Batter Up! Rediscover the Poem "Casey at the Bat"
The baseball themed poem, "Casey at the Bat" is a great summertime focus for reading and writing.
By Dawn Dodson
A popular symbol of summer is baseball, and what better way to celebrate the season than reading Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s famous narrative poem, “Casey at the Bat.” Thayer’s poem dates back to the 1880s and has been performed and recited for generations of audiences. Throughout the plot of this classic American poem, the experiences of the baseball players and their audience are captured, which allows readers of all ages to connect to characters, setting, and events from multiple perspectives. Used as a mentor text in my own sixth grade poetry study, “Casey at the Bat” is loaded with lesson ideas to engage children at various ages and reading levels in poetry reading, writing, and performing. Whether using this poem as a mentor text for targeted reading and writing lessons, or as a piece to perform as a Reader's Theater, the following are two ways I implement this poem into my own classroom instruction.
Introduction to Narrative Poetry
Each spring, my sixth graders engage in a poetry exploration unit. Discovering, responding, and writing poems are all a part of this study. At the beginning of each class, I choose a different genre of poetry to share. I use this time not only to define the various genres of poetry, but also to provide direct instruction for reading and writing skills. Sharing the poem, “Casey at the Bat” I introduce narrative poetry and review story elements. This also serves as a mentor text for writers beginning their own narrative poems.
My lesson plan begins by providing individual copies of the poem to the class, and a traditional read aloud is conducted. I ask readers to underline setting details and highlight character details. A plot diagram is also provided, and the class is divided into small groups in order to identify each plot element within the poem. To conclude the lesson, a whole-class discussion allows individual groups to share their answers and dissect the poem into its individual elements. As an individual assignment, learners independently read and explore other examples and then create their own original narrative poems. In the past, I have also divided classes into groups of two or three to create a Reader's Theater script.
Incorporating Reader's Theater
There are various forms of Reader's Theater scripts available for “Casey at the Bat.” This poem is enjoyable to read and perform with a whole class or in smaller groups; however, as a writing exercise, creating an original readers’ theatre script also is an effective way to continue to review writing skills as well as analyze both character and plot elements. I include this as a writing requirement to the larger poetry unit described above. To accomplish this objective, I have the class review the plot diagrams that they previously completed in class. A discussion leads into the major elements of a Reader's Theater and identifying the elements to be portrayed in each groups’ script. With a copy of the poem and a blank script, the class is divided into two or three member groups to begin analyzing characters and setting details to be portrayed in the Reader's Theater scripts. After students have developed and organized their analysis, the script writing begins.
Once rough drafts have been completed, groups share their work with only one other group. Each group must provide feedback as to the accuracy of the script to the original poem; identify main characters and important setting details. This entails groups trading scripts to outline the specific information included. I also conduct writing conferences with each group before final copies of the scripts are due. After each group has completed a final draft of their script, the class is divided into larger groups for performance.
I have found that Thayer’s poem, “Casey at the Bat,” is an effective piece of literature to include in instruction for both reading and writing skills. From performing Reader's Theater to analyzing plot elements to creating original narrative poems, readers at all levels enjoy this famous summertime poem!
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