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Celebrate National Poetry Month With New York City Poems

By Lindsey Petlak on April 14, 2014
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

April is National Poetry Month. I’m always looking for new ways to explore the many benefits of reading, writing, and discussing poetry. In every grade I’ve taught (kindergarten to fourth), poetry study has looked very different. This year I stumbled upon a collection of New York City poetry books for children that lent themselves to a plethora of learning experiences. I "heart" NYC, so weaving this great city into exploring the art of poetry seemed like serendipity to me!



Sky Boys

By Deborah Hopkinson and James E. Ransome

About This Book

“It's 1930 and times are tough for Pop and his son. But look! On the corner of 34th Street and 5th Avenue, a building straight and simple as a pencil is being built in record time. Hundreds of men are leveling, shoveling, hauling. They're hoisting 60,000 tons of steel, stacking 10 million bricks, eating lunch in the clouds. And when they cut [the] ribbon and the crowds rush in, the boy and his father will be among the first to zoom up to the top of the tallest building in the world and see all of Manhattan spread at their feet.” (Description courtesy of Scholastic.)

This book shot to the top of my favorite picture books list from the moment I first read it. My students couldn't get enough. I swear, we could have spent weeks revisiting this book for countless learning opportunities, and my students would not have lost interest!


Poetry Month Ideas:

  • Similes and metaphors: This book is packed full of AMAZING similes and metaphors. I paired our targeted figurative language mini-lessons with searching, finding, and interpreting such elements within this text.

  • Numeric adjectives: We also engaged in mini-lessons about different forms of adjectives (appearance, numeric, comparative, etc.). The book uses numbers to emphasize the magnitude of the Empire State Building, and it’s easy for students to see the impact of such numeric adjectives. Go on a number hunt in the book and then have students explain the significance and impact of those numeric adjectives.

  • Visualization: Allow students to “blindly” read or listen to chunks of this extremely descriptive text and have them visualize, then draw their own interpretations of what illustrations match the descriptions.

  • Symbolism and history: This book does a tremendous job of illustrating the symbolism of the Empire State Building and the historical significance of its construction during the Great Depression. Even without much existing schema, students are able to use the symbolism and context clues in the text to derive meaning about the Great Depression and the hope that this world famous tower represented.


12 Days of New York

By Tonya Bolden

About This Book

When a group of students win a trip to New York City accompanied by their teacher, they aren’t sure where to start. Soon enough, they’re roaming the city, from the Statue of Liberty to Times Square, from Chinatown to Central Park, in order to discover what makes New York one of the greatest cities on Earth." (Description courtesy of Goodreads.)


Poetry Month Ideas:

  • Making inferences: The book takes “tourists” through 12 famous landmarks/locations in New York City. However, the actual names of those sites are not disclosed until the end of the book. Students must use schema, picture clues, and context cues in the text to infer the name of each site featured in the poem.

  • Map skills: The end of the book shows a kid-friendly map of NYC tourist sites and boroughs, sparking interest and learning opportunities for NYC map skills as a spinoff from this book.

  • Research projects: After reading/singing this poem, students were exposed to so many new locations in NYC they were eager to learn more and create reports on the different sites. Students worked with partners to research and write reports on the 12 locations featured in this book.

  • Teach the class/quiz show: As a finale, students presented their research projects to the class. When everyone finished teaching their classmates, we revisited the book to see if students could match the locations with the different parts of the poem, as we had not revealed the final answers for each site described until that point!


City I Love

By Lee Bennett Hopkins

About This Book

City I Love sparkles like the lights in Times Square! Featuring eighteen poems that guide the reader on an international tour — from New York to San Francisco, London to Tokyo, and beyond — this exuberant collection is the perfect read-aloud for city kids, aspiring world travelers, and adventurous spirits everywhere.” (Description courtesy of Goodreads.)

This book takes you on a poetic tour of many American and international cities, but guess which one was first in the book? You bet’cha, the one and only NYC!


Poetry Month Ideas:

  • Onomatopoeia: The NYC poem featured onomatopoeia, so this is a great way to kick off lessons on that skill. Have students search that poem and others in the book for evidence of this figurative language element.

  • Non-standard format: The poems in this text play with word placement and poetry format for effect . Use this as a springboard for students to try the same with their poetry.

  • City research: Much like 12 Days of New York (above), this text does not reveal each city’s identity and will most likely spark interest in and research on cities around the world.

Don’t Forget These Big Apple Poems!


"The New Colossus"

By Emma Lazarus

Inspired by and describing the iconic Statue of Liberty, this melodic poem has both complex vocabulary and symbolic lyrics that will undoubtedly puzzle your students in grades three to five (and possibly even older grades). This is a GREAT poem to use in conjunction with the following lessons, after you’ve conducted mini-lessons on the following topics:

  • Vocabulary context clues: Students will stumble over the higher level vocabulary in this poem, so it’s a perfect way for them to exercise their context clues skills to determine the meaning of such “mystery” words. This will, in turn, aid them in making appropriate inferences about the text meaning.

  • Making inferences: Students must use existing schema about the Statue of Liberty and coming to America paired with symbolic text clues in order to discern the meanings of several complex metaphors and other symbolic language.

  • Fluency and voice: Using the audio/video recordings below, students compared the influence of varied voice and tone on the emotional impact of the poem. This activity was so much fun and spurred excellent conversation about the importance of fluency elements when reading poetry (or any text) aloud.

Choose different styles, tones, and voices in reading the poem to illustrate the impact on the poem and readers' emotional responses.


9/11 Poetry for Kids

While it may be tragic, the events of September 11, 2001 are an important part of New York City (and American) history. It is important for generations to come to remember and honor the fallen of that day. By introducing kid-created poetry about 9/11, students get a child’s-eye viewpoint of the events and effects of that fateful day in our history. Not only that, but they are also inspired by the poetic masterpieces created by students their own age. My recommendation is to pose the poems first without telling them they were written by children. They will be shocked and inspired once you reveal the authors' ages!


Need More Inspiration? 

Not as big of a New York City fan as I am? Never fear, Scholastic has your back! Scholastic Month by Month has everything you need to fill your April days with poetic delights!


Common Core ELA Standards Correlation

Key Ideas and Details:

    Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

    Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Craft and Structure:

    Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

    Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

    Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

    Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take. 

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

I could go on and on about my love of all things "Big Apple," and how our class loved every minute of our "trip" to New York City, but that's another post for another day. How do you celebrate National Poetry Month? Please share and spread the love of poetry! Thanks for reading, and see you next week.

Comments (4)

I'm a native of the Upper West Side. Thank you for celebrating my city.

THANK you so much for citing my book, CITY I LOVE. I am quite honored.

Lee Bennett Hopkins www.leebennetthopkins.com

Thank YOU for reading and posting a comment! I can't believe that you saw and read my post! I greatly appreciate it, love your book, and will continue to sing its praises!

I Love NY too--and your selection of great books!

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