One of my all-time favorite books to use when teaching poetry is Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, but you CAN’T just read it.
For students to really “get” what the boy is talking about in the book, students have to first know the poems that Ms. Stretchberry is making him read. What better way for students to connect with a character than to have them also learn about the same poems?
I found that my boys actually ended up liking our poetry unit more than my girls because many thought like Jack: “boys don’t write poetry.”
Before I would ever open the book, we would do some close reading with the poem, The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams, which is a great one for visualization. It’s also super short and pretty easy to analyze.
“Now can we start reading it?”
Nope. The book would remain on the tray of my board, taunting them.
The next day, we would do some close reading with the poem, Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. This blog post will walk you through how I would teach them to do close reading with a poem… and be sure to stick around for a BONUS at the end!
I liked to use different colored pens as I went through the steps so my students could see how my thinking progressed. This is a great technique when you can display your “live” work on the board with a document camera.
First, I would label stanzas and rhyme scheme. You can also number the verses for the purpose of future discussions, but since this one is pretty short (and the verses are not very wordy), I would just have students refer to the stanza they are talking about when discussing.
Next, you want students to “get the gist” of the poem. Students will annotate their initial thoughts during the first read. (Check this post for a great annotation bookmark students can use as a reminder!)
If this is the first time you are close reading a poem together, I would definitely do it “think aloud” style. Read it aloud, and as you come across things that “jump out” to you (or that you want to jump out to students), stop and talk about your thoughts as you jot them down. For example, the first stanza talks about the woods being owned by someone who doesn’t live there. I would underline and annotate this thought as I read to them. After going through the entire poem this way, write a short summary: the gist.
Once students have an understanding of the poem, we want them to go even deeper and try to understand what is happening in the poem, and what the author wants to convey. It’s important to provide a purpose for this read. Read the poem aloud to them again, and this time, focus on answers to the question: “Why does the horse think the stop is a mistake?”
I would point out the word “stopping” means that they had been moving, or traveling. I would also point out that there is no farmhouse, and they are basically in the middle of nowhere. This would probably confuse the horse since he most likely is used to only stopping for food or shelter when traveling, or when they arrive home. He shakes his bells to get his owner’s attention.
I would also start a discussion about promises- who do you make promises to? (Most will likely reply to people they love or care about.) This will lead to a great new discussion, where do you think they are going in the poem?
Finally, the third read could be done on their own, but again, if this is the first time you are doing this with your students, I would still walk them through the last step. To connect to this poem, students can visualize it. I like to mark words that stand out to me that help me visualize.
You could do this all in one day, or stretch it over a couple days. And of course, your students are STILL WAITING for you to start reading Love That Dog! Now that you’ve read these two poems, you’ll at least be able to start the book.
To make sure that the students know the poems Jack is referring to throughout the book, look ahead and see when it is necessary to analyze a new poem!
If you want to use this poem in your room, either with Love That Dog or without, you can get the lesson you’ve seen in this post for free here!
to give you a poem for every month of the school year!