6 Reasons to Use Poetry to Support Struggling Readers

6 reasons to use poetry to support stuggling readers

Motivating and engaging struggling readers can be a daunting task. Whether you are focusing on improving word work, fluency, or comprehension skills with your readers, poetry can help! I have found poetry to be a huge motivator and a successful tool to help struggling readers to succeed and build confidence at the same time.

Read on to find six reasons why you absolutely need to use poetry to support your struggling readers in your classroom. 

Poetry is a natural motivator for struggling students as it has much less text than a page of a novel or even a beginning chapter book. Since poems are short text with less words, students often feel less overwhelmed when presented with poetry. The idea of reading an entire poem versus an entire book or chapter is a task that students feel they can achieve.  

As students successfully read poem after poem, their confidence builds, and their motivation to read more poetry increases. By scaffolding from short poems to longer poems with longer stanzas, students can easily transition into reading longer material. 

Poetry is a great way for students to practice previewing the text. 

Again, the short text makes previewing a poem a task students want to do. In my classroom, we always take a few minutes to read the title and make a quick prediction. Then it is time to scan for new and unfamiliar words. This is such an important part of previewing poetry as many poems include rhyming words and higher-level vocabulary words. We always circle new words, work on decoding them, and then practice reading them before we read through the poem. 

This helps students not only understand the new word that they circled but it will also help them with words that rhyme with it, too. 

All of the previewing can be done right on the page, so no extra copies are needed! Grab a free poem and reading activities to try out the ideas in this post at the bottom of this page.

Poetry for struggling readers

Reading lessons and practice with poetry allows more time for focused word work. Word work can focus on the decoding of new words and also understanding new word meanings. Word meaning is especially important as upper elementary students are learning about different types of words including synonyms, antonyms, homophones, words with multiple meanings, and working to understand words with prefixes and suffixes.  Before reading the poem, practice words that you know students may trip over when reading the poem. Be sure to spend time going over new words by not just decoding them, but discussing their meaning. This is a great opportunity to practice using context clues to solve new word meaning, too! Following the first read of the poem pull out different types of words or groups of words you want to go over with students. This might include groups of words that make up a sentence filled with figurative language. By going over special words and figurative language you are helping to support students' comprehension of the poem. If students do not understand the meaning of the figurative language in the poem, they will not fully grasp the meaning of the poem.  As students read the poem numerous times, the word work you did will help them remember the words you discussed not just as they appear in that poem, but in the future when they come across those words and figurative language again. 

poetry teaching tipsI love using poetry to practice reading comprehension strategies. A poem's structure and short text provide opportunities for struggling readers to practice complex reading strategies like summarizing, inferring, and questioning. Often times poems are one page. This gives readers all the information that they need to write a summary or make an inference using the text that is right in front of them. No flipping pages, taking notes, losing stickies. Instead, they are able to just scan through the poem and gather what they need. Because the text is manageable, students do not mind taking the time to go back to the text over and over. Poetry is a great way to practice close reading strategies and responding to text-dependent questions, too.)With less text, students can easily reread the piece several times to understand its true meaning and find the support that they need to respond to comprehension questions.  Grab a free poem and reading activities to try out the ideas in this post at the bottom of this page.

Fluency practice is a must in all classrooms, including upper elementary classrooms for both struggling and non-struggling readers. Reading poems daily is an engaging way to practice fluency and an easy way to fit fluency practice into your everyday schedule. To effectively use poetry for fluency practice be sure to set clear guidelines for how you expect students to practice. Students in my classroom know that they must read a poem several times on their own before we practice fluency together. This goes for all levels of readers. 

Here are the steps we follow for poetry fluency practice: 

  • First read - read through the poem silently to grasp the main idea
  • Second read - circle new and unfamiliar words that students have to decode or use context clues to solve the meaning, or still question
  • Third read - practice fluency through whisper reading, pausing at punctuation and exaggerating bold or italicized words or phrases
  • Fourth read - reread as needed to answer comprehension questions that align with the poem

Poetry to support struggling readers

I love using the monthly poetry books by Scholastic* (Autumn PoemsWinter Poems, Spring Poems)for our daily poetry reading. 

They are organized by season, making them highly engaging for students. Do not let the grades listed on the cover fool you. These poems are perfect for upper elementary fluency practice. The poetry is also chock full of great vocabulary and figurative language. Although there are no comprehension questions, it is easy enough to create a quick question, write it on the board, and have students respond on the back or in a reading notebook. Read more fluency tips and strategies for your upper elementary classroom HERE

National Poetry Month REad AloudsReading aloud to students, each day is a must! Using poetry as read alouds in your classroom allow students opportunities to hear the whole piece in a short amount of time. Since poems are short, you can read the same poem more than once in one sitting to support struggling readers. Less text means less opportunity for students to lose interest, get off task, or become confused with too many characters or plots. I also love to display poems I read aloud on the smart board so students can see the words that I am reading.

When it comes to engaging struggling readers, poetry is a must! Its short text and rhyming pattern draw students in while increasing their engagement and motivation. After reading a few poems your students will be hooked and you will love their growth! Click HERE to find out how poetry can help motivate your struggling writers, too! 

You might be interested in these Poetry Close Reading Activities:

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8 Poetry Read Aloud Books for Upper Elementary National Poetry Month

poetry lessons upper elementary

Have you ever noticed how quiet the room gets when upper elementary students are being read to? There is something so calming and serene about sitting and listening to a story being read aloud. Picture books, chapter books, and poetry books alike are loved by students of all ages, including older students. 

Reading aloud promotes a love of reading, models fluency, and encourages meaningful discourse about books.  Poetry stimulates emotions which allow students to easily make connections and comprehend the poem that is being read.  This is an especially wonderful thing for our struggling readers, as it boosts their reading comprehension confidence. 

Since the curriculum is often jammed pack with fiction and nonfiction reading strategies and standards, poetry often gets left behind and forgotten. Poetry should be front and center in the classroom and woven into read-aloud schedules each month. The benefits of poetry should not be contained to just one month: National Poetry Month. 

If poetry is something missing from your classroom start with these fresh and classic poetry books and have your students start reaping the many benefits of poetry!

This diverse list of poetry read-aloud books are the perfect way to welcome poetry and National Poetry Month into your upper elementary classroom while providing content-based lessons and addressing the standards, too. 

Read on to find out more about each book, and be sure to grab the coordinating FREE student activity that goes with these books at the bottom of this post. 

Dogku written by Andrew Clements

National Poetry Month Read Aloud for Kids
I am not fully sure how I taught haiku writing before this picture book was published! Dogku is written only in haikus, yet tells a full story about a stray dog’s adoption experience. The kids are always amazed when they find out that the entire story is written using just haikus. They love to reread each page and check each haiku for the correct use of the syllable pattern. Of course, the perfect follow-up is to write their own haiku, but go even further and challenge students, or groups of students to write an entire tale! Is your class more into cats than dogs? Grab this cat-focused haiku picture book:  Wonton written by Lee Wardlaw, too! 

Giraffes Can’t Dance written by Giles Andreae

National Poetry Month Read Aloud for Kids
I love this book, not just for its fun poetic rhyming text, but for the powerful message it sends to its readers. (Perfect for theme lessons, too) The giraffe in this story gets teased by the other animals because of the way he dances. As the story goes on, the main character builds the confidence he needs to let his feet free and be himself! Could there be a more powerful message for our students? LOVE this one for all ages and any time of the year! 

Love That Dog written by Sharon Creech

National Poetry Month Read Aloud for KidsLove That Dog is a novel written from the perspective of a young boy who is learning how to find his poetic voice through a series of poetry lessons in class. This book is very empowering as it shows how readers and writers of all levels can become poets! Although he is hesitant at first, he begins to love poetry. What I especially love about this book is that the poems that the character refers to from his class lessons are all in the back of the book. This lends itself to discussing not only the poetry in the novel but the classic poems like Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost that is part of the character's classroom lessons. Grab a free coordinating poetry activity to use with this book at the bottom of this post.

Where the Sidewalk Ends written by Shel Silverstein

National Poetry Month Read Aloud for Kids
Poetry anthologies are a great way to sneak in poetry read alouds if you are short on time. Shel Silverstein’s poems are my favorite to share with students, but we often read from Jack Prelutsky’s anthologies, too! What I love about anthologies is that they are addicting and contagious. Once you start reading from Shel’s books, you won’t be able to stop, so you will easily find the time to sneak in a poem or two during free moments. Your students will be so addicted, too, that you will see them begin to borrow his books from the library! It is such an authentic way to hook young readers, especially your reluctant readers. 

Grab the free activities to use with these books!

A Full Moon is Rising written by Marilyn Singer

National Poetry Month Read Aloud for Kids

I just love this book because it is a simple, yet meaningful way to bring together science, social studies, and language arts. This book is filled with poetry about the moon during its different phases in different places around the globe. It ties together nicely with any moon and solar system unit. It is also a great way to bring different cultures into your classroom. At the end of the book, the author provides background information about the location of each of the poems. Students can easily make connections to the poems in this book by writing their own poems about their own cultures, traditions, and home towns. 

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You written by Mary Ann Hoberman

National Poetry Month Read Aloud for Kids
This is one of my favorite poetry books to use with students of all ages and reading levels. These poems are intentionally written for two people to read, as each poem has stanzas written in three different colors. One reader reads the purple stanzas, the other reader reads the pink stanzas and both readers choral read the blue stanzas. Talk about amazing fluency practice! It is the perfect book to pair up high and low readers and use in small intervention groups or one-on-one with struggling readers. These clever and funny poems will surely entertain your kids! This book is part of a series, so be sure to check out the Fairy Tales and Halloween versions, too! 

Shaking Things Up written by Susan Hood

National Poetry Month Read Aloud for Kids
This picture book of biographical poems is about 14 young women who changed the world. Each poem is written by different poets and illustrated by different artists, making it a unique collection of poems that teach students such wonderful information while reading prose. Not only do I love that these poems are nonfiction in nature and truly teach students about biographies, but since each poem is written about each girl as a young child, students are naturally inspired! A great activity to do with this book would be to compare and contrast each poem’s structure, as well as, compare and contrast each young girl. Follow up by having your students write their own biography poems. You will find your students borrowing this book from your classroom library, again and again!

All the Wild Wonders compiled by Wendy Cooling

National Poetry Month Read Aloud for Kids
I love each of the poems in this book! The entire collection of poetry in this beautifully illustrated picture book is all focused around the beauty of our planet. What I especially love about this book is how perfectly it pairs together with Earth Day with National Poetry Month in the month of April. Why not hit two areas of learning with one book and one activity? "Leave the Whales Alone, Please" is my absolute favorite poem in this book! It is a plea to save the peaceful whales from becoming extinct. It pairs nicely with students writing their own poem about an endangered animal. Encourage students can do a little research about an endangered animal of their choice and then write their poems. I love that students are showing what they learned in the form of an informational poem as a companion activity with this book.

When it comes to reading poetry aloud with your students, you can’t go wrong with any book you share-picture books with rhyming text, stories and novels written in poetic form, or classic poetry from different collections and anthologies. Once you start sharing poetry with your students you will be amazed by the increase in motivation and engagement. Welcome poetry into your classroom not just for National Poetry Month, but all year long, too! 

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National Poetry Month Read Aloud for Kids

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Bio poem activity for upper elementary

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    5 Ways to Ignite a Love of Math Problem Solving

    solving problem strategies upper elementary

    When it comes to getting students to love learning, particularly a content area that they are not interested in or lack confidence in, the best place to begin is to think about what motivates and engages your students. 

    Although this can differ slightly from year to year, many strategies to motivate students remains the same: encouraging a positive attitude, engaging students in a cooperative group or partner work and assigning meaningful activities and tasks. 

    When these strategies are coupled with appropriate scaffolding and teacher communication, students’ interest in math and perception about themselves as math students changes, and changes greatly! Turn your students’ dislike for challenging problem-solving activities into excitement and eagerness to complete the task at hand with these tried and true tips and strategies.

    5 Ways to Ignite a Love of Math Problem Solving

    Yes, we love math in my classroom! We say it and I display it! The positivity starts with the teacher!

    To counter the fear and stress that students face, spend time fostering positivity, and a growth mindset in your classroom. A simple discussion about persevering and trying hard goes a long way. 

    Remind students that by working on difficult math problems they are actually growing and stretching their brains. This type of mind shift doesn’t happen overnight. Develop a classroom mantra to encourage grit and a growth mindset with your students. By creating a class math mantra with your students, you increase student buy-in. Do not just create one and then tell students to say it. Make sure to work together to make a meaningful mantra for your classroom community.   Post your math mantra all over your classroom and include it during your math lessons. You might begin each lesson with the class chanting it to engage them right from the start of each lesson.  Be sure to post it in a visible place, so that each day and lesson begins with a positive attitude! Teach more than one section of math? Create individual math mantras for each class and create a wall of math mantras in your classroom!

    Teacher Tip: Your attitude is contagious! Be sure to always have a positive attitude during math problem-solving lessons! 

    Research shows that when students work with other students, in partnership activities and group work, their engagement skyrockets. 

    Many upper elementary students’ initial reaction when it comes to math problem solving is stress and worry. The fear sets in on where to begin and how to attack a multi-step word problem. It can be
    overwhelming when faced with a problem with large numbers, many different skills, and overly wordy. Insert a mindset shift to help students develop a growth mindset.

    5 Ways to Ignite a Love of Math Problem Solving


    “Collaborative learning has been shown to result in higher student achievement, higher self-esteem, and higher motivation.” (David W. Johnson, Roget T. Johnson, 2009)  

    I have found this to be especially true during math problem-solving tasks. 
    Math, specifically multiple-step problem-solving tasks, must be discussed over and over before it is fully digested and comprehended. When students work together, they are given the opportunity and time to discuss the problem, and then plan how to solve it. Working together helps students check and fix their work and helps to build confidence in both their skill work and problem-solving strategies.  No student wants to make a mistake in front of their peers. When working with another student or a small group, students feel safe and more willing to take risks, try more complex tasks, and show their work while explaining the steps that they have taken.  

    See it in action with this idea: Present students with a multi-step word problem to complete on their own. Then ask them to complete the same problem with a partner. Watch as their engagement and completion of tasks increase along with student success.

    Teacher Tip: Make the most of group problem-solving tasks by setting time at the beginning of the year to discuss what math discussions sound like. Encourage meaningful math discourse with math-specific discussion stems and questions. Grab a set for FREE at the bottom of this post.

    When it comes to math, nothing is more powerful than presenting students with meaningful and authentic real-world tasks. Tasks that students can relate to and make connections with, will increase engagement, time on task, and small group math discourse.  Think about what interests your specific cohort of students.  Are they interested in gaming? Sports? Baking? Outdoor adventure?  Once you know what will grab their attention create problems and tasks centered on their interests.  

    5 Ways to Ignite a Love of Math Problem Solving

    Meaningful real-life complex tasks that offer an open-ended approach to solving will increase student time on task and perseverance as students no longer see aright and wrong way to solve the problem, but rather many different ways to work together, brainstorm, and solve the problem. 

    Don’t forget that students LOVE technology! Integrate their love and knowledge by completing problem-solving on websites like Thinking Blocks or by creating multiple-step problem-solving activities in the form of a text.  Grab a FREE sample at the bottom of this post.

    Teacher Tip
    : No time to create your own interest-specific math problems? Challenge your students to come up with word problem ideas, topics, or tasks and submit them to you! Use those problems in small groups so students do not solve their own, but instead a classmates’ problem. Students LOVE to have other students solve their problems.


    When we scaffold during math, specifically when solving multiple-step word problems, we set students up for success. Scaffolding is a gradual process.  It is important that students begin to feel successful and confident when problem-solving before you back completely away and expect them to solve complex problems on their own. This is especially true for struggling math students. 

    multiple step problem solving tips 3rd, 4th, 5th grad

    One strategy that I have found to be successful in building student confidence and accuracy for solving problems is through the use of graphic organizersduring math. Start off by using a chart size graphic organizer template with these labeled sections: what I know, what I need to figure out to solve the problem, important information to help me, my plan of attack, my solution, and when I checked my work I noticed. 

    Start on day one by solving a multiple-step word problem, modeling how to complete the graphic organizer by writing the information for each section of the graphic organizer on sticky notes and placing them on the graphic organizer. Repeat the process for the next few days with the students so that they can practice using the graphic organizer. The following week have students work with a partner to complete the sticky notes for the first few boxes only so that the students do not actually solve the problem. This allows time for students to build confidence in their understanding of word problems and how they plan to solve them, rather than trying to manage the organizer AND solve the problem. This also allows time for you to discuss all the pre-solving strategies with the students. 

    The following week have students work with a math partner, or in small groups, to use the organizer to problem solve.  The scaffolding that you provided and the time devoted to teaching and practicing the use of the graphic organizer will build students’ perseverance skills and lessen the fear of solving math word problems. Send the graphic organizer home with students to help them complete homework, too! Grab this math graphic organizer to help you scaffold math problem-solving in your classroom for FREE HERE.

    Teacher Tip: Switch up math partners and groups often when scaffolding. This will ensure that students do not rely on other students to complete the organizer.

    There is nothing more important to increase student confidence, success, and perseverance than by communicating with them what they are doing well and how they can grow.  

    5 Ways to Ignite a Love of Math Problem Solving

    Students need to hear about both their successes and areas of growth so that their work is validated AND so that they have a clear direction and focus of what they need to work on next.  Write on their work, hold formal student conferences, or simply kneel beside them as they work to chat about what they are doing. 

    Whatever strategy you choose to communicate, be sure to communicate with them individually so that there is no doubt that they are the focus of your discussion and not their math partner. Be sure to use the word goal when discussing an area that students can improve. Using the term, “a goal I would like to see you reach," makes what you want to see students do become real and attainable for them. Try writing the goal you have for the student on a sticky note and place it into their math notebook or workbook.  This will serve as a reminder of what they are working towards for both you and the student. 

    Teacher Tip: Communicate every small success with your students! Students love to be celebrated! When you celebrate any small milestone, students are more likely to repeat that act. You can celebrate students completing the math graphic organizer correctly, using math talking stems appropriately, and increasing their participation in math. Grab these FREE digital and printable student awards HERE.

    Just like building any kind of relationship, your students' relationship with math problem-solving needs time, nurturing, and commitment. Don't give up on students right away. Allow many opportunities to practice these strategies and before long, students will develop a LOVE of math problem-solving! 

    5 Ways to Ignite a Love of Math Problem Solving

    Check out these other great ideas to spark a love of learning in your upper elementary students!

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