Poetry Cafe Fridays

One of the things I truly miss about teaching in a primary, or lower elementary, classroom is the pleasure of teaching everything! I know...many of us long to be responsible for only what content area, but I live for the opportunities to integrate. Not to mention I absolutely LOVE poetry! Oh, how I miss infusing poetry into the curriculum.
At the beginning of the year (along with two other times of the year) we were required to administer reading assessments. As much as I loathe standardized testing and data driven decision making, I always used this data. I looked at it from a practical side. If I had to force the kiddos to participate in these assessments then I may as well make it worth their while. That is partly how Poetry Cafe began (another post to come on its origin).
Often times, as a result of the reading assessments it came to my attention that the kiddos needed to work on fluency. Some needed to increase their rate while others needed to work on inflection. I decided that poetry was the best bang for our buck. Poetry can be brief, highly engaging, and jam packed with thinking.
After determining what each kiddo needed to work on and at what level, we created poetry notebooks or folders. Sometimes the kiddos had a choice of poems, and others I chose for them. In the end, whichever poem they were reading was included into their poetry notebook/folder.
At the beginning of each week, the kiddos would receive a poem and then meet with an adult to read it. During this time we would clarify the meaning of any words, read it aloud for them so they could hear one way to read it, and then chat about our understanding of the poem. This would take about 5-10 minutes per group.
During the remainder of the week this became the kiddos' arrival, or morning, work. They would get together with others in their poem group and practice reading it. At least three times each day. It was up to them of they read it. They could read it in partner voices, one word or one one at a time, all together, or independently. I should probably note that before they were able to make these choices, there was a lot of modeling and practice during Morning Meeting.
The kiddos were also required to perform their poem for their family at least one night during the week, and had the opportunity to use quiet time to perform it in their heads. Envisioning yourself doing something is quite powerful. The more successful you see yourself doing something, the more successful you will be when the 'big day' occurs. At the time, I stole this strategy from Weight Watchers and had to do many think alouds to make envisioning as concrete as possible.
Fridays became our Poetry Cafe day. This was the day that we would gather together and hear each other read poems. The way I explained it to the kiddos was that people often gather together in a place to share poems. Sometimes they share their own poems, and sometimes they read other people's poems. I told them that most often they would gather together in places like bookstores or coffee shops. And as people do when they get together with others, they eat and drink. Providing them with this frame really excited them! And to prove it to them, I would share a few poetry slam videos I've found on YouTube. Two of my favorites are Touchscreen and Toys.
So came Friday. Poetry Cafe day. It was a big deal in my classroom. My paraprofessional and I would begin making the hot chocolate during Quiet Time. As soon as we started boiling the water, lining up the styrofoam cups, and ripping open the cocoa packets eager little eyes would grow large and round. After quiet time, the kiddos would gather their poetry notebooks, cup of cocoa, and sit together. And then the readings would begin.
The kiddos would get up in front of their classmates and read their poems. As the year went on, I encouraged and taught them how to perform poetry. This was always optional, but if you know third graders, they love performing!
Also, sometimes the kiddos would share their own poems. When they did this, it was cocoa and munchkins! Poetry Cafe Fridays was one of the best days each week for kiddos and adults! A great memory for all of us!


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