With the inception of the Common Core State Standards, poetry has taken a bit of a back burner in fourth grade. In keeping with the theme of my last few posts, I wanted to take some time to outline how I´ve been using our poetry mini-unit to enhance my students´ vocabulary and word choice.
While I typically follow Dr. Lucy Calkins´ Units of Study, I decided to take a short, two-week break to let my children read and write some poetry. My colleagues and I mapped out a unit that pushes our students far beyond analyzing the conventions of poetry and writing flowery poems about spring. By fourth grade, they´re sick of this! We looked through the essays they published from our prior unit and analyzed them to see where the students still need help and how we can tailor the poetry unit to fill the gaps a bit. We realized that their language development continues to need improvement so we made this our end-goal.
We spoke with the children about how poems have so few words and how because of this, we need to chose our words with exceptional care. Each word should be carefully decided upon to enhance the meaning and power of our poems. The children drafted oodles and oodles of poems - free verse and structured. After selecting one poem that they wanted to take through the publishing cycle, the children were tasked with highlighting all of the words they felt lacked sophistication. They then had to work with a partner or use a writing tool (Word Ladder, dictionary, thesaurus) to replace their overused word with a fancier one. Often times, this meant reworking their poem a bit; changing more than just a word, but rather a phrase, line or even a stanza. Because of this their poems were significantly more meaningful.
We returned to our ongoing conversations about shades of meaning and the children seemed to solidify their understanding of this concept. They reworked their poems for an entire 30-minute workshop period. Philippe, one of my native French speakers was writing a poem about his sister. It was interesting to hear Timothy, one of my native English speakers, explain to a him why boys don´t typically refer to their sisters as ´gorgeous´. Timothy explained that ´gorgeous´ is generally used for girls you ´kinda like´ and that maybe the word Philippe is looking for is ´lovely´ or ´beautiful´. Talk about shades of meaning!