How to Teach 4th Grade: The Poetry Unit

Roque Dalton


Like You

By Roque Dalton (Translated by Jack Hirschman)

Like you I love love, life, the sweet smell of things, the sky- blue landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up and I laugh through eyes that have known the buds of tears. I believe the world is beautiful and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me but in the unanimous blood of those who struggle for life, love, little things, landscape and bread, the poetry of everyone.


     The second day of Student Led Conference is over and I got to tinker with my school’s fourth grade poetry unit of study. I was able to collaborate with the fifth grade teachers, our literacy coach, my teammates, poets and folks of the twitterverse to hopefully improve learning at my school.

The students and teachers will explore that poetry deals with rhythm, word choice and emotion. We hope to have the teachers and students write together. We want to explore how poetry is a profoundly different writing genre.

The students will ask the same four questions when they read a poem:

1.     “What makes this a poem?”

2.     “What is this poem about?”

3.     “What do you notice about this poem?”

4.     “What tools do you notice the poet uses?”


The beautiful Georgia Heard led me to these questions and I love them for their simplicity.

During the IMMERSION week, the teachers and students can explore the following possible teaching points:

“What are the qualities of a mentor poem?”, “What does imagery look like in poetry?” “What poems do you love?” “What poems can you write that are influenced by your reading?” “What could a Favorite Poem Logbook look like?” “How do poets gather ideas?” ” “What is rhythm look and sound like in poetry?” “How is emotion shown when writing poetry?” “Why does poetry sound better read aloud?” “Poets experiment with list poems.” “Poets discover poetry through prose.” Poets are aware of their emotions.” “Teachers and Students read poetry aloud.” “Children read poetry from books.” “Poets use choral speaking and two voices when reading poetry aloud.” “Poetry spans across the curriculum.” “Poets discuss and analyze poetry.”

During the INQUIRY/ANALYSIS WEEK, students and teachers will explore the following possible teaching points:

“We envision poetry from our writers notebooks.” “Poets envision poetry from their narratives.” Poets aspire to choose a topic.” ” Poets discuss the craft of writing poetry.” “Poets attempt to use metaphors” Poets inspire other poets.” Poets search for more challenging and/or varied mentor poetry.” “Poets think of similes.” “Poets discuss and analyze poetry.” Poets work with sound and repetition.” Poets work with details” Poets review their collections of poems.”  “Poets help each other write and understand.” “Poets revisit and re-analyze poetry” “Poets FIND poems.” Poets revise poetry they have written too quickly.” “Teachers write poetry with children.” Poets learn poetry through choral speaking.” “Poets consider the world of visual arts when writing poetry.

The possible teaching points during the MOVING BEYOND THE COMFORT ZONE WEEK:

“Students read poetry many times over from many different perspectives.” Poets give poetry as gifts” Poets discover when to add in line breaks.” Poets reread and notice opportunities for repetition.” Poets attempt alliteration” “Writers draft poetry on left side of a piece of paper and revise on the right.” Poets reread drafts to rate and revise for voice.” Poets attempt onomatopoeia.” Poets return to mentor poems to study craft more closely.” Poets go from the ordinary to the poetic.” Students write poems to guess the meaning of poems.” Children use personification naturally, poets do too.” Poets heart map to find their inner vision.”

I will share the last EDITING, PUBLISHING, PRESENTATION WEEK ideas and teaching points in a future blog posting.




Dalton, R. (October, 2008 03). Kasama project -like you (como tu). Retrieved from

Graves, D. (1992). Explore poetry. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Publishers.Heard, G. (1999). Awakening the heart. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Holbrook, S. (2006). Outspoken: how to improve writing and speaking skills through poetry performance. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Publishers.

Ray, K. W. (2007). Study driven, a framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop. Portsmouth: Heinemann Educational Books.




“What are the most important stories in my life?” Teaching Fourth Graders to Write Personal Narratives that Matter

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Above all, narrative writers must “show, not tell.”  – Donald Graves

Mid Autumn Festival is over in Hong Kong and it is time to teach the craft of narrative writing to my fourth grade students. This is a great time of year for I see steady growth in the writers’ stamina, independence and ability. The students learn to bounce ideas off each other. The writers learn to take risks with their stories. They learn that their writing matters and that an audience reads their pieces.

The 4th grade student writer is becoming more independent with each day’s writing session. Students will investigate mentor texts and published authors to make their own writing more meaningful. Writers will think about moments where they have felt strong emotions and list them. The writers will think of “turning points” in their own lives and list them. The fourth graders will think about and draw upon all that they have learned about writing in previous sessions.

This unit, I aim to improve my craft by habitually asking the students to write a personal SMART writing goal for each session. I will also have the students write their overall message of their current narrative piece. Writers will post both goal and message each day on a post it note adhered to their writing space. These will become quick and simple data points as I walk around and confer with the student writers.

The students will become aware of a shared jargon from our discussions. I plan to teach that internal thoughts run parallel with external actions. I will teach that writers primarily “show and not tell.”(Graves, 1994)  I will teach students that to ask themselves “What is this piece really about?”

One area of growth that I plan to develop will be conventions and mechanics. I will distribute an editor’s checklist for each student writer and model correct use of the checklist. I will have students discuss proper punctuation and paragraphing. I intend on playing a conventions game every 8 days or so. Overall, I hope to teach the students that grammar is a piece of the writing puzzle that not to overlook, yet keep in perspective.

I will use some of the anchor charts that I found on Pinterest:

Punctuation Anchor Chart Idea
Another Punctuation Chart Idea
Even MORE Anchor Charts

Also, I cannot express the need for talk in the writing classroom. I am a believer that the students need to talk about their own growth and new understandings as they write. This is a highly structured routine of every writing session. The students engage in talk and encourage each other.  For more information on talk, check out this site: Why Talk is Important.

Another teaching point that I hope to get across is that writers practice leads. This means that they write, write and rewrite lead sentences and try them out by reading out loud to their writing partner. I have taught the students to actively listen and to politely steer each other to the best sentences.  This develops community and an understanding that risks are appreciated and that choices matter.

Finally, I will continue our habit of celebrating the ending of the unit and sharing our pieces with poetry and parents.

“My mission today is to create a sense of occasion around the upcoming author celebration, and to be sure that editing takes on a special importance because it is a way of preparing one’s work to go out in the world.” (Calkins & Martinelli, 2006)

The students will assemble in small groups of six or seven and each will have the floor. All will share two personal narratives and will share their overall reflections from the unit. All will create a T-Chart observations and thoughts from their writers’ notebook.  They will then be expected to write their reflections to me for evaluation.

Fourth grade teachers, “How do you inspire writers in your classroom?”




Calkins, L. M., & Martinelli, M. (2006). Units of study for teaching writing, grades 3-5.

Graves, D. (1994). A fresh look at writing. Canada: Irwin Publishing.