Did you ever meet Ricky Baker?
You might remember him as the lead character in Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. “He’s a real bad egg. We’re talking graffitiing, littering, smashing stuff, breaking stuff, stealing stuff, throwing rocks, running away… and that’s just the stuff we know about.”
In the film, Ricky is a foster kid – taciturn, stubborn, and a little bit sad, but also funny, endearing, and brave. One of Ricky’s most precious attributes is his love of haiku, which a social worker has instructed him to start writing to help him process his feelings. His haikus made me laugh out loud, and reminded me that all our students need poetry!
How poetry helps students
Ricky began using haiku to help him process his feelings, but his poems quickly became much more – they became a way of helping him understand the world around him.
And that’s exactly it: poetry is a brilliant framework for students to develop comprehension, and to find new ways of expression.
Poetry promotes literacy
It’s a simple as that.
Most poetry is structured and moves in rhythms and rhymes, so it encourages students to think about sounds, syllables, vocabulary, and sentence structure. It uses figures of speech such as similes, metaphors, personifications, hyperbole, and it develops a vivid sense of imagery.
Poetry offers a brilliant model for developing some of the finer points of reading and writing.
Poetry offers new ways of expression
Poetry is an especially great vehicle for developing comprehension.
Here’s an example: I once worked with a bunch of grade 3 students, closely reading and analyzing this poem by Christine O’Connell George:
Maple Shoot in the Pumpkin Patch
I helicoptered past
your kitchen window last fall,
then hovered over the pumpkin patch.
I had travelled far on the wind that day,
spinning the whole entire way.
I really hadn’t planned to stay …
I did the reading; students did the thinking and talking. I modeled my thoughts by telling the students that some days I felt just like the seed from the tree, spinning the entire way. The students responded with their own ideas, many of them incredibly perceptive.
And that’s the thing – a well-crafted phrase or two in a poem can help students see or express an experience in an entirely new way.
Students need poetry.
And who knows, it might just help the Ricky Bakers in your class!
Maple Shoot in the Pumpkin Patch is a text in our new resource, Enhance Literacy. It's also available in our range of sample lessons – download the PDF and audio from our Enhance Literacy Fluency Kit.
While we're here, many of CSI Literacy’s resources include poetry. Both the CSI Literacy kits and Enhance Literacy have poetry lessons, and there’s an entire CSI Chapters book devoted to mathematical poetry.
(You read that right. The Right Angle is quite possibly the world’s only mathematical poetry book for young readers. It’s full of clever numerical poems, such as David Hill’s ‘Big Stuff’, which explains how Google came to be named. Check it out!)
About the author
Neale Pitches is the founder of CSI Literacy and a former teacher, principal and CEO of Learning Media.
Neale presents internationally on literacy and school leadership, and was honoured by the Queen in 2003 for his contributions to New Zealand education.