Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School

National Poetry Month: The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School Poet-a-Palooza (Act I)!






featuring the prolific producers and some poetry stars of



OVERTURE: Exposition and Setting
SCENE 1: An Interview with Fourth-Grade Teacher MARY SKELLY
SCENE 2: Five Scene-Stealing Poetry Videos:
INTERMISSION: Meet the PFAMS Poets in the Lobby!

Overture: Exposition and Setting

Remember how, in the fall of 2012, Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell put together this pretty amazing resource that made teaching and learning about poetry so easy and fun that even the most reluctant teachers and students couldn’t resist? And then, for good measure, they went ahead and made those poems and activities connect to the new Common Core standards? And then, to wrap it all up with a bow, they called this resource The Poetry Friday Anthology for K-5?

Well, in case you haven’t heard, they’ve done it again.

The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School

This time it’s the Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, featuring:

  • 36 original poems for 6th grade
  • 36 original poems for 7th grade
  • 36 original poems for 8th grade
  • curriculum connections for each poem, each week, each grade level
  • Take 5! easy-to-follow mini-lessons for each poem that reinforce key skills in reading and language arts, including rhyme, repetition, rhythm, alliteration, and so on

That’s 110 poems by 71 poets, all at the tips of your fingers. Now take your seats and dim the lights — on with the show! 

 SCENE 1: An Interview with Fourth-Grade Teacher MARY SKELLY

Mary Skelly
L-R: Lori Rogers Stokem (2nd grade), Karen Fronhofer (awesome librarian), Mary Skelly (4th grade), Stacy Riche Parker (1st grade), Tina Luke-Byk (4th grade)

In the first PFA Poet-a-Palooza, Janet and Sylvia were kind enough to let me raise the curtain on the behind-the-scenes action that went into putting these books together. This time around, I thought it would be neat to see the book in action, so I’ve turned the spotlight on fourth-grade teacher Mary Skelly.

Mary teaches at Salem Central School in Salem, NY, which so happens to be my hometown and the same school where I spent all my K-12 years. Besides being the fourth-grade ELA teacher, Mary is also the driving force behind the school’s theater program. In fact, I first met Mary when I directed her in a summer stock production of Brigadoon back in 2000 or so. All these years later, I discovered she’s a teacher who’s passionate about poetry and is doing her best to instill that passion in her students.

When Mary learned about the PFA and PFAMS books, she asked the librarian to order them right away. She is currently using the K-5 edition, but her experience speaks to both books.

Thanks for letting me pester you, Mary! How have you approached the “teaching” of poetry in the past with your fourth graders? Did you have good results?
I’ve used many different approaches to poetry. I have done a poetry unit consisting of 3-4 weeks of a smattering of various poetry styles. We would create a poetry portfolio in which the students would read a poem or two of a certain style, and then create their own “Portfolio of Poems.” I have also done a poetry book in which the students had a poem for a week. On the first day, they’d read the poem, listen to me read it, ask questions about vocabulary and figurative language. On the second day, they’d read it out loud to each other. On the third and fourth days, they’d draw a picture of what the poem represented to them. On the fifth day, they’d write a reaction to the poem.

I have also tried connecting a poem to a theme, but I never seemed to share as many that way. I have used canned poetry units and various poetry “quick lessons.” Some days I would just read a poem and discuss it with the class.

Results…well, they varied. I never felt that I really “taught” my students about poetry. I was the engineer and they were on the train without a say in the destination. Some poems would catch certain kids, and the kids that had a love of reading and language grasped the concepts much more quickly. For the kids that loved poetry, my library was stocked with various poetry books and I would steer them in that direction.

I did find that poetry did capture some students who were not fans of writing. That was so exciting for everybody! The problem was that the student would just discover his or her “voice” and then we’d move on to a new type or different style altogether. I was always looking to “reinvent” or find a better way.

How did the implementation of the Common Core Standards affect how you teach poetry, for better or worse? Any particular struggles or improvements?
To be perfectly honest, the Core prompted me to spend the time to do more poetry. I realized, or had been to enough trainings to understand, that the whole point of the Core was that we were supposed to be delving deeper into various content areas and subjects, so I needed to do more than scratch the surface…the million dollar question was how.

Academic language has really been in the forefront of the Core’s foundations: analyze, critique, compare, and evaluate are all words that we are all struggling to put into “kid friendly,” “kid appropriate” understanding and use. These words were also applied to poetry. In order to address them, we began reading some of my favorite poems by authors like Shel Silverstein, Emily Dickinson, and Jack Prelutsky. I felt more comfortable teaching “analyzing” with poems that I was familiar with and enjoyed.

We took different types of poems and “analyzed” them — broke them down like you would break down a chocolate chip cookie recipe: each ingredient (part of the poem) made it special in its own way. We looked at style, rhyme pattern, figurative language, setting/weather, time period, personification, and so on.

So the struggle has been in locating poetry that the kids can take apart and understand on various levels, but that also addresses differentiation since I have a multitude of decoding and comprehension levels in my class. And this group is very literal, too (have I got a story about that!).

The other struggle is that the Core really places an emphasis on writing non-fictional, opinion-driven, college- and career-ready types of documents. The freedom to create seems to be pushed to the back. In order for a child to really be able to analyze something, she has to know how to create it. That way she can make sure that all of the “parts” (ingredients) are there.

The improvement that the Core has brought is that I have made poetry a piece of “all-the-time” literature. It can cover a multitude of subjects. It’s not just a unit that is here today and gone next month. It’s something to be counted on. The kids have come to expect it. “Poetry Friday!” is a term I coined (or so I thought until I saw your book!) last summer. I needed to make poetry as regular as a novel or nonfiction article.

The other significant improvement is that the students are not quite as literal as they were in September. They can appreciate language and look for other meanings, personification, similes, metaphors,  and idioms (they love idioms) in anything that is written, read, or even spoken.

You’ve been using the Poetry Friday Anthology in your class for a few weeks now. Can you tell us a bit about what a PFA lesson looks like in action? How long do you spend on it? Do you do all the Take 5 suggestions? Do you have your students write poems every Friday?
The PFA in action has been like a breath of fresh air. We had been doing sooo much in the way of analyzing, justifying, and critiquing that we really weren’t doing any composing. It seemed like I was asking the same old questions in the same old way. I was tired, the kids were tired, and our creativity and ingenuity seemed snuffed out.

When I received the book (via an expedient order from our librarian), I really wasn’t sure what to expect. So much of Core-related materials are dry, unfriendly to kids and teaching, and not age appropriate. When I opened the book, I was encouraged by the way that it was laid out. I was able to turn right to the “Poems for Fourth Grade” and begin reading and planning. The framework was solid. “Responding and articulating” (sharing) was key.

My class make-up is very boy heavy. So when I saw the free-verse poem “Running Back” by Jacqueline Jules, I went with it. Football is a huge part of the culture in Salem, so I knew that it would be popular. It was.

We did the entire Take 5 section, which is featured in the photos that I sent.

Mary Skelly's 4th grade class
Mrs. Skelly’s and Mrs. Luke-Byk’s fourth grade classes – come back Friday to read some of their poems!

It reached the students of all abilities and all levels. For the students who needed differentiation, we discussed what started the lines of the poems. They were able to compose poems based on what sport they enjoyed . They described what it sounded like, felt like, smelled like, and so on. They loved not having to worry about punctuation or capitals as long as their message got across. SCORE!!

It took one whole ELA block of 60 minutes to do the entire Take 5 as well as a rough draft of their own free verse poem. It took an additional 20 minutes to final copy and share. Poems are not meant to be left alone, but are meant to be shared. This group totally agrees!

Every Friday we look at something new. The students want to see whatever is next in the PFA. (I’m not sure how that will look now that they also want to do a March Madness competition!!).  I usually will devote the entire Friday ELA block and a partial part of Monday’s block if they are composing and sharing.

With the PFA, I can see my plans next year changing dramatically. Now that I have this resource, I see another scope and sequence that will be enriching and creative. The Take 5 activities lend themselves beautifully to differentiation as well as meeting the standards set by the Common Core.

So you see the PFA/PFAMS as a resource for helping you teach poetry creatively while still meeting the requirements?
The PFA is helpful in that it helps tie real-world applications into the poetry process. In the Core Curriculum, at least in NY State, the narrative and creative forms are not as prevalent as they once were. The focus is really on the “Informative & Opinion” style — and after a while it becomes SO dry and dull and just article after article….ICK!

Tired, frustrated, and knowing that my kids were losing interest very quickly — and considering the time constraints to meet all the requirements that the Common Core specifies — when I got the book I went right to the 4th-grade section, where Jacqueline Jules’s poem and the relevant Take 5 suggestions gave me great ways to tie nonfiction (Core) and poetry.

I put a picture of a running back from the Saints up on the smart board. I played a clip from a game. We wrote down what was specific and what the theme (Core) was. We then read the poem multiple times, both individually and as a group. Then we “analyzed” the poem following the structure that I’ve used all year. After that we discussed what elements were in the poem (senses, adjectives, figurative language, etc.).  Thee students began to compose their own free verse (Hooray! No rules!). Some  relied heavily on the model while others wrote with glee. They final copied and drew a picture. Finally, they were able share their poems by reading them in the Poetry Cafe.

I felt that I was able to make some excellent connections with the PFA. And it’s so helpful to see that at the beginning of each grade section, the book includes the specific standards addressed in the Take 5 activities.

About Mary: Mary has an AA in Theatre with specializations in puppetry and directing, a BA in Elementary Education, and an MA in Special Ed. She’s been published in the Mailbox magazine for teachers and currently teaches fourth grade at Salem Central School, where she is also the theater advisor.


Learn more about: Janet and Sylvia
Book Website: The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School blog
Publishing Website: Pomelo Books
Facebook Page: Pomelo Books

SCENE 2: Five Scene-Stealing Poetry Videos

Now for the Poet-a-Palooza part of the post! Apologies in advance for making you sit through my repetitive intros, but these videos are going directly from here into the permanent NWR Poetry Video Library, so the intros had to be done.

I am really thrilled to welcome NINE of the poets from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School — five today and four on Friday — each with a memorable poem sure to give you a wonderful sampling of all the treats this book offers. Turn off your cell phones and listen in!

GE Singing--Judy HensleyGEORGE ELLA LYON  

…is the author of four books of poetry, a novel, a memoir, and a short story collection as well as thirty-seven books for young readers. Some of her titles include All the Water in the WorldThe Pirate of Kindergarten, and Which Side Are You On?: The Story of a Song. Her honors include an Al Smith Fellowship, fellowships to the Hambidge Center for the Arts, numerous grants from The Kentucky Foundation for Women, a Pushcart Prize nomination, and a feature in the PBS series, The United States of Poetry. Her books have been chosen for the Appalachian Book of the Year award, the Aesop Prize, ALA’s Schneider Family Book Award, the Jane Addams Honor Book, the Golden Kite Award, the New York Public Library’s Best Book for Teens list, and the Parents’ Choice Silver Medal.

A native of Harlan County, Kentucky, Lyon works as a freelance writer and teacher based in Lexington. For more information, go to www.georgeellalyon.com.


Emmy couldn’t go to Barrett’s house. His mother
didn’t allow visitors. They couldn’t go out-
out because Barrett didn’t have any money
or a car either, never mind that there was hardly
anywhere to go. So he said, “I’ll tell you what.
You meet me in the middle of the swinging bridge
at the end of Somerland Avenue at 6 o’clock
and we’ll have dinner.” (The bridge led across
the river to his house.) “Okay,” Emmy said, picturing
peanut butter sandwiches in a paper sack. Huh!

Barrett was nothing if not a magician, from glittery
eyes to gleeful feet, and there in the middle of that
cable-strung path of splintery boards, he produced
two plates of spaghetti (red-sauced and parmesan-
sprinkled), two slices of garlic bread, and a Dr. Pepper
which they split. His idea of romance. Hers too.


photoJOY ACEY 

…otherwise known as the Princess of Poetry, has published poems in several children’s magazines including Highlight’s High Five and Pockets. Her poems have won prizes from five state poetry societies and have been published in several small literary journals. She also has poems in both The Poetry Friday Anthology K-5 and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School. Joy has a Ph.D in Human Communication and lives in Tucson with her husband and a dog named Spot. She posts a poem a day and poetry exercises on her blog at Poetry for Kids Joy.


Asks a round-faced native girl
……….in Quito.
To answer, I put my hand out, palm down
……….above my shoulder.
She laughs and
……….explains this palm-down gesture
……….is used
for animals and inanimate objects–
……….corn plants, piles of laundry,
……….dogs and llamas.

She tilts my hand up to show how people
……….are measured
in her culture, to show respect;
……….the hand vertical
……….with fingers
reaching toward the sky.


Heidi Bee Roemer


…is a writer who has sold nearly 400 poems, articles, and stories to various children’s magazines and anthologies. Her debut book, Come to My Party and Other Shape Poems (Henry Holt, 2004) received starred reviews and was a nominee for the Monarch Award, Mockingbird Award, and Great Lakes’ Great Books Award. Party is on Chicago Public School’s Second Grade Reading List, Chicago Public Library’s Best Books 2004, and CCBC’s Best Children’s Books of 2005. Heidi’s nature books, What Kinds of Seeds Are These? (2006) and Whose Nest Is This? (2009) have also been well received. Heidi co-edited And the Crowd Goes Wild!: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems (2012), a self-published anthology that received the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, Bronze Medal, Children’s Poetry Category.

Heidi is also a teacher and writer-in-residence for several Chicago public schools. Learn more about Heidi at HeidiBRoemer.com.


Chef is to restaurant as teacher is to school.
Stove is to hot as fridge is to cool.

Milk is to drink as egg is to eat.
Lemon is to sour as sugar is to sweet.

Oatmeal is to breakfast as sandwich is to lunch.
Soup is to slurp as carrot is to crunch.

Steak is to chew as shakes are to sip.
Cone is to ice cream as chips are to dip.

Ears are to corn as eyes are to potatoes.
Green is to zucchini as red is to tomatoes.

Fuel is to car as food is to tummy.
Liver is to yucky as pizza is to yummy!




…teaches kindergarten at a large public school in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC.  She squeezes poetry both into and out of this little universe as often as possible and is the author of Squeeze: Poems from a Juicy Universe and Pumpkin Butterfly: Poems from the Other Side of Nature. Although a die-hard supporter of free verse for young readers, Heidi also appreciates rhyme, meter, and form.

Heidi blogs on poetry and teaching at my juicy little universe. You can also visit her website at www.HeidiMordhorst.com.


I sound like a lizard, a dino or fossil;
Instead I’m a reference, a volume, a book.
If you need some help or require assistance,
check in for a peek, a perusal or look.

I’m small, undersized, miniscule or compact
but I’m powerful, potent, I’m mighty or strong.
Please trust in, rely on, depend on, believe me–
I won’t misinform or mislead, steer you wrong.

When you need to state or express or convey
a specific idea or notion or thought,
I can offer, propose, recommend or suggest
the word or expression that hits the right spot.

See me for that nuance, that hint or that shade
of meaning that captures what you want to say,
for I am The Saurus, Synonymous Rex,
King Onomasticon! Extinct? No way!



…has published eighty-nine titles that have earned dozens of honors, including the Christopher Award for The Book of Giant Stories. Recent works include Cowboys: Voices in the Western WindPirates, and A Perfect Home for a Family. His work has been translated into twelve languages, anthologized more than one hundred times, and appeared in dozens of magazines and professional journals. His poem “My Book” is sandblasted into The Children’s Garden sidewalk at the Burton Barr Library in Phoenix, Arizona. David’s poetry inspired Sandy Asher’s popular school play, Somebody Catch My Homework: A One-act Play. Jesse and Grace, written with Asher, received the 2011 Distinguished Play for Children award from American Alliance for Theatre and Education. In 2007, the Missouri Librarian Association presented David with its Literacy Award for the body of his work. David holds science degrees from Drury and Emory universities and honorary doctor of letters degrees from Missouri State University and Drury University. In Springfield, MO, an elementary school is named for him. He is poet laureate of Drury.

David lives with his wife, Sandy, a business owner and retired guidance counselor. He is working on a number of new books. Visit David’s website at www.DavidLHarrison.com or stop by to say hello at his very active blog.


I play a slide trombone,
My teacher says I’m flat,
I’m not as good as I’d like to be,
But there’s nothing to do about that.

I play the slide trombone,
At least I’m not the worst,
I’m one chair up from the guy who’s last,
Twenty-five chairs from first.

My teacher says I’m flat,
I sound all right to me,
First chair practices every night.
When does he watch TV?

I’m not as good as I’d like,
A trombone isn’t easy,
Even guys I like a lot
Say I make them queasy.

I play a slide trombone,
My teacher says I’m flat,
I’m not as good as I’d like to be,
But there’s nothing to do about that.


Standing ovation! Thank you, poets, for contributing to Act I of the PFAMS poet-a-palooza and sharing your wonderful work with us!


Here they are, all seventy-one of them! Click the links to see their work and find out more about these talented folks.

[column size=”1-3″]

Allan Wolf
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater 
Ann Whitford Paul
April Halprin Wayland
Avis Harley
Betsy Franco
Calef Brown
Carmen T. Bernier-Grand
Carole-Ann Hoyte
Carole Gerber
Charles Ghigna
Charles Waters
Cynthia Cotten
David L. Harrison
Debbie Levy
Deborah Chandra
Deborah Ruddell
Eileen Spinelli
Gail Carson Levine
George Ella Lyon
Georgia Heard
Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Heidi Mordhorst

[/column] [column size=”1-3″]

Heidi Bee Roemer
Holly Thompson
Irene Latham 
Jack Prelutsky
Janet Wong
Jane Yolen
Jacqueline Jules
Jeannine Atkins
Jen Bryant
Joan Bransfield Graham
Joseph Bruchac
Joy Acey
Joyce Sidman
J. Patrick Lewis
Julie Larios
Juanita Havill
Kate Coombs
Ken Slesarik
Kristy Dempsey
Laura Purdie Salas
Lee Wardlaw
Leslie Bulion
Lesléa Newman
Linda Kulp

[/column] [column size=”1-3″ last=”1″]

Lorie Ann Grover
Margarita Engle
Marilyn Nelson
Marilyn Singer
Mary Lee Hahn
Mary Quattlebaum
Michael J. Rosen
Michael Salinger
Monica Gunning
Naomi Shihab Nye
Nikki Grimes
Patricia Hubbell
Renée M. LaTulippe
Robert Weinstock
Robyn Hood Black
Sara Holbrook
Sonya Sones
Stephanie Calmenson
Stephanie Hemphill
Steven Withrow
Ted Scheu
Terry Webb Harshman
Virginia Euwer Wolff
X. J. Kennedy


Come back on Friday for ACT II of the PFAMS POET-A-PALOOZA, featuring

SCENE 1: four more poetry videos:


SCENE 2: poems inspired by the PFA, written by Mrs. Skelly’s fourth graders!

Many, many thanks

to Mary Skelly for sharing her process and classroom with us, and to George Ella, Joy, Heidi R., Heidi M., David, and all the PFAMS poets for joining me at No Water River and for helping to create this showstopping poetry resource! I leave you with the PFAMS introductory poem…


Big place! Middle school.
Settle down. Deep breath.
Okay. Here goes.
Oh-oh. Schedule?
Locker? Homeroom?
B-Wing? French class?
Which desk? Bonjour?
Bell again? Staircase?
Science lab? Math?
History? Hungry?
Lunch room? Which table?
Food’s good–and friends!
Bell again? So quick?
A-Wing? Which way?
Bell again? Library?
Checkout? Which way?
PE? Gym?
Teammates? Final bell?
Combination? Homework?
Books? Backpack?
Which bus? Which seat?
My stop? Whew!

–Julie Larios

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All poems copyright 2013 by their respective authors.