Explore Poetry with Emily Dickinson

Students will immerse themselves in the poems of Emily Dickinson by writing, researching, drawing, and more.
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Explore Poetry with Emily Dickinson

Note: You may use these activities with Emily Dickinson poems below or with other poetry selections.

Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson – Selected Poems


Enrichment Activities


A Spring Festival of Poetry
Total Group. Have students memorize a poem together as a class. Work on it daily. When ready, say it aloud and record it on a cassette tape recording. Perhaps when the recitation is perfected, you can arrange to have this tape played for the entire school over the public address system during "Special Announcement" time.

Small Group. Have students work in groups of four or five to learn a poem. That means several different poems will be learned by classmates. Set time aside for memorizing the poem. Give each student a copy to take home and learn. When the small group is ready, have them say the poem aloud for the entire group. (Set proper conditions for listening as an audience.) Record it.

Next, send a message to other teachers in the building asking if they would like to have poems recited for their group. Give them the choice of two different days and two different times during the day.

Sometimes there are students who do not yet do well with this type of memorization and performance activity. In an effort to have them included, they can go along and announce the poem, or stand silently holding a large colorful prop, or provide sound effects. Their contribution is helping to set the scene, or the mood.

Poetry Display
Have students write their own poetry, either using a formula or something original they want to create. They can illustrate their poetry and make a border. Frame the work with a construction paper frame. To make a splashy display of this poetry, hang it in the hallway along with giant-sized construction paper spring flowers. That means three-foot stems on huge daffodils and tulips! The daffodils can have large cones that stick out from the wall; spray some cologne inside of them for a surprisingly sweet smell of spring in the air.

Poetry Shapes
Make construction paper shapes of trees, rabbits, birds, flowers, and so on. This may inspire students to write a poem about the subject. The poems can be printed directly on the shape or along the outline of the shape.

Another helpful activity is to have students print rhyming words on shapes.

Poetry Favorites
Encourage students to copy their favorite poems from poetry books that are in the classroom. They can make illustrations for them and keep them in their very own Poetry Folder. Perhaps the students can learn some.

Poetry-Work with Expanded Sentences
To enrich children's writing in general, they need to be aware of descriptive words. Put this phrase on the chalkboard:

a big dog

"If we think about a 'big dog,' what picture do we see? We need to know more. What color is it? What is the fur like? Is it friendly? Is it snarling? Is it in motion or standing still or crouching?" Little by little, have students contribute descriptive words that you print on the chalkboard. Before everyone's eyes, the phrase builds to tell more about this dog:

a big brown dog

a big, brown, shaggy dog

a pretty, big, brown, shaggy dog

a pretty, calm, big, brown, shaggy dog

Now everyone can get more of a picture of this dog, making the picture turn out entirely different by the words used. Try this next with "a small cat." Students can do this again and again – and just by the words they select – can turn the cat, dog, horse, rabbit, etc., into a sweet or sympathetic or monstrous animal. It's a good exercise for the use of descriptive words. Perhaps in the end, it can become a poetic phrase that a student wishes to illustrate, or turn into a poetry character, or even be honored as a poem.

a small cat

a small scrawny cat

a frightened, small, scrawny cat

a frightened, snarling, small, scrawny cat

a frightened, snarling, small, scrawny, tiger cat

A Formula for Poetry
Next, students need to find out more about this animal, so use the following formula. Save the title for last.

TITLE: ______________________

A frightened, snarling, small, scrawny, tiger cat

_________________ (a word that tells how it moved)

_________________ (a phrase that tells where it went)

_________________ (a phrase that tells what it was after)

_________________ (a phrase that tells what you hope for the cat)

_________________ (a word that sums up the cat or the situation)

Here are two examples that could be read aloud, then taken apart for students so that they understand the formula. Then they can make suggestions and come up with their own cat poem.

A Hungry Cat

A frightened, snarling, small, scrawny, tiger cat


around the corner

after a sparrow eating worms.

I hope it is healthy. Hisssss!

TITLE: ______________________

A frightened, snarling, small, scrawny, tiger cat


under a bush

to get shelter.

It needs a good family.


Poetry Books for the Classroom
There are many fine poetry books for children available in bookstores, at the public library, and through the school library. Here are several authors and titles for your celebration of spring through poetry: The New Oxford Treasury of Children's Poems, edited by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark; Tasty Poems and Noisy Poems, compiled by Jill Bennett, with illustrations by Nick Sharratt; and Dinosaur Poems and Dragon Poems, compiled by John Foster, with illustrations by Korky Paul.

Some favorite poets to check for at the library include: X. J. Kennedy, J. Patrick Lewis, David McCord, Eve Merriman, Mary O'Neill, Jack Prelutsky, and Shel Silverstein.

Research Project
Find out about some of the interesting people who were alive in the 19th century: Emily Dickinson, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Keats, Walt Whitman, Napoleon, Beethoven, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Fulton, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, Robert E. Lee, William Tecumseh Sherman, Samuel Morse, Samuel Clemens, Marie Curie, Susan B. Anthony, Lewis Carroll, Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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