Friday, April 10, 2009

Things to Do: List Poems

Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems
Edited by Georgia Heard
Roaring Brook Press, 2009

Review from School Library Journal
Gr 2-5
The surprises begin with the cover of this long, narrow book that opens from the top, sporting a title tumbling down with assorted objects-a feather, a squirrel, a pencil, a sock. Inside is a wide variety of list or catalogue poems, which Heard describes in her introduction as "the oldest and most accessible of poetic forms." Many focus on the ordinary: Marilyn Singer's selection opens, "I like to hold in my hand/a baseball,/a shell,/a fistful of sand,/a feather,/a letter,/a red rubber band." Others, like Elaine Magliaro's "Things to Do If You're a Pencil" and Bobbi Katz's "Things to Do If You Are the Sun," encourage readers to think about familiar items in new ways, and kids will enjoy writing their own "Things to do..." poems. Still others urge youngsters to think more abstractly: Lee Bennett Hopkins's entry asks, "Why poetry?/Why?/Why sunsets?/Why trees?/Why birds?/Why seas?/Why you?/Why me?" David Harrison's humorous "Chorus of Four Frogs" will be hilarious to perform. It's a given that alert teachers will use this volume to encourage the enjoyment and writing of poetry. A winner.-Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI

I quote from this SLJ review of Falling Down the Page: …and kids will enjoy writing their own "Things to do..." poems.

I can vouch for the statement above written by Lee Bock, the book’s reviewer. My elementary students wrote a lot of poetry in my classroom. Many of them liked the format of the “Things to do…” poems. To prove my point—I have some of my former students’ poems for you as examples.

Writing “Things to Do” poems made for an excellent language arts exercise. I had my students focus on the use of strong verbs in the poems they wrote about animals that they had done research on and written reports about. When my students finished the rough drafts of their poems, I’d discuss the poems with each child individually. I’d often ask if they could find a “better” verb to use in place of one that was weak or “generic.” I’d tell them to picture their animals in action—and to try to capture those pictures using the “action” words best suited to their animals. We’d then discuss different words that could be used in place of the ones they had written in their poems. In this way, I was often able to elicit from my students words that were in their vocabulary—but not on the tips of their tongues…or pencils, if you will.

I would often start the whole process of writing this type of list poem with a collaborative class poem to model the process. Here’s a collaborative class poem I wrote with my second graders at the Bell School in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in October of 1997:
Things to Do If You Are a Witch
Wake up at midnight.
Fly around the moon
on your magic broom.
Zoom around a haunted house.
Swoop out of the dark sky
and scare children.
Have a huge purple wart
on the tip of your long, pointy nose
and skin as green as grass.
Wear a tall black hat
pointed as a thumbtack.
Make yucky snake skin potions
in your kettle.
Cast nasty spells on princes
and turn them into toads.
Eat vulture leg stew, bat wings,
and frog eyes for lunch.
Throw bat noses into the air
and catch them in your mouth.
Go to sleep in a graveyard
before the sun comes up.

Things to Do…Animal Poems

Things to Do If You Are a Butterfly
By Phoebe G.

Be beautiful.
Flutter in the sky
And show off your rainbow scales.
Find a yellow rose
And settle on a soft petal.
Put your little straw tongue
Into the flower
And sip up the sweet drops of nectar.
Be beautiful.

Things to Do If You Are a Vampire Bat
By Zack H.

Lap up the blood
of sleeping horses.
Slip through small spaces
into dark attics.
Visit Dracula at midnight.
Hang upside down
in caves and castles.
Swoop down
out of a black sky
and terrorize people.

Things to Do If You Are a Kitten
By Sam L.

Pounce on people’s feet.
Tear couches apart with your sharp claws.
Fight with other kittens.
Climb up dining room curtains.
Fiddle with a piece of string.
Hide under blankets.
Curl up and sleep on a bed.

Things to Do If You Are a Rattlesnake
By Steven M.

Slither through the grass
Like an S.
Stick out your long forked tongue.
Rattle your tail at a rat.
Show your knife-sharp fangs.
Bite your prey.
Swallow it whole.
Slip under a rock.
Coil yourself up and sleep.

Things to Do If You Are a Kitten
By Leo S.

Tear up couches.
Pounce on a furry mouse.
Rocket out an open window
and climb up a tree.
Watch flitting butterflies.
Shoot up and catch one.
Sharpen your claws on tree bark.
Watch a snake slide across the yard
and under a shed.
Go play with a catnip mouse.

Things to Do If You Are a Shark
By Jack S.

Glide across the water like a whale.
Bite holes in fishing boats
And sink them.
Gobble up sting rays.
Sneak up on people
And scare them out of their wits.


Things to Do If You Are a Penguin
By Michael B.

Dive deep down
into the icy cold water.

Speed through the freezing sea
like a bullet.

Dart away from enemies.

Catch slippery silver fish
for your chick.

Waddle around
with your penguin friends
on the sparkling snow.

Things to Do If You Are a Dolphin
Billy E.

Dive for whiskery catfish
and eat them.

Fly out of the water
like a bullet.

Do cool jumps.

Attack BIG sharks
with your friends.

Jet through the warm seas.

Look like a shiny blue cloud
floating in the ocean.

Things to Do If You Are a Manatee
By Adam K.

Swim along the bottom of the sea.
Nibble yummy water weeds.
Nuzzle a friend.
Play in your warm water world.
Lie on your back,
Fold up your flippers,
Close your eyes,
And go off into dreamland.

Things to Do If You Are a Koala
By Jason K.

Climb to the top
of the world.
Sleep all day
high up in the trees.
At night get drunk
on eucalyptus leaves.
Glide from tree to tree.
Give your joey a ride
in your warm pouch.
Look like a fluffy teddy bear.

Things to Do If You Are a Bald Eagle
By Nick P.

Soar through the air like a rocket.
Feel the wind on your wings.
Swoop down to the river.
Catch silvery fish with your sharp talons.
Teach your children to fly and hunt.
Be the symbol of the United States.


At Political Verses, I have a parody of Shakespeare’s “Double double toil and trouble” bit from Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1. It’s a potent political pottage…a Macbethian mélangePelosi’s pot-au-pooh- poohers.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Carol’s Corner this week.


Linda said...

Elaine, I wish I could've had a poetry teacher like you. The poems are adorable. I can't choose a favorite, but being a cat person, I really love the alliteration in the kitten poem. It's amazing how creative young children are, and I'm sure you inspired lots of life-long poetry lovers.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I had wonderful experiences writing poetry with my students. Working with them individually as they revised their poems really helped me to establish strong bonds with them. I hope many of them developed an appreciation for poetry along the way.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Great post! Writing this kind of poem with kids is a really wonderful experience for the teacher as well as the kids.

Mary Lee said...

VERY fun! Gonna try this with my 4th graders!

Elaine Magliaro said...


It really was fun for me. My experience with writing "things to do" list poems with my students was so positive that it inspired me to write an entire collection of them myself!

Mary Lee,

I hope your 4th graders like writing the list poems as much as my 2nd graders did.

Jone said...

Perfect! I have been looking for a simple poetry project for second grade. Thanks!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I hope this poetry project works out well for you and your 2nd graders.


Thank you for this most interesting lesson. Students should be commended for their

Happy Poetry Month-ing.

Lee Bennett Hopkins

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thank you so much for commenting, Lee! You were one of the guiding forces who brought me to my love of children's poetry.

I loved writing poetry with my students. It was such a wonderful way to get them to be creative with language and to express their feelings and thoughts.

Happy Poetry Month to you too!

Marilyn Singer said...

Wow, I love these kids' "Things to Do" poems! They made me smile wide.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks for commenting, Marilyn! I should tell you that we wrote lots of mask poems in my elementary classroom. TURTLE IN JULY provided us with so many fine examples of that type of poetry. I really wish your book was still in print today.

Stella said...

Thanks for the wonderful inspiration! I wrote a poem based on this idea today to help me cope with the overwhelming feeling of missing family. Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?