State Test Prep with Poetry? Yes, Really!

It’s the last Friday of National Poetry month and we have been swimming in poetry all month, and loving it!   We are also three weeks away from taking the M-STEP test in Michigan.  I’m not ready to give up our poetry fun —yet.  However, there is a nagging little voice beginning to whisper things like, “I hope you can defend this poetry fun, while you are using valuable language arts test preparation time.”

Of course, I can!  Here is a poetry practice I tried this week with great success!  Thursday I used a lesson from Georgia Heard’s book, “Awakening the Heart” which focused on “Word
Choice.”  Georgia suggests students use a t-chart as a revision tool when looking for boring old words and choosing strong bold words to replace them.  Here is how I approached the work.                                                                                                                              61UK3x-uGvL._SL500_AA300_

I chose two poems to share during writing workshop, from a couple of our favorite poets.  I used the poem, “Dust Bath at Dusk” from Irene Latham’s collection, Dear Wandering  Wildebeest, Poems From the Waterhole and “Snail in Moonlight” from Joyce Sidman’s book Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night.  The poems were selected for a couple of important reasons.  The first reason is that both of these poetry collections pair poems with a passage of informational  text.  The second reason is that these poems contain many strong images of unfamiliar scenes to my third grade students; the strangeness allowing us opportunity for great discussion.

We read and reread the poems many times exploring the meanings of curious words and recreating scenes in our minds.   We talked about the importance of the strong words each poet had chosen to help us picture what they were trying to teach us.  I then suggested we might look back at some of the poems we had written during the month to see if there were words we might want to replace in some of our poems.  I passed out copies of the t-chart created by Georgia Heard and the students began rereading their own work.  After about ten minutes we did a quick share of some of our findings.  Some students noticed you can’t see the word “be” and quite possibly a stronger verb was needed.  Other students noticed words like “dream” and “color”  which they could replace with words to create a stronger image.  The students continued working with this revision tool and actually groaned when it was time to stop for recess.

We returned to this work on Friday and reread the two poems, focusing on the informational passages accompanying each poem, noticing how the poets had included bits of this information in their poems.  They exclaimed excitedly as they appreciated the factual information tucked into the poems.  I suggested it might be fun for us to try working with some informational passages to create poems.  When I mentioned they might begin with a Wonder from Wonderopolis, the room fell into action.  My third graders love Wonderopolis!  Chrome books and notebooks in hand, they spread out around the room and began reading.

Each student chose a wonder of personal interest.  The challenge was to create a poem including some of the vocabulary and information from the Wonder article, to teach us about the topic, much the same as the poets Irene Latham and Joyce Sidman had effected with their poems.  In minutes my third graders were watching Wonder videos and reading their chosen articles.  Upon finishing they began writing their poems.  I conferred with individual students urging them to consider which images and information they wanted to include in their poems and then jotting a list of possible words they might want to include.

I feel the students were much more intentional about their word choice and also paid closer attention to the heart of each article, extracting the most valuable information to include in their poems.  The conciseness and exactness poets work to achieve is just the work we were practicing.  Thinking to illicit  such purposeful moves in writing poetry transfers to any genre of writing. Activities such as this help to prepare students for the types of reading and writing expected on our state test, where they will be asked to read and respond to short passages, comparing and using what they have learned to write informational, opinion, and narrative responses.

Here’s the best part of this practice…. my students LOVED the work.  One student suggested, “Let’s do this every Poetry Friday!”  The response was overwhelming positive.  I have included some our work below.

Wonder #720  “What Badger Has a Sweet Tooth?”

Don’t be Fooled

By Drew

Don’t be fooled
by a Honey Badger
It may be cute
but not pleasant.
It is a fearsome foe
that conquers and battles
with venomous vipers.
Then snacks on snakes.

Wonder #1437 “What is the Color of Fire?”


By Walter

Hot, Hot, hot!
Red, orange, white,
Can get up to 1,800 degrees F.
Orange range
2,000 degrees F. to 2,200 degrees F.
I’ll back away a
White light
2,400 degrees F. to 2,700 degrees F.
Blue fire
2,600 degrees F. to 3,000 degrees F.
I need a break
I’m jumping in the


By Sydney

Exploding out of wood

Orange, yellow, red, white, and blue flowers

pop out in the fire pit.

Caused by temperature.

Get a pod of friends

and watch the flames

dance about.


Wonder 1426 “Are you Double Jointed?”

by Mo

Are you double jointed?
Joint hypermobility
People can
flip and twirl,
Make impossible shapes
like a pretzel.
Some suffer through
chronic pain.

Wonder #1409 “How do Arctic Animals Survive in the Cold?”

White Wonder
By Millie

Camouflaged creatures
defend themselves
against the cold,
Predators hunting for prey,
miserable wind trapping them.
Hares huddle together,
Lemmings bunch in underground
depending on mother nature


About kdoele

I am a teacher who continues to learn from students kindergarten through seventh grade. Currently teaching seventh grade English and Reading/Writing Workshop, I am exploring what it is like to "begin" again... my one little word for 2017.
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1 Response to State Test Prep with Poetry? Yes, Really!

  1. Irene Latham says:

    Oh, wow! These young poets are filling their poems with wonder! The Honey Badger snacking on snakes, the way the fire poem ends with jumping in the lake, Sydney’s first line, “hypermobility,” and the huddling hares… WONDERful. Thank you for sharing. (Yes, do this every Poetry Friday!) xo

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