Poetry as a Core Reading Text for Younger and Struggling Readers

By Rasinski, Timothy; Zimmerman, Belinda et al. | New England Reading Association Journal, July 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Poetry as a Core Reading Text for Younger and Struggling Readers


Rasinski, Timothy, Zimmerman, Belinda, Bagert, Brod, New England Reading Association Journal


"The longer I live, the more I see there's something about reciting rhythmical words aloud-it's almost biological-it has the ability to comfort and enliven human beings

~Robert Pinsky, Former Poet Laureate of the United States~

Narratives, or stories, have traditionally formed the core of reading programs in the United States. Over the last decade informational texts have been increasingly added to the corpus of materials used to teach reading. As a result of this expanding emphasis on narrative and informational texts, other types of reading materials have been relegated to second tier status. Among these has been poetry. This is curious because the first type of language children are exposed to is often poetic. The oral tradition from which nursery rhymes, songs, and lullabies emerge echoes poetry. In this paper, we argue that rather than diminishing poetry in the elementary classroom, poetry should be a core reading text. Moreover, we, along with other scholars (e.g., Perfect, 1999; Wicklund, 1989), feel that poetry offers particular advantages for teaching essential reading competencies for younger and struggling readers.

Tim and Belinda are professors at Kent State University. As university professors, reading clinic directors, literacy coaches, and former classroom teachers, they use poetry as a core reading text when working with younger struggling readers. We draw from our experiences in these varied roles to make the case for using poetry to teach reading. Additionally, we offer compelling considerations for incorporating poetry into the literacy instruction of young children who find learning to read difficult.

Why Poetry?

Why indeed! Perhaps the most immediate reason for bringing poetry into the classroom is that it is specifically identified as a text for instruction in the Common Core State Standards in Literacy (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2014). Indeed, poetry is included in the reading standards at every grade level from kindergarten through grade 12. Poetry is important because our standards indicate that it is important. Of course, there are many other reasons why poetry deserves a place at the reading instruction table.

Reading poetry is fun. Many children who strug- gle in reading do not view reading as fun. A critical reason for using poetry with younger and struggling readers is that reading poetry is an immensely enjoyable experience. Certainly the content of poetry offers children the opportunity to learn about life, to enjoy a joke, or be surprised. The very nature of poetry itself, the rhyme and rhythm embedded in poetry for young children make poems fun to read. As poet Robert Pinsky mentions in his quote that begins this essay, the act of reciting a poem has a positive effect on the reader that is physical as well as emotional.

Poetry is accessible in ways that some basal readers, anthologies, curricular texts, and even trade books are not. The rhyme, rhythm, and repetition of children's poems invite multiple readings that have the propensity to increase the comprehension, fluency, word recognition, and vocabulary of the reader. Poems are intended to be read aloud so they are written with plenty of voice rendering them ideal for practice and performance. From a visual standpoint, poems are less intimidating to young, struggling readers since poetry texts usually contain artistic images to support meaning, include attractive and interesting formats, and have ample white spaces. Finally, poems may tell brief stories on topics of high interest to children, are often laced with humor, use irresistible language forms such as onomatopoeia, and intentionally appeal to the senses. These configurations work together to create non-threatening, meaningful, and joyful texts that children find captivating to read, perform, and even write. Simply stated, poetry permits success.

Phonemic Awareness

In a review of research into effective reading instruction, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000) identified phonemic awareness as a key competency for success in learning to read. …

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