Like her previously published, Comprehension Connections (Heinemann, 2007), Genre Connections: Lessons to Launch Literary and Nonfiction Texts by Tanny McGregor (Heinemann, 2013) is a great go-to resource for teachers looking for concrete, hands-on lessons that introduce students to “Big Idea” concepts. I particularly love Tanny’s idea of launching a unit of study on poetry by asking, “How is a poem like a jar?” She writes, “Some kids understand the metaphor right away, while others listen in and learn from their peers. No surprise here: their responses correlate directly with the kind of exposure and experience they’ve had with poetry in the past.”
As students move through the lesson sequence, they’re encouraged to explore a small collection of unrelated poems and uncover common attributes. Tanny calls this process, “Noticing and Naming the Genre.” Collective observations recorded by students might be phrases such as: Poetry can… be short or long, be written in any shape or form, surprise us, have lots of white space, may break the rules of capitalization and/or punctuation, and be written with or without rhyme.
The lesson then moves into what Tanny calls “Sensory Exercises” – listening to music (she recommends Ella Fitzgerald) and sharing art (her suggestion, Robert Rauschenberg). Students discuss ways in which poetry is similar to Ella’s musical style and Rouschenberg’s reshaping and redefining of found objects.
This multiple lesson series is just one, very strong way to allow students extended time to explore what poetry is and can be for them. All this, as one among other ways teachers already use to open up the Big Idea – “What is Poetry?”
Tanny offers a short list of additional resources for guiding students to write and share poetry. There are, of course, many others than those listed, but what I like about this book is that it serves as one additional tool a teacher can add to her poetry toolbox, mixing and matching lesson ideas with others she’s already found successful.
Poetry is only one of the genres offered in the books. Others are: Drama, Biography, Historical Fiction, Informational Text, etc. The book is short and to the point – important for busy teachers.