World Poetry Day: Shel Silverstein

Monday is World Poetry Day, and one of my all time favorite poets is Shel Silverstein! My students, whether they are 5 or 88 (I actually had a student who was 88 once!), love his poetry as well. Whether it be an anthology such as Falling Up, or a stand alone book such as The Missing Piece, Shel Silverstein’s books never fail to put a smile on everyone’s face, and often make us think a little deeper as well. Here are just a few of the ways I use Mr. Silverstein’s poems in my classrooms.

Giraffe and a Half

Rhyming Card Match

To be honest, the rhyming word that I most associate with giraffe is laugh, which I always do when I read Giraffe and a Half. Sometimes I will read this with my students just for the fun of it, but the school day has become so packed that we hardly have time to do that anymore, so more often then not this book gets read when we are working on rhyming words. Most, but not all, of the rhyming pairs in this book match in spelling as well as sound. This makes it a little easier for my students, but there are still a few that cannot be paired by spelling alone which, as I mentioned a couple weeks ago in my post about There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly, is an important skill to practice (my older learners are especially prone to match based on spelling, rather than sound, for rhyming words). Since I don’t want to, “ruin the book” (to quote a former student), I keep this particular exercise short and sweet. I have cards with the various rhyming words on them (with a picture for each word to help with vocabulary acquisition for my ELLs and reading for my pre-literate and early literacy students). The students match up the rhyming pairs by putting the cards next to one another. I have a digital version as well where they drag and drop the words next to one another to form rhyming pairs.

The Giving Tree

Sentence Sequencing Activity

One of my favorite Shel Silverstein stand alone books to use with older students is The Giving Tree. There are so many different things to focus on with this book, but my two main go-to’s tend to be sequencing and personification. Teaching older beginner ELLs, it’s always a challenge to find texts they can comprehend but aren’t too “babyish” when practicing foundational skills. Out of the various sentence sequencing activities we do, this one is always a favorite of my older learners, especially my adult students. They appreciate the mature messages of the book regarding changes we go through in life, sacrifice for people we love, and gratitude (or lack thereof). We often read picture books together, and they enjoy them, but this particular picture book feels as though it was written for adults. The other major skill I typically try to tackle with this book is personification, something that is often difficult for my students to truly grasp. The personification of the tree is very clear and my students are really able to understand what it is and how to identify it. After seeing it in this book, they are much better at identifying it in other texts and using it in their own writing.

Pronunciation Practice

Next semester I’m going to use Shel Silverstein’s poems in a new way (at least for me). For the first time ever I am teaching a class that is 100% focused on pronunciation. One of the ways we’ll be practicing our pronunciation, and evaluating one another’s efforts, is through the reading of poetry. I knew I wanted fun, short poems that my adult students would enjoy. I also wanted poems with strong a rhythm and a clear stress pattern for them to read. All of the poems we’ll be using, both for practice and evaluation, are going to be from Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. I’m hoping next semester’s students will enjoy them as much as I, and my previous students, have.


Whether or not Mr. Silverstein’s poems are part of your celebrations, I hope you will do something fun with your students for World Poetry Day on Monday! I know I’ll be sharing at least a couple of Shel Silverstein’s poems with my level 1 grammar and speaking classes; I’m just having a hard time choosing which ones! Happy teaching, everyone.