Advice from a Kid: Poems for Third Graders

by Erin Malone

Sometimes we are flummoxed by the task at hand. What is the best way to teach very young children how to write poetry? Most of my students this quarter were 8 years old. How to keep their attention? They’re drumming pencils, drawing video game characters, and talking, talking, talking. “Show me your ears!” I shouted, cupping my hands behind my own. They mimed back and for a moment we looked like a class of hopeful bats.

The great thing about 8 year-olds is that they will say anything. Sam imagined what it would be like to be slime: “I’m all gooey and sticky/and yucky. Suddenly/I grow wheels/and green eyeballs.” Wait, wheels? Yes, because it has to move. We were making inanimate objects animate. And green eyeballs! I love Sam’s leap from the idea that slime is green (intuitively; it’s not mentioned in the poem) to the conclusion that of course its eyeballs would be green.  Another student named Luke wrote one of my favorite poems in these anthologies:

Advice From a Pencil


When your nose
Gets dull
Sharpen it

Don’t cry
When you
Lose your rear end
It happens
To everybody

It makes
Life easier

Aside from that stellar third stanza, which I have been quoting to everyone who will listen, the wisdom of the 2nd and final stanzas makes me feel very tender toward the person who wrote it. The fact that he is an 8-year-old person just knocks me out.

This group of students was my youngest ever. I didn’t always know if they were listening to me. But together we persisted, trying to give thoughts and feelings to inanimate objects using all our senses; examining our hands to learn how we’re unique; stamping to the beat of Shakespeare and Dr. Suess; celebrating our sense of smell; and thinking about tone when offering expert advice. Collecting their best poems into class anthologies puts to rest those doubts that nag me. Their work makes me proud.

In a way children are poems. They are unexpected, sometimes heading in directions that as adults we’re not sure about. Sometimes as their teacher I’m so invested in guiding them that I forget how much they need to be trusted, too. I’ll close with a few more poems that shine.

My Cooking Hands

My hands are
good at cooking
spaghetti, pigs in
a blanket, and
cinnamon rolls.

I wish that my
hands could
shoot fire

        by Toby

from New Car

I looked at my shiny skin
that lit up
with my sparkly windshield eyes.

I stared at my shiny skin.
I laughed as a horn.
I didn’t care that I was a car.

        by Mollie

from Inanimate Object

I went to sleep
as myself
and woke up
as the sky.
I moved a little to the left
and saw some water flowing down a river.
. . .
I moved down
and felt some birds flying through me
so calm and gentle.
They were moving so slow I wanted to save
that feeling forever.

     by Nadine

When I’m Everything

When I’m bored
it smells like
brand new paper
on a long road trip
when my head’s
thumping the whole way.

When I’m happy
it smells like
vanilla ice cream
and strawberry popsicles.

It feels like
the bright, beautiful, yellow sun
shining down on me.

It feels like
running all around
and sweat dripping
all over the ground
while kids climb
the tall trees.

It feels like
sliding down slides,
rollerblading, biking
and skateboarding.

It feels like
happiness falling through
the air.

     by Carley


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