6 Reasons to Use Poetry to Support Struggling 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 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. Click HERE to read my easy to implement tips for using acrostic poetry in the classroom.

Less Text

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. 

Allows for a Quick and Meaningful Preview

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.

More Time for Word Work

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 new word meaning. 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 it, but discussing its 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. 

Short Text for Comprehension Practice

I love using poetry to practice reading comprehension strategies. A poem's structure and short text provides opportunities for struggling readers to practice complex reading strategies likes 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. (Read more about close reading HERE.)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

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 every day 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




After students have had enough time to do the above steps, I select one student to read the poem aloud while the class tracks their reading. Following that reading, we read the poem as a class, practicing our choral reading fluency skills. Students can also choral read with a reading partner or with you for extra support! We then discuss any word work issues that came up and the comprehension question responses. Students keep the poems in their folders so that they always have a readily available typed text to practice fluency independently when needed. 
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 chuck full of great vocabulary and figurative language. Although there are no comprehension questions, it is easy enough to create a quick question, write it at 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


Inclusive to All Levels of Readers

Reading 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. Click HERE for a list of  new and classic poetry titles to use as read aloud books in your classroom and grab free poetry activities, too!

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! 


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 Classic Poems and Reading Activities








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6 comments

  1. What do you do about pairing students with books? I get frustrated at "reading levels". I understand students need to be able to read on grade level, but what about just for the pleasure of reading? It breaks my heart when kids find a book they want to read and then they say "it's not on my level". Thank you for your time.

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    1. Thank you so much for reaching out! If they select a book that is too easy, I suggest reading it with their younger book buddy. If they select a book that is too challenging, I try to read it as a read aloud, or suggest reading it with their parents. : )

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  2. I LOVED your blog on poetry for struggling readers!!!

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    1. Thank you so much! I am so happy that you found this helpful! : )

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  3. Poetry is amazing to support those struggling readers. Less text is indeed less overwhelming. Loved your blog post regarding this.

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    1. Thanks so much, Tina! Less text is the key! To many words for struggling readers is such a turn off! Happy teaching! : )

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