________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover The Poetry Experience: Choosing and Using Poetry in the Classroom.

Sheree Fitch & Larry Swartz.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2008.
32 pp., stapled, $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55138-223-4.

Subject Headings:
Poetry-Study and teaching (Secondary).
Poetry-Study and teaching (Elementary).


Review by Betty Klassen.

*** /4


What is a Poem?

"What can be explained," wrote Carl Sandburg, "is not poetry." Maybe, just maybe, that is why we need poetry.

Those who teach poetry with passion and joy know it is one of the richest learning experiences students can have. We journey to worlds and peer into spaces in our hearts and minds and souls through poetry.

Poetry is word music, an art form that belongs to a rich oral tradition that pre-dates the written word.

At its most serious, poetry rattles us to the core of our being. Verse of the most nonsensical kind urges us, like an itch, to scratch and burst forth into a slide of syllables ourselves.

Poetry invites us to be.

Why poetry? If we hope to see curious, skeptical, creative thinkers emerge from our classrooms and go on to reach their potential, we offer them the experience of poetry.


In The Poetry Experience, Fitch and Swartz have written a useful little book, 32 pages long, that is a good starting point for classroom teachers who are looking for creative ideas on how to engage early and middle year students in experiencing — choosing and using — poetry.

      The book’s “flip” book format makes the seven topics easy to locate. Sections of the text are highlighted in pastel boxes or written as bulleted lists while activities or "Poetry Events" are highlighted with yellow daisy icons, resulting in a text that is friendly and easy to read. The writing is clear and concise and includes examples to illustrate the activities. There is also a table of contents listing the topics and subtopics.

  1. “Why Poetry” asks students to conduct a personal poetry inventory which is printed as a reproducible page at the end of the book.

  2. “Poetry in the Classroom” provides some classroom tips for sharing and reading poems and creating a classroom anthology.

  3. “Poems Aloud” presents 10 ideas for choral dramatization, along with ways of collecting poetry and celebrating a poet.

  4. “Choosing Poetry” includes a "Poets Hall of Fame" which classifies and lists numerous poets as Canadian (14), British (19), American (31) and Classic (16). This is followed by two pages of "Ten Top-Ten Lists" of poetry books classified according to: Collections for Ages 5 - 8; Collections for Ages 8 - 12; Collections for Ages 12+; Nursery Rhymes; Ha! Ha! Ha!; Animals and Nature; Curriculum Connections; Poems as Picture Books; Novels as Poems, and a Fitch List (10 poetry books written by Sheree Fitch).

  5. “How Poems Work” hesitantly includes some examples of poetic forms (haiku, acrostic, limerick, cinquain, list poem, rhyming couplets, concrete poem and quatrain), followed by ways to experiment with form and language. One such example is to find words that "taste good" or two to three line snippets of a poem, which can then be displayed throughout the classroom, illustrated, graffitied or hidden inside a poem you write yourself.

  6. “Writing Poetry” provides students and teachers with 10 tips for writing poems and several other activities that involve metaphors and word pictures.

  7. “Responding to Poetry” invites poetry readers to follow Louise Rosenblatt's theory of responding to poems in personal ways, raising their own questions and creating new narratives to answer these questions.

      After a brief introduction that looks at why poetry is fun and important to include in the classroom, most of the book focuses on suggesting creative ways to use poetry to engage students in reading, collecting, responding, discussing, writing and illustrating text. Fitch and Swartz provide many ideas to scaffold students in the process of poetry writing and having fun with words.

      You would have to look elsewhere to find an explanation of poetic devices, and you would need to read Rosenblatt if you are looking for an in-depth theoretical discussion, but The Poetry Experience does provide classroom teachers with ideas for activities, a 10 day "suggested poetry timetable", an observation checklist to guide assessment, an index, and 10 suggestions for professional reading.

      Sheree Fitch is an award-winning author of many children's books — poetry collections, picture books, and narrative. She has also written several plays and books for adults. Larry Swartz has explored literature as a classroom teacher, consultant and university instructor. He also is a speaker, workshop leader, and the author of several other teacher resource books.

      The Poetry Experience is an invitation for us to "munch and crunch and lunch" on our own and others' words.


Betty Klassen teaches in the Middle Years Program in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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