Teaching poetry to upper elementary students hasn’t always come easy for me. To be honest, I had no idea how to tackle poetry with my third graders when I first started teaching. I knew I needed to gather quality mentor texts for poetry to fully immerse my students in the genre. The trouble was, I couldn’t find many that I thought would interest my students beyond the humorous poetry collections from Silverstein and Prelutsky.
Over the years, my collection of mentor texts for poetry has grown to include titles from award-winning and world-renowned poets with a wide range of forms and structures. Exposing my students to rich and diverse mentor texts for poetry helped foster a love of the genre and a deeper understanding of the craft. Here are some of my favorite titles to help you grow your poetry collection.
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My Favorite Mentor Texts for Poetry
Shaking Things Up by Susan Hood
This unique collection of biographical poems tells about 14 young women who changed the world. It’s an inspiring nonfiction text that includes a timeline, additional information about each revolutionary woman, and paired illustrations by noteworthy female artists. This poetry mentor text is great for discussions about structure and author’s craft. It is the perfect mentor text for writing biographical or autobiographical poetry. And it lends itself to seamless social studies integration.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano
Julie Fogliano celebrates all the seasons in these poetic journal entries. This collection of short free verse poems are an excellent introduction to the form. It’s a great springboard for writing poetry.
All the Wild Wonders Edited by Wendy Cooling
This collection of poems by prominent poets such as Grace Nicholls, Thomas Hardy, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Alfred Lord Tennyson were selected by Wendy Cooling to get kids thinking about the earth and the need to protect it. While currently out of print, it is an amazing text to share on and around Earth Day, so I highly suggest it if you can find it. Such a wonderful mentor text for poetry!
Honey, I Love and Other Poems by Eloise Greenfield
From the back cover, “Sixteen poems tell of love and the simple joys of everyday life, seen through the eyes of a child: playing with a friend, skipping rope, riding on a train–or keeping Mama company till Daddy gets back.”
This is one of my all-time favorite mentor texts for poetry. This collection of poems is great for discussions of structure, rhyme scheme, rhythm, and imagery. Actually, one of my favorite teaching memories came while reading “Rope Rhyme” from this book. We were discussing the rhythm of the poem and during a rereading of the poem, a couple of the students began beatboxing to it. Such a fun, student-initiated illustration of the rhythm.
The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield and illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
From the book jacket, “In this collection of poems and collage artwork, award winners Eloise Greenfield and Jan Spicey Gilchrist gracefully depict the experiences of families like their own, who found the courage to leave their homes behind and make new lives for themselves elsewhere.”
Told from a variety of perspectives, these poems lend themselves to great discussions about the speaker’s point of view and emotions. They also pair nicely with nonfiction texts about The Great Migration and are excellent for social studies integration.
Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth
I absolutely love this incredible mentor text for haiku! It is full of sensory images and has an introduction and description of the haiku poetic form. It’s a great way to introduce haiku before having your students write their own.
Dogku by Andrew Clements
Another book written purely in haikus, this adorable mentor text tells the story of a stray dog’s adoption journey. This entertaining poetry mentor text is perfect for introducing the syllable pattern of haiku before having your students write their own. Also, be sure to check out Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw for the cat lovers in your class.
bow wow meow meow: it’s rhyming cats and dogs by Douglas Florian
Students love this adorable collection of poems about our furry friends at home. This, like all of Florian’s collections, leads to marvelous discussions about structure and choices. He follows no rules when it comes to poetry, opting instead to use his poetic license with grammar, inventive spelling, and structure to suit his purposes. He is easily one of my favorite children’s poets. Be sure to check out his other titles: Mammalabilia, Insectlopedia, Comets, Stars, the Moon and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings, and Beast Feast: Poems & Paintings.
Little Dog Poems by Kristine O’Connell George
These thirty short poems bring this loveable little dog to life. While this book is accessible for younger readers, it still lends a helping hand as a mentor text in third and fourth grade classrooms. It is perfect for introductory discussions about author’s craft and choices about text placement in poetry.
The Great Frog Race and Other Poems by Kristine O’Connell George
This collection of poems about childhood memories of nature and life in the country is rich in imagery, sensory and figurative language, and a wide variety of forms. It is a mentor text must for your poetry unit. If you love this book, you’ll also want to check out the captivating poems from her book Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems. This is particularly fun to share over a virtual campfire.
A Full Moon Is Rising by Marilyn Singer
This mentor text is perfect for content area integration! It fits well with a unit on the moon phases and shares full moon celebrations, beliefs, customs, and facts of cultures around the world.
City I Love by Lee Bennet Hopkins
Follow this traveling pup and its winged companion as they travel the globe celebrating the joys of urban life in this mentor text for poetry. These lyrical poems are great for making connections, discussing rhythm, and exploring other cultures.
Street Music: City Poems by Arnold Adoff
Full of sensory language, these poems are perfect for discussing imagery. They are perfect for discussing the speaker’s point of view because they are told from a variety of perspectives.
At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems by Leslie Bulion
The fascinating poems about odd undersea creatures in this mentor text are sure to capture your upper elementary students’ attention. I love that the book includes poetry notes explaining the various types and forms of poems that appear throughout it!
Iguanas in the Snow/Iguanas en la Nieve by Francisco X. Alarcón
This bilingual poetry mentor text is actually the final installment in The Magical Cycle of the Seasons Poetry Collection 4 book series written by Francisco X. Alarcón and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez. Each is filled with poems of various structures and lengths, inviting us to celebrate the seasons. Be sure to check out the other titles: Laughing Tomatoes: And Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños: y otros poemas de primavera, From the Bellybutton of the Moon: And Other Summer Poems/Del ombligo de la luna: y otros poemas de verano, and Angels Ride Bikes: And Other Fall Poems/Los ángeles andan en bicicleta: y otros poemas de otoño.
When selecting mentor texts for poetry, all that matters is that you are regularly and frequently exposing your students to a variety of rich and quality poems. Have fun exploring and sharing this genre with your students!