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Poetry’s Role in Literacy Development

April 19, 2011
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From the Royal Gazette:

Literacy Matters

Poetry’s role in literacy development

Darnell Wynn
Published Apr 5, 2011 at 8:27 am

The month of April is celebrated as National Poetry Month. This celebration was established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to increase awareness of the art of poetry, recognition of living poets, examination of poetry heritage and to draw attention to the wide range of poetry in the literary world.

April was chosen as a month where the most attention could be drawn to poetry with no other conflicting celebration within the month.

The primary goals of National Poetry Month are to showcase the achievements of poets, introduce persons to the pleasures of reading poetry, to include poetry more visibly in school curriculum, encourage publication and sales of poetry and to increase philanthropic support for poets and poetry.

Poetry plays a critical role in literacy development as it develops phonemic awareness in children. Parents and teachers for many years have read poems with rich rhythmic language to encourage children to hear sounds and recite lyrics to increase awareness of how sounds and language work together. Kindergarten teachers have long observed that their first readers do know their nursery rhymes. These predictable rhymes and structured verses help young children develop phonemic awareness as well as let them enjoy a tried and true literacy form. Many popular children’s authors like Dr. Suess and tales from Mother Goose are classics for introducing children to the world of hearing stories in poetic and rhythmic style. For older students, poetry can be used to introduce figurative language where ideas can be written to convey complex issues in as few words as possible. Older students can enjoy engaging in debate about author meanings by exploring the condensed but complex language found in poetry.

We have learned a great deal over the years that children with exposure to poetry gain immense advantages in being able to hear and segment sounds in words as one precursor to learning how to read. The hearing and reading of poetry together introduces rhythm and repetition that provides a model for fluency in reading. The ability to do this makes future learning in reading and writing that much more accessible for children, however, we also know that preschoolers and the first year of formal school is the best time to introduce children to the richness of poetry as a means to developing both oral language and literacy knowledge.

National Poetry Month is a great time for parents and schools to introduce poetry or find innovative ways to celebrate the rich legacy of poetry. The National Academy of American Poets has a list of 30 suggestions to browse on their website. I will include a few that are easy, fun and applicable to any age level to enjoy.

l Read favourite poems on an open mic in school or at a coffee café

l Memorise and recite popular poems

l Create personal poetry books with children

l Explore poetry forms, verse or stanza patterns, alliteration, figurative language, onomatopoeia

l Invite a local poet in the class to talk about the imagery in their collections

l Bring in popular children authors like Dr Seuss and Mother Goose tales and dramatise them through plays

Poetry is a form of writing and reading with wide reaching learning opportunities for children’s literacy development. April is a good time to begin this celebration of poetry and a time to make poetry the critical part of early literacy language development by revisiting those old rhythmic tales passed down through the centuries.

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