Elementary Rhyme Time

Poet Helps Students Get Versed

Fourth-grader Janae Stewart circles words she likes the sound of in a scientific article about the moon

A scientific article about the moon might not sound particularly poetic, but Laura Purdie Salas is all about finding poetry anywhere — and helping students find their own poetic voices. It could be in a postcard from the library about an upcoming presentation on lions, a newspaper article about jellyfish or a science-y “wonder” about what happens to the moon during the day.

Salas, who has written numerous books on and of poetry for children, recently spent a week at Wealthy Elementary working with all classes in the K-5 school to write poems related to curriculum-specific topics. Later, Salas shared the students’ work on her blog.

For a group of fourth-graders, it was their science unit study of the moon that provided the launching point for the creation of “found” poems.

Salas explained the process:

  1. Use a hard copy of something with text on it;
  2. Highlight words that are appealing to you;
  3. Do some of what she calls “found poem ridiculousness”: Plug your ears and read the words aloud in all sorts of different orders until you like what you hear, then rearrange on the page;
  4. Write combinations of the words, or phrases using the words;
  5. Fill in with words that make sense to you. Your poem can be silly, serious, scary or something else, and doesn’t have to have anything to do with where the words came from.
Minneapolis-based poet Laura Purdie Salas spent four days working with Wealthy Elementary students

Fourth-grader Janae Stewart took her time choosing the words from the article she liked best: eyes, moon, sky, wolf and howling.

Two chairs down, Eoghan Burns was on a different path entirely with the same article; he highlighted the words nighttime, nearness, celestial, miniature, lunar and gravitational behavior.

Salas’ main objective when working with school-age children, she said, “is just to get rid of any fear of poetry or of their own creativity.”

“A lot of them think they can’t write, or that they won’t have talent, but students this age are mostly amazing writers.”

Wealthy Principal Anthony Morey said the $6,300 cost of Salas’ visit was paid for by PTO dollars and a grant from the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation. “This opportunity was unique because teachers were able to work with Salas ahead of time to integrate the writing lessons with the curriculum,” he said.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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