Let Loose the Monkeys

Recently I had the privilege of working with a group of elementary students on writing poetry. To start us off, we watched a video that celebrates kids’ innate poetic abilities. If you don’t think we’re all born poets, watch this video of Naomi Shihab Nye reading a poem composed of things her son said when he was two and three years old: \”One Boy Told Me\” Or simply hang out with someone who’s just learning how to string sentences into paragraphs.

To allow grade school kids to tap into their creative instincts, it helps to give them permission to be a little kooky. Poetry can be serious, startling work, but it’s hard to get someone to fall in love with it if you start there. It sounds like a downer of a first date, if you ask me. Instead, I’ve been very impressed with the vivid imagery, sensory details, and fun rhythms in the poems chosen by that the teachers I’ve worked with . The kids respond with enthusiasm. And why wouldn’t they? They work so hard on spelling, math, and science that it’s got to be a nice break to have a penguin slip slide through the room, or watch a purple cow graze outside the window beside the plaid giraffe.

To get the students started, I gave them a few titles and ideas and told them if they could come up with better starters, then go for it. Let loose the monkeys! I encouraged them to not necessary follow logic, but to surprise and delight their readers with the unexpected. It takes some kids a while to make the shift from “the right answer” to the possible answer, but I expect to be very impressed with their efforts when I review their work later this week. Stick around and maybe we’ll share some poetry with you.

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