Elementary Reading Help: Helping your 5th and 6th Grader Understand Poetry

Poetry uses a language of its own. Parents can help their elementary aged children with poetry by providing them with the proper terminology and its meanings.

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Children should be encouraged to explore the different varieties of writing styles as early as possible in their reading education. Poetry encourages the mind to make the vital leap from memorization to meaning. Fifth and sixth graders are exposed to poetry as parts of class assignments and homework, but many of the concepts will be very new and different. It helps to work with your children at home, where they can relax and take their time. Many parents are uncomfortable with poetry because they are no more familiar with the concepts than their children are.

Poetry Glossary

  • Alliteration: The repetition of startiing sounds in two or more words that are usually next to each other or nearby. For example, 'firefighters fought fearlessly,' is alliteration using the letter 'f.' When the repetition of sounds comes from the middle of the words, it is called 'medial alliteration' as in 'the heckler checked his breakfast.'
  • Assonance: The repetition of similar-sounding vowels in two or more words that are either next to each other or nearby. It is important to emphasize that the vowel must sound the same when spoken. For example, 'That Sam-I-am!' from Dr. Seuss' 'Green Eggs and Ham' uses assonance with the vowel 'a.'
  • Consonance: The repetition of identical consonant sounds in one or more words that are either next to each other or nearby. Usually these words have different vowel sounds. For example, 'Sad Sydney saw the sites of the city,' uses the letters 's' and 'c' to successfully employ consonance. It can be difficult for children to understand alliteration, assonance and consonance because they can use more than one letter. Be sure to stress that the similarity is found in the spoken sound not the letter itself.
  • Figurative language: The use of expressive language that is not used literally but rather to suggest an image, comparison or concept. Examples of figurative language are:
    • simile - a figure of speech comparing two unlike things, often introduced by the words like or as (for example: 'breath like smoke in the cold,' or 'clear as a bell')
    • metaphor - a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a similarity between them (for example: 'drowning in money')
    • hyperbole - an extravagant exaggeration (for example: up to my neck in bills)
    • oxymoron - a combination of contradictory words (for example: 'terrible beauty').
  • Line breaks: how poetry lines are broken and separated. The use of line breaks can create rhythm and rhyme, suggest meaning, produce a specific appearance and create a new mood for a poem.
  • Repetition: the use of repeating a specific word or phrase. This places emphasis on whatever is repeated but can easily become overused. Encourage your child to explore repetition but remind them to keep it simple.
  • Rhyme scheme: the pattern of rhymes used in a poem. The scheme is usually named after letters representing the rhyming words. One common rhyme scheme is the 'abab scheme,' in which the first and third lines rhyme together, as do the second and fourth.
  • Rhythm: the beat of a poem, much like the beat of music. A poem's rhythm is controlled by the poet in their choice of words, repetition and line breaks. When a poem doesn't sound quite right it is usually because some aspect of the poetry has interrupted its rhythm.
  • Stanza: a division of a poem. A stanza is made up of two or more lines and is characterized by its common pattern of rhyme and number of lines.
  • Verse: A single line of a poem. Encourage children to examine various verses to see how various poets employ different structural elements and characteristics.

The more your elementary student is exposed to poetry, the easier it will be for them to understand these elements of poetry. Once a child understands the individual elements of poetry, they'll be ready to analyze the themes and meanings of individual poems.

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