prefer to read and listen at the same time. Post a collection of the daily poems virtually or in the classroom for students to revisit.
  • Organize students to choose a short poem a day to be read during the morning announcements. Poetry 180 is a great place to start to find engaging options. The Poetry Foundation also posts a Poem of the Day.
  • Ask the principal or other school leaders to put a poem at the end of community-wide emails in the same way people sometimes share a book they are reading in their email signature. Classes can take turns choosing poems for inclusion; the poems could reflect a monthly theme or correspond to special calendar days. Consider providing a link to discussion prompts for families who would like to read and engage with these poems at home.

I would encourage you to explore these and other possibilities throughout the school year as well as during National Poetry Month in April.

How do you surround your students with poetry?

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