The Synergy of Poetry and Content Areas: Reading Poetry across the Curriculum

By Salas, Laura Purdie; Wong, Janet et al. | Journal of Children's Literature, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

The Synergy of Poetry and Content Areas: Reading Poetry across the Curriculum


Salas, Laura Purdie, Wong, Janet, Bentley-Flannery, Paige, Hahn, Mary Lee, Jules, Jacqueline, Mordhorst, Heidi, Vardell, Sylvia, Journal of Children's Literature


THE CLA MASTER CLASS this past November at the NOTE annual convention was a celebration! We have traditionally shackled poetry to the language arts curriculum, but presenters and participants in this Master Class broke free! They read poems, asked questions, and engaged in lively discussions about using poetry to enhance all content areas, including social studies, science, math, art, and physical educ ation /movement.

Chair Laura Purdie Salas and Cochair Janet Wong, both poets themselves, organized the 2014 CLA Master Class, "Reading Poetry Across the Curriculum," which featured two teacher educators, three current or former classroom teachers, a professor of children's literature, and one librarian (several of them children's poets as well). The speakers enthusiastically shared ideas for engaging students in poetry and putting poems to work in all content areas. They shared sample poems, favorite teaching tips, and connections between content areas to show how poetry can be not only art but also a real workhorse in terms of helping educators meet standards and mandates.

Each year, the Master Class is an exciting opportunity to learn from teacher educators and classroom teachers as they share strategies and resources for successful children's literature instruction. This article is a brief look at some of the wonderful information that was shared at the 2014 event, in the words of each roundtable leader.

Poetry and Social Studies

Sylvia Vardell, professor (Texas Woman's University) and poetry anthologist

Sharing poetry in the context of social studies is natural, given the topics that make up this content area. The curriculum standards of the National Council for the Social Studies quickly reveal the poem connection possibilities, with thematic strands that focus on culture, people, places, identity, government, technology, society, and civic ideals. These recent poetry titles are just a few that connect to social studies themes:

[white square] Dare to Dream...Change the World edited by Jill Corcoran (2012)

[white square] The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom and other poetry collections by Margarita Engle (2008)

[white square] America at War and other anthologies edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (2008)

[white square] Rutherford B., Who Was He? Poems About Our Presidents by Marilyn Singer (2013)

In addition, the National Council for the Social Studies, in cooperation with the Children's Book Council, produces the annotated list Notable Tradebooks for Young People, primarily for Grades K-8. The list typically includes four or five books of poetry each year, with a variety of poetry forms and formats by poets such as Marilyn Nelson, Margarita Engle, Jen Bryant, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Nikki Grimes, Carole Boston Weatherford, and J. Patrick Lewis.

As we share this poetry with students, many works lend themselves to being read aloud dramatically, Readers Theatre style, with students taking on different roles or characters (particularly with novels in verse). Other poems are powerful in combination with a nonfiction book on the same topic, examining how information is integrated into poetic forms. We can look at the webpage Today's Document from the National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/todays-doc) and lead students in creating their own original "found" poems out of the text of those historic words. We can also examine the art and illustrations in primary sources alongside the imagery of poetry to help young people visualize other times and places. Conversely, we can utilize the resources of Google Earth or Google Maps to locate the places students read about in poetry, or examine children's books in different languages from around the world on the International Children's Digital Library website (http:// en.childrenslibrary.org).

Look for "Ten Poetry Collections for Social Studies Not to Be Missed" in Poetry Aloud Here 2! …

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