How to Get Kids Excited about Reading Poetry:
Make It Fun!

by Bruce Lansky

1. Read poems in class that kids will thoroughly enjoy. I tested poems by Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Jeff Moss, Judith Viorst, Bruce Lansky, and other popular poets with elementary-school students from around the country to find out which poems kids enjoy most. I've published their favorite poems in Kids Pick the Funniest Poems, A Bad Case of the Giggles, Miles of Smiles, No More Homework! No More Tests!, Happy Birthday to Me!, and Poetry Party. I also tested my new nursery rhymes on children ages 3 to 6. The poems these little people liked best are included in The New Adventures of Mother Goose.

2. Try to find poems that each child can relate to. One very effective way is to match kids up with poems based on their personal interests. Here are some matchups that work well:

  • Kids with an uncle named Dave love "Uncle Dave's Car" by Helen Ksypka (A Bad Case of the Giggles).
  • Kids who aren't exactly crazy about their brothers will enjoy "What My Parents Should Know about My Brother" by Bruce Lansky (Poetry Party).
  • Kids with a dog love "Dumb Dog" by Shirlee Curlee Bingham (A Bad Case of the Giggles).
  • Kids with a sibling they'd like to play dirty tricks on love "Sweet Dreams" by Joyce Armor (Kids Pick the Funniest Poems).
  • Preschool through K/1 children will love "Star Light, Star Bright" and "Jack Was Nimble" by Bruce Lansky (The New Adventures of Mother Goose).
  • Kids whose bedrooms are a mess will enjoy "Where My Clothes Are" by Bruce Lansky (Poetry Party).
  • Kids will enjoy reading "Birthday Advice" by Bruce Lansky (Happy Birthday to Me!) to a child in the class who is having a birthday.
  • Kids who can bring forth a burp readily (and often do) will enjoy performing the folk rhyme "The Burp" (A Bad Case of the Giggles).

3. Encourage kids to read poetry aloud, and/or recite it from memory. Kids need to practice their reading and performance skills. You can tell how well kids comprehend the poetry by the way they phrase and deliver it. Getting the whole class' attention (and applause) after the recitation will serve as a psychological reward for each child. You'll find that even children who are not good readers will want to recite in front of the class and will be motivated to practice their poem (or memorize it) the evening before in order to present it well.

To make "performing" poetry fun:

  • Encourage kids to perform in costume and with props. For example, "The Chap Who Disappeared" by John Ciardi (A Bad Case of the Giggles) could be read by someone in pajamas.
  • Encourage kids to use accents when performing poems. "I saw a Jolly Hunter" by David McCord (Kids Pick the Funniest Poems) is cute when read with a British accent.
  • Encourage kids to use gestures when performing poems. "Molly Peters" by Bill Dodds (A Bad Case of the Giggles) is hysterically funny when performed with gestures. To increase the hysteria, ask the audience to say "Eeeuuu" when the reciter does or says anything that's disgusting (something disgusting occurs twice in this particular poem).
  • Encourage kids to read poems together as duets. "Say What" and "Clear as Mud" by Bruce Lansky (Poetry Party) are a riot when read by two children who alternate lines.
  • Encourage kids to read poems with their parents as a trio. "Turn Off the TV!" by Bruce Lansky (Poetry Party) is a hoot when a child reads it with his father and mother.
  • Encourage a student with dramatic ability to perform "Grandma's Kisses" by Jeff Moss (A Bad Case of the Giggles). Coach the student to communicate dramatically just how "wet" and "juicy" and unwanted grandma's kisses really are: SLURRRRP! YUCK!
  • Read the folk rhyme "Ned Nott" (A Bad Case of the Giggles) with the help of one student who says "nott" when you tap him or her on the shoulder and another student who says "shott" when you tap him or her on the shoulder. After the poem has been read, and the laughter has died down, ask the other students: "Who was shot, Nott or Shott?"

4. Give students who are "gigglefritzes" a chance to shine.

  • Ask your giggliest student to read "Doing Business" by Babs Bell Hajdusiewicz (Kids Pick the Funniest Poems). Don't be surprised if he or she cracks up in the middle of it. (The word "pooper scoop" rarely fails to produce gales of giggles.)
  • Ask another giggly student to read "My Puppy Loves Showers" by Bruce Lansky (Kids Pick the Funniest Poems). See who giggles the most-the reader or the audience.

5. Give your students a chance to get into the act by performing poems interactively.Read "My Noisy Brother" by Bruce Lansky (Poetry Party) and invite your students to make the slurping, whistling, snapping, snoring sounds-as they come up in the poem.Read "Sniffles" by Bruce Lansky (Poetry Party) and ask your students to supply sniffling and sneezing sounds, as needed.And if you want to give your students a special treat, read "How to Torture Your Teacher" by Bruce Lansky (No More Homework! No More Tests!) and give them permission to do all the "terrible" things listed in the poem without fear of punishment.

6. Stage a "poetry race."
Encourage your students to practice reading "Betty Botter" against the clock. It's a lip-twisting folk rhyme that can be found in A Bad Case of the Giggles.

7. Give your students a chance to practice their listening and thinking skills by paying close attention to the meaning of poems.

  • Read "Brain Drain" by Max Fatchen (No More Homework! No More Tests!) and ask your students to find the "tiny brain" in Steve Carpenter's funny illustration. (Of course, you'll have to find the "tiny brain" yourself, first. Here's a clue: Who is the teacher in the illustration talking to? What is she saying? Why?)
  • Read "Deer Teecher" by Bruce Lansky (No More Homework! No More Tests!) and ask your students to tell you the story behind the poem. (Again, you'll have to figure it out first.)
  • Tell your students to listen carefully, but warn them that you're still going to fake them out. Then read "Poorly Dressed" by Bruce Lansky (Poetry Party), which has a delightfully surprising ending. Read "Oops!" by Bruce Lansky (Miles of Smiles). Ask your students to try to guess what is causing all the mess. See if they can figure it out before you get to the last line of the poem.

8. Solicit guest performances:

  • When a student's mother comes to class, ask her to recite "Millicent's Mother" by Jeff Moss (A Bad Case of the Giggles). Encourage her to change the name, Millie, to her child's name, which will make it more fun for everyone.
  • When the principal or the reading specialist or the media specialist (or another favorite teacher) visits your classroom, ask him or her to read "Confession" by Bruce Lansky (Poetry Party).
  • When you are absent, ask the substitute teacher to read "Mrs. Stein" by Bill Dodds (Kids Pick the Funniest Poems).
  • Ask a middle-aged, male teacher to read "My Thumbies" by Bruce Lansky (Poetry Party).

9. Celebrate special occasions with poetry.

  • Ask the principal to read "Morning Announcements" by Sylvia Andrews (No More Homework! No More Tests!) over the loudspeaker on April Fools' Day. o Read Timothy Tocher's "Help Wanted" (Kids Pick the Funniest Poems) before Christmas.
  • Read "On the Day That You Were Born" by Bruce Lansky (Happy Birthday to Me!) to a child on his or her birthday. It's sure to embarrass the birthday child and make everyone laugh out loud.
  • Read "Don't Pinch" by Bruce Lansky (Poetry Party) on St. Patrick's Day.
  • Recite "The Teacher's Show" by Bruce Lansky (No More Homework! No More Tests!) over the loudspeaker or at an assembly either the day before Christmas vacation or the last day of school.
  • Read Jack Prelutsky's "Mother's Chocolate Valentine" (Miles of Smiles) on Valentine's Day.

10. Don't forget: An important way to get your students excited about reading poetry is to read poetry in class regularly.
Preferably, read poetry every day, or as often as you can. Find poems that are appropriate for history, math, spelling-for example, "English Is a Pain" by Shirlee Curlee Bingham (No More Homework! No More Tests!)-geography, and other subjects. By reading poetry in class regularly and by showing your students how much you enjoy poetry, by the end of the school year you will have a classroom full of poetry lovers.

11. Invite me to visit your school.
One final idea: If you want to have the most fun with poetry that is legally possible, invite Bruce Lansky to visit your school. For booking information, contact the publicity department at (800) 338-2232.

12. Make my books available to your students. To place an order or request a free catalog, call customer service at 1 (800) 338-2232, fax at (612) 930-1940, or write to 5451 Smetana Drive, Minnetonka, MN 55343.