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.