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Open a Poetry Cafe to Celebrate Student Writing!

By Beth Newingham on May 5, 2010
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Did your students write poems in honor of Poetry Month in April? If so, what better way to celebrate their poems than to read them aloud in an authentic cafe setting? For the past two years, my teaching partner and I have set up a Poetry Cafe at our school and invited parents and other special guests to come hear students recite their favorite poems aloud. Since so much of poetry is about the rhythm and the phrasing of the words, the only way their poems can be truly appreciated is to read them aloud. A Poetry Cafe allows students to share the work they have done not only with their classmates and teachers, but also with the special guests that they invite. Even the parents are asked to join in the fun by reading their own favorite poems aloud.

READ ON to learn more about what our Poetry Cafe looks like, what happens when the Poetry Cafe is open, and how you can open your own Poetry Cafe for the students in your classroom. There are tons of photos and also some printables to download in this post!


What Is the Poetry Cafe?

One of the best things about having a teaching partner is the opportunity to share ideas. The Poetry Cafe is something my teaching partner did with her class years before we began teaching together. I loved the idea, and, together, we created what we feel is an awesome learning experience for our students. After the students study poetry in reading workshop and write poetry in writing workshop for a month, we celebrate their finished pieces by opening a Poetry Cafe and having students invite their parents and other family members to an evening event. The student poets read aloud some of the poems they wrote in class and also read one favorite poem by an author that they studied during reading workshop.


We transform a common area of our school into our Poetry Cafe. We cover TV trays with black tablecloths, create a stage with a microphone for the student readers, serve snacks and coffee, and turn the lights down low to set the mood. Students are asked to wear black shirts and jeans to honor the beatnik culture in which poetry readings at small coffee shops were popular.



Preparation for the Poetry Cafe

Poetry Workshop: To start, students study and write poetry in our classroom for a month. At the end of the unit, students create poetry books where they publish and illustrate their five favorite poems they wrote in writing workshop and also add two poems from favorite authors they studied in reading workshop. You can see pictures below of some of the students' books along with some sample poem pages.

Find a ton of poetry resources in the Scholastic Teacher Store.

P1110622 P1110624

P1110625 P1110626

Invite Family Members to the Event:  A few weeks before we open the Poetry Cafe for a special evening of poetry reading, we send home an invitation to parents along with a slip for them to RSVP. This helps us determine how many tables and chairs we will need.

Download the sample Poetry Cafe letter/invitation

Family Family2


Setting Up a Poetry Cafe

1. Determine a Location: Before planning the event, you will need to determine where in your school would be the best place to set up a cafe.  A regular classroom may not be large enough to accommodate all of the guests, but you also do not want to pick a place (such as a gymnasium or cafeteria) that is so large that it loses the quaintness of a crowded coffee shop.  We use a common area in our building called the LGI (large group instruction area).  It is large enough to fit a small stage and lots of little tables, but not so big that it lacks the coziness of a cafe.



2. Create a Stage or Speaking Area: We are lucky to have plastic risers in our building that can also be folded up to create a mini stage.  We use this as the place where students read their poems.  It's nice because it puts them slightly higher than the audience but not so high that it loses the feel of a coffee shop.  On the stage we have nothing but a microphone stand, a stool, and an antique lamp to add some authenticity.

Stage 2010


3. Use TV Trays for Tables: To make guests feel like they are truly in a small coffee shop, we choose to use TV trays as opposed to larger tables.  TV trays are small and can be placed close together to help create the cafe feeling.  It is important that the audience is close to the readers, so TV trays work best.  We buy black plastic tablecloths to cover the TV trays and place two or three chairs around each tray. 

TV Trays


4. Set the Mood With (Fake) Candles and Dim Lighting: We keep very few lights on in our Poetry Cafe and instead use the light from the lamp on the stage and battery-powered candles on each of the tables.  We do keep some lights on in the back of the room so that the audience can see who is reading, but the dim lighting sets the mood for our beatnik-inspired Poetry Cafe.



5. Serve Food and Coffee: We ask parents to volunteer to make treats to serve. We bring our favorite serving pieces to school on the night of the cafe to "dress up" the sweets that parents choose to bring.  Coffee can also be served for the parents.  Having a person who is in charge of the coffee station ensures that there are no spills, and additional coffee can be brewed if necessary.



6. Ask Students to Play the Part:  The beatnik culture of the 1950s and early 1960s that is often associated with poetry readings at coffee shops also had its own fashion. In honor of that culture, we encourage students to at least wear jeans and black t-shirts. Sunglasses and berets are optional if students have access to such accessories.



7. Create a Program: We create programs for this evening event.  Even though students read more than one poem, we just list the main poem that they read first in the program.  The programs are sitting on each TV tray when the guests arrive.  This is a special memento that students and parents can keep from the event.


Download a sample Poetry Cafe program. (Print Shop file)

View our Download Poetry Cafe Program as a PDF File


8. Create Signs or Banners for Your Cafe: To make our cafe look authentic, we add a festive banner above the stage and also put an "Open Mic Night" sign on an easel near the stage.


Download "Open Mic Night" sign. (Print Shop file)

Download Poetry Cafe banner. (Print Shop file)


What Happens When the Poetry Cafe Opens?

When parents and students first arrive at the Poetry Cafe, jazz plays in the background.  Parents find their seats, and all guests are encouraged to fill small plates with delicious treats and their cups with freshly brewed coffee.



Once all students have arrived, students retrieve their poetry books from the classroom and take a seat to the right of the stage so that they can easily come to the stage when their name is called.



One at a time, we call the students' names and announce the title of their poem. They take their place on the stage and read their poem aloud from their book. Instead of clapping at the end of each poem, guests are asked to snap their fingers in honor of the true beatnik culture. Each student reads two original poems and one poem by an author he or she studied during poetry workshop in class.

Emma Nathan

Before students read their poems, they tell the audience the poetic devices (learned in class) that they should listen for while the poem is being read aloud.  We put a helpful "Poetic Devices" card on a holder on each TV tray so that the audience knows the meaning of each poetic device.

Poetic devices

Download Poetic Devices Table Card (Print Shop file)

Download Download Poetic Devices Table Card (PDF File)


Throughout the student readings we have "open mic" breaks where parents and siblings can read aloud their own poems or read a poem from a favorite author or book.  The students love when their family members take part in our Poetry Cafe!



Share Your Poetry Celebrations!

While we choose to do a Poetry Cafe at our school, I know that other teachers also have very creative ways to celebrate, publish, and share their students' poetry. Please use this blog to share your ideas with me and with other teachers who read this blog!

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Comments (40)

I am researching great ideas for poetry activities at the elementary level. I can't wait to get the Poetry Café going at my new school where I am the librarian. Thanks for sharing the pics and steps on making it a success!


Thanks so much for sharing everything step by step!

Is there a way to gain access to the documents- they aren't downloading.



You really make it seem so easy with your presentation
but I find this matter to be really something that I think I would never understand.
It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next post, I'll try to get
the hang of it!Corinne

This just sparked an idea for me. I have a vague remembrance of an open mic, dramatic reading night held at bookstores and cafes. It would be great to have pairs of students (even trios) to do a dramatic reading night. Wow, my mind just started running. I think the open mic night could be done a few times a year to really get parents involved. Could be done for each 9-week grading period. Maybe have groups of kids re-enact a few books that were studied over the period? Another night could be for kids to sing/rap about the stories they read. Poetry, dramatic reading, Re-enactment of a book, and Songs/Raps about books read. Any other ideas? I would love to hear them! I love this idea of giving kids a voice and a platform to show off what they are learning! Thanks Beth!

Thanks so much for this wonderful idea. This will be my first year teaching 3rd grade and I can't wait to do the Poetry Cafe. My son did this when he was in 3rd grade and it was great. I'm finding so many helpful resources from your blog. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and helping others be better teachers. It's greatly appreciated!



Thanks for sharing ideas from your own poetry cafe. I love the idea of the bongo drum!

Thanks for your compliments! I'm glad you have enjoyed reading my blog this year!


Dear Beth, I was so excited to see that you had done a Poetry Coffeehouse too!! My class held a Poetry Coffeehouse to celebrate our end- of- the- year Success Day at the end of May! I had a student play a little intro on a bongo type drum as each "poet" made his/her way to the stage. We had the audience snap too! I love getting great ideas from your site, and these blogs are amazing!

Hello! I loved reading about the poetry cafe and would love to do ıt wıth my 3rd graders too. I live in Istanbul and teach ESL to 3rd grade, I am thinking of doing this as a club and choosing the students whose level of English is better than some of the others. Do you have any tips or suggestions? Or know of an author we could study?


Thank you so much for sharing your "Poem in a Pocket" idea along with the culminating balloon launch! That is one of the coolest ideas! I would love to be a fly on the wall at such a neat event!


Radha and Mani,

Thanks for the compliments! I'm glad you liked reading the post!


Jennifer H.,

Unfortunately, the banner file can only be opened in Print Shop. Since that is the only program I have in which I can make banners, I can't recreate it in another program. Perhaps you can open it on a computer that has Print Shop installed...

I'm sorry about that!


Perfect stuff as usual..Great post.Really an innovative and interesting idea. Thanks for informative listing.

I teach gifted students in grades Kindergarten through third grade. We celebrate poetry with our own version of Poem In Your Pocket Day. This day originally began in New York City in 2002 and is now celebrated annually in honor of National Poetry Month. After teaching a reading and writing unit on types of poetry and figurative language, students make a mini booklet of several of their original poems and include a few by favorite poets. Each child is then given a library pocket with a ribbon strung through it. The booklet fits perfectly in this pocket. On Poem in Your Pocket Day (usually around the 30th of April), students wear their "pockets of poems" all day as we complete many activities. We visit other classrooms to read poetry and pass out shape poem bookmarks. Our principal joins us for a poetry reading and snacks in the classroom. We use sidewalk chalk to write poems outside in common areas. The culminating activity is a balloon launch! Each student is given a balloon with a small poem attached. We discuss where we hope the balloons will land and who will find our poems. Parents assist with activities and needed items. I take many pictures, make a slide show, and post it on my website. It is such a meaningful day that is anticipated each year!

Very impressive post. I can appreciate the amount of effort that went into it. You have a very good feel for getting the right information out to the people. I am also very impressed with the website as a whole. Keep up the good work.

Beth, I love your idea of having a poetry night! I teach fourth grade and I know that this would be very exciting for them and their parents. I am away from my computer at school and I do not have access to Print Shop on my computer at home. Is there anyway that I can open the banner and poster in another program. I would love to "steal" your banner idea, but I need for it to say fourth grade presents... Also, if you could, e-mail me a requirements sheet of the kinds of things that should be present in their book. Thanks so much! I am looking forward to this!!!!


Thanks so much for sharing your ideas!! One of my favorite parts of writing this blog has been getting so many great ideas from the teachers who read it. I think I will "steal" some of your ideas for next year!


Susan D.,

This is something new that I just started doing last year with my teaching partner. I'm sure your 2nd graders will love it next year. Good Luck!


I always check out your website to see what school themes you do each year, and I have copied a few of them for my First Grade. I have been having an Open Mic Night for Poetry for 12 years now. I was excited to see your ideas, but here are a few of my own. I have the children make tie-dye shirts, and decorate the room with psychedelic colors, flowers, peace signs, etc. They are asked to wear jeans to school, and their gym shirts. They accessorize in school and put their shirts on. I usually have my CoffeeHouse on one of the last days of the year. If a child has a summer birthday, they are allowed to bring in treats (aka baked goods), while I supply coffee and juice. It is a nice way to celebrate summer birthdays when the families can sing along to our crazy birthday songs. I always have a fellow teacher videotape the event, and give out copies to each child as an end-of-year gift. Usually we are winding down for the year, so this does not disrupt teaching time, and is a highlight for my First graders each year.

This was amazing. Just when I think I've seen all of Beth's greatest something new comes along--I am moving from 4th to 2nd next year and I will love creating the Poetry Cafe!


Unfortunately, the Print Shop files are too large to send via email. Instead of left-clicking on the download links, try right-clicking and choose "save target as" from the menu that appears. Then choose a location to save the file on your computer. Hopefully you can then open the file in Print Shop.

I hope this helps!


I have PrintShop on my computer and it wouldnt allow me to open your files. I was wondering if you could send them to my email. Thanks a bunch!


Hopefully your poetry cafe went well. Feel free to "steal" any of the my ideas on my post for your cafe next year:) The poetic devices table card is a nice addition to the cafe so that parents are aware of the teaching that took place during the unit.

Have a great summer!


I've been perusing your site for a few years now and have adopted many of your ideas! Funny enough, I just got on your site this morning to look for the Possible Reading Strategies Sheet (I misplaced it somewhere)...and found your Poetry Café. We just had one yesterday! I wish I would have seen your posting sooner and "stolen" some of your ideas:) Thanks so much for sharing! The Poetry Devices card on each table is a GREAT idea!


I love the ideas you shared about your poetry cafe. I especially like that you had the students use Photostory as a creative way to publish their poems. Did the students use photos from home, or did they take photos using cameras at school? I have even had students scan in their own illustrations to use in their Photostory projects. I'm sure your students' final "movies" were very cool!

Thanks for sharing!!


Poetry cafes are so much fun. I just finished working with a 5th grade teacher on creating digital poems using Photostory. The parents and kids loved the final multimedia publication. It was also a great unit to incorporate internet safety and copyright. During our Poetry Cafe, each group presented a safety or copyright tip to educate the parents.


Thanks for sharing your Barnes and Noble Poetry Night idea! Our school actually hosts an B&N night where parents can purchase books, and a percentage of the proceeds go to our school. Many teachers also attend. However, I really like your school's idea of making it a more worthwhile evening where students are actually participating in a literacy-related activity like your poetry reading. Thanks for the great idea!


We are having a night of poetry at Barnes & Noble tonight! Students will read their poems from our K-5 classes and parents can shop afterwards. The school receives a percentage of the profits from the sales.


I just added links to this post so that you can view the Poetry Cafe program and the Poetic Devices table card as PDF files. Of course you will not be able to edit them, but at least you can view them. I hope this helps!


Thank you so much for sharing your amazing ideas for a Poetry Cafe! I would love to be able to check out your program materials. Any tips on opening them if you do not have print shop?


Thanks for the book suggestion! I plan to check it out and hopefully use it for our poetry unit next year!


I've done a poetry night, with the same idea of the "beatnik" vibe for my classroom over the last few years. I read the poetry book "Hip Hop Cat" to introduce the unit--its a great read, and gets kids in the spirit


I'm so glad the timing of my post was helpful for you in planning a poetry night for your students. The poetry cafe is so much fun for the parents and very rewarding for the students. Good luck! I hope your event goes well!



The students' outfits definitely honor the beatnik culture and add an authentic "flavor" to the special evening. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about our poetry cafe!


Oh my gosh, the timing of your post could not have been more perfect. I am doing a poetry unit right now and just sent a note home last week to parents about having a Poetry Night. I saw the idea somewhere and thought it looked like fun for my fourth grade class. The students have been writing different types of poetry and studying famous poets. I was searching the internet yesterday, looking for ideas on how to decorate my classroom for our big night. I read your blog every week! Of course you would have a post on Poetry Night right when I needed help! It's like you read minds. Ha ha. :) I love the "open mic" idea and the cute outfits! I will be borrowing some of your ideas for our upcoming event! Thanks for posting such great blogs! You are truly amazing!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the Poetry Cafe. What a fab idea! And I was touched by the accoutrements - sunglasses & berets were terrific as an homage to the past. Maynard G. Crebs would be proud.

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