Vocabulary Teaching Through Poetry

     Keeping up with the National Common Core Standards is going to require more rich vocabulary work.  One of my favorite contexts for teaching vocabulary is through poetry.   Even if a poem doesn’t have any juicy Tier II words, you can substitute one for an everyday word.  Here’s a possible teaching sequence:  Read the poem as it is.  Tell students you’re going to work on a new word they can add to their mature vocabularies.  State the word, show where you’ll be making the substitution, define the word, read it in the context and discuss.  Then, reread the entire poem with the substituted word.  Here’s the clincher:  combine your reading with a “Poetic Mini-Drama.”  Act out the poem using your upper body, facial expressions and your voice.  When you add in the dramatization, students will want to read the poem (or recite it) again and again.  Naturally, this will help move the new word to their long-term memories.  When you’re finished dramatizing, have the students generate their own sentences using the word in new contexts.
Let’s look at a simple example (Here’s a shout “Hello!” to my new kindergarten friends, too!)
“Row, row, row your vessel, gently down the stream.  Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”  
     Of course, many poems are ripe with Tier II and Tier III words—no substitutions needed.  Adding the poetic mini-drama will take motivation to new level .  Plus, put several of these dramas together, and you have an entertaining event for other classes or families.  Easy and fun!
Below, another example using a poem I wrote.    Imagine how you and your students might dramatize it.  Vocabulary-wise, I focus on the Tier II word “eject."

Five Fat Peas
Five fat peas,
sittin’ in a pod.
One said, “Let’s go!”
and left with a nod.
Another rolled away
when the first one went,             
leaving only three
in their pea pod tent.
“I’m off,” cried the next,
“to see the world!”  She dropped.
The one next to her
ejected with a POP!
“Now there’s only me,”
said the last lone pea.
“I guess I’d better plant myself
and grow more family!”

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