Thursday, August 21, 2008


A friend of mine recently asked me, "What is the best FIRST poetry class to teach students in the classroom, especially grade school students?"

I always start with MASK POEMS. Kids love to play pretend and in mask poems, where the speaker is the subject of the poem, students can pretend they are garbage cans, flowers, monkeys or anything else that makes their heart sing, or giggle.

The great Myra Cohn Livingston writes the following about Mask Poems in her book POEM-MAKING:
Poets never stop imagining what it might be like to be not only another person, but even something that cannot, in reality, think or speak. This aspect of the dramatic voice is what I think of as a mask or persona. It is as though we put on the face or the body of someone else and tell about ourselves through our words.
I start by teaching students what a mask poem is. I then read 6 to 8 mask poems. Next, I set the students free to write their own Mask Poems. (Hint: read the poems out of fully illustrated picture books; it will keep the students' eyes on you and help them connect more of their senses with the lesson.)

There are always students who cannot pick a topic. Never fear, simply ask those students to look at their desk, pick up the first object they see (pencil, tape, crayon) and write the mask poem in the voice of that object. Stops writer's block in a flash!

When they are done, students clamor to read their poems out-loud.

One last thing, many students write non-fiction animal reports in 3rd grade. When my son was in 3rd grade, I taught the class Mask Poems and asked the students to write a poem in the voice of their animal. I taught this class after the kids had done all of their research so they really knew who their animal was and how he would talk. These Mask Poems became the cover page of their animal reports.


  1. what a nifty and fun idea, jill! i haven't tried that myself.

  2. Thanks Cindy. Kids really love it.

  3. I love the idea of doing the mask poems alongside animal research storing it for future use.

  4. Thanks for sharing your classroom experience with this, Jill. Are there any good picture book mask poems that you would recommend?

  5. Janeczko's DIRTY LAUNDRY PILE is all mask poems. I usually choose a few from DLP and then find a bunch more from other collections.

  6. Hi Jill, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I love this idea of mask poems. It's so original. Your blog is great too. I'll visit it again.Dorothy

  7. FYI---

    Kids also love RIDDLE POEMS, and so do I. To teach riddle poems, use the MASK POEMS lesson but tell the kids that they do not mention the object in the title or the poem. Also, remind them to provide concrete clues in their poem so the reader can figure out the riddle.

    I have written about 100 riddle poems with themes from garbage cans to basketballs, and have a Halloween collection currently out on submission.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

join the mailing list

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner