Tuesday, May 01, 2012

IRA Symposium: Using Humor to Engage Students in Poetry 

Today I have the honor of presenting a poetry symposium at the annual convention of the International Reading Association in Chicago-- along with J. Patrick Lewis, Marilyn Singer, and Jane Yolen. (Thanks to Lili DeSisto and Charlesbridge Publishing for their support in making this happen.) Here's the lowdown.

In our session entitled, "Using Humor to Engage Students in Poetry," we are discussing the use of humor and constructing humorous poems to introduce students to this often intimidating form of writing.

 Using a bibliography of humorous poetry, we hope to illustrate how a poem can tickle a child's funny bone, and lead to an interest in poetry, reading, and writing in general.

 We address the different kinds of humor one can find in poetry such as slapstick, puns, limericks, etc. Handouts with lists and activities that educators could use with students (such as poetry performance, which was also demonstrated during the session) and sample poems were provided.

Each poet shared poetry, poetry strategies, and participated in a Q&A discussion. Here are some of the questions I posed to them:
  1. What is your favorite kind of humor? In life or in poetry!
  2. What are some of your favorite funny poems? Or funny poets?
  3. When did you start writing funny things or what inspired you to write humor?
  4. Do you have favorite funny forms or topics you like to explore?
  5. Is it easier or harder to write funny poetry (than “serious” poetry)? Why/how?
  6. When you’re writing, do you plan for humor or does it catch you by surprise? Which happens when?
  7. Are there tricks that will make a poem funnier? Like the surprise ending or the k sound...
  8. Have kids ever surprised you with their reactions to a humorous poem? Or laughing at a serious poem? Care to share any funny stories of unexpected kid responses?
I spoke about humorous poetry for young people in general, citing some of my favorite poets and collections and involved the audience in performing many poems together. I provided a massive handout of material drawn from my new book, The Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists along with some new compilations, including a list of:

107 Humorous Poetry Books for Young People

PLUS lists of:

*Children’s Poetry in Audiobook Form: A Sampling
(in case you don't have access to a "live" poet)
*Song Tunes for Matching with Poems: A Sampling
(along with a "live" demonstration of singing poems)
*Poetry Books about Dogs: A Sampling
(a popular topic in children's humorous poetry and a familiar place to begin in guiding children in writing poetry based on personal experiences-- same with cats)
*Poetry Books about Cats: A Sampling
*Halloween and Monster Poetry Books: A Sampling
(another popular topic in children's humorous poetry and a good place to begin in guiding children in writing fanciful poetry)
*Folk Poetry Books for Children: A Sampling
(a good place to begin in bridging the gap from oral poetry to writing poetry)
*Exploring Forty Fun Forms of Poetry Writing with Young People
(including Marilyn Singer's reverso and J. Patrick Lewis's zeno)
*Poetry Books for Young People that Showcase Poetic Form: A Sampling
(helpful models of poet thinking behind the writing)
*Poetry Celebration Occasions: A Sampling
(places to begin incorporating poetry sharing and poetry writing)

[FYI: All these lists are in my book, The Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists.]

Plus, I shared a dozen or more sample poems and invited the audience to join in performing.

I hope to be able to share some video snippets from this session at a later date, as well as videos from the Poetry Olio featuring several different poets reading from their works. More on that soon.

Meanwhile, here's one humorous poem to tide you over. It's from Jack Prelutsky's new book out this year, I’ve Lost My Hippopotamus.

My Stomach, Every Now and Then
By Jack Prelutsky

My stomach, every now and then,
Decides to sing aloud,
Which quickly draws a curious,
Enthusiastic crowd.
The music’s unpredictable,
Each note is a surprise.

The songs are strangely out of tune
And hard to recognize.

My stomach’s voice is squeaky,
Yet astonishingly strong.
No wonder people marvel
When it plunges into song.
Though I’m certain that a stomach
Is a necessary thing,

Nonetheless I’m disconcerted
When my stomach starts to sing.

From: Prelutsky, Jack. 2012. I’ve Lost My Hippopotamus. Ill. by Jackie Urbanovic. New York: Greenwillow, p. 123.

Now, try singing this poem to the tune of “99 Bottles of Pop." Be sure to end the last line with exaggerated slowness. Pretty hilarious, right? Jack is quite a musician and many of his poems work perfectly set to music. Try it, you'll see!

Image credit: 


Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2012. All rights reserved.


Eric Ode said...

Sounds like a terrific session, Sylvia! Very much wishing I could have sat in. Thank you again for being such an amazing children's poetry advocate. I hope you're enjoying the conference and staying dry in this drizzly Chicago weather.

Charles Waters said...

Wish I could have been there, it sounds like a blast! Bravo!!!!

Julie Larios said...

Wish I could have been there, too, Sylvia. What an abundance of riches! Next time, maybe....