Saturday, May 6, 2017

Using Shel Silverstein to teach literacy skills

I happen to love poetry.  I know - big shock since I am a Language Arts teacher.  I love all kinds of poetry.  However, my students do not love poetry.  I get it - poetry can be very difficult to understand, especially if you lack literacy skills.  However, I find using poetry very effective to teach literacy skills, especially if I use highly interesting poetry.

This is where the most wonderful Shel Silverstein comes in.  Obviously he is no Shakespeare or Dickinson or even Frost.  However, he does have something that these other authors don’t have - readability and relatible.  Students really like his poetry.  His poetry has a high interest quality because of the ease of the readability.  There are two poems that I use to teach basic summary skills and basic analysis skills.  

The poem I like to use to teach basic summary and analysis is “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out.”  I like this poem because there are a lot of extraneous details that the students need to sift through to get to the heart of the story.  I also like to use the Fact Outline (see below) to help with the summary.  In “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out,”  there are two main characters - Sarah and her father.  With the Fact Outline, we summarize the story, analyze the motivation of each character and make a prediction about what might happen beyond the plot we are given in the poem.  Because I generally use this graphic organizer for the first time with this lesson, we do this as entire class.  After a few times, the students can do this on their own with most pieces of literature. What I like this exercise is that it introduces the students to poetry: it helps students to see that basic story elements of exposition, conflict, rising action, climax and falling action are present in poetry; and helps to introduce basic summary and analysis skills.

The second Shel Silverstein poem I like to use for literacy skills is “My Beard.”  This is a fun limerick that the kids really like because of the naked man running down the road.  I like to use the response to literature planning guide with this poem because helps students to see how poems are put together and it is not some abstract random act of the poet.  Again, because I generally introduce this graphic organizer for the first time with this poem, we do this as an entire class. Below is an example that one class created. What I like about this graphic organizer is that the students are given specific items to analyze and some of the items are on the graphic organizer are not in the poem.  This shows that not all poetry will be have all of the figurative language that they study.  

In addition to being a fun way to teach literacy skills, this is another low-cost way to incorporate great literature into your reading program.  (See my previous blog Most libraries have at least one copy of Shel Silverstein.  Also, in order to save paper, you can post this into your students' Google drives (if your school uses Google) so that the student can mark up the poetry. Regardless of how you deliver the poem, the results are the same. The students are laughing and learning the literacy skills at the same time.

Auman, Maureen E. Step up to Writing. Longmont, CO: Sopris West, 2003. Print.

Kerr, Rachel. "Dr. Rachel Kerr's Classroom." Creating High Interest Reading Programs on a Budget.
    n.p., 01 Apr. 2017. Web. 06 May 2017. <>. 

Silverstein, Shel. Where the Sidewalk Ends. New York: HarperCollins, 1974. Print.

Urquhart, Vicki, and Dana Frazee. Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then
Who? 3rd ed. Denver: McRel, 2012. Print.

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