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Monday, November 18, 2013

Teaching with the Poetry of James Whitcomb Riley

When the grass is airbrushed white and the air is crisp, I reach for Riley Farm-Rhymes as I head off to school. It's time to share "When the Frost Is on the Punkin" with my class.

The vivid imagery of James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier poet, takes us back to a crisp autumn day on an 1880's Indiana farm. It's the perfect opportunity for a poetry lesson!

After reading the poem aloud, we discuss structural elements: stanzas, verses, rhythm, meter, and rhyme.

Skilled use of language makes this poem particularly compelling. We explore onomatopoeia, personification, sensory words, and dialect.

I use the first paragraph as an example; students practice locating these elements in the second, third, and fourth stanzas. Next, we discuss unfamiliar words, what the poem tells us about farming in the 1800's, and deeper meaning. To find out more about the life of James Whitcomb Riley, we discuss this article from the Indiana Historical Society. Now comes the grand finale: listening to Riley recite his poem! A scratchy, but authentic audio recording can be found in the Digital Collections of the Indianapolis Public Library.

Lesson plans and a corresponding PowerPoint presentation for "When the Frost Is on the Punkin" are now available in my Teachers pay Teachers store.

This won't be our last Riley poem. We'll use "Little Orphant Annie" (a real crowd pleaser!) when we study the Orphan Trains and "A Worn-Out Pencil" to analyze metaphor.

I hope you enjoy the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley as much as I do!
Note: The poetry of James Whitcomb Riley is now in the public domain and can be reproduced freely.