CommonLit Elementary Classrooms 7 Famous Poems by Shel Silverstein

CommonLit’s digital library includes texts by hundreds of well-known and award-winning authors and poets. Shel Silverstein is one of the most commonly-read children’s poets, known for his popular anthology, Where the Sidewalk Ends. Assign these Shel Silverstein poems to engage students in a rigorous and compelling study of figurative language in poetry. Silverstein’s poems are also a great resource for teaching additional poetic devices, such as rhyme, repetition, and word choice.

Sick” (3rd grade)

In this famous poem by Shel Silverstein, a young girl presents a long list of unusual illnesses to explain why she cannot go to school today. At the end of the poem, she realizes that it is Saturday and decides to go outside to play.

Teachers can assign assessment questions included within each digital reading lesson on CommonLit. These questions are carefully crafted to match the rigor and standards covered on high-stakes reading assessments. Finding the central message or main idea of a text is a critical reading comprehension skill for 3rd grade. Engage students in critical thinking by assigning Assessment Question 1, “Another title for this poem could be –”.

A screenshot of the best of  Shel Silverstein poems called “Sick.” On the right side, there is an Assessment Question for students to answer.

Me and My Giant” (3rd grade)

In this poem, Silverstein uses figurative language to describe the speaker's friendship with a giant. The speaker shares how they communicate with the giant and how the two develop a friendship despite their differences in size.

Engage young learners in making text-to-self connections with Discussion Question 3, “The giant and the speaker are very different from each other. Have you ever become friends with someone who was different than you? Why is it important to be friends with people who are different from you?”

Smart” (3rd grade)

This poem tells the story of a speaker who naively believes he is getting more money by trading a dollar bill for two coins. At the end of the poem, the speaker proudly announces that he has ended up with five pennies, since five is more than one.

Read “Smart” alongside “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too,” a short poem by Shel Silverstein from the Paired Texts tab, to help students understand the use of humor in each poem. Ask students to discuss, “What makes ‘Smart’ funny? What makes ‘Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too’ funny? How do the rhymes make the funny parts stand out?”

The Clock Man” (5th grade)

In this poem, a child has a conversation with a clock man, who asks how much the child would pay to live an extra day. The clock man asks the same question to the child when they have grown up to be an adult, and right before they die. Each time, the clock man is given a different response.

Assign Assessment Question 3, “What does the clock man represent in the poem?” to help students understand the ways that poetic devices of personification and symbolism are used in this poem.

Masks” (5th grade)

“Masks” is one of the most famous poems by Shel Silverstein, in which the two main characters wear masks to hide their blue skin. They spend their whole lives searching for others who have blue skin like them but pass right by each other because of the masks that hide who they really are.

Screenshot of Related Media for the Shel Silverstien poem called “Masks.”

Engage students in discussion about the characterization in this poem by showing “Brené Brown on Empathy,” a video from the Related Media tab. Use the video to “spark a discussion about how being true to yourself — as the characters in the poem fail to do — is a way to encourage compassion. How does openness lead to connection?”

Underface” (5th grade)

In this poem, the speaker describes how underneath their “outside face,” they have another face that people cannot see. This other face is less smiley, less sure, but closer to who the speaker really is.

This poem is a great compliment to “Masks,” as they both explore similar themes and use of figurative language. Use the following tip from the Paired Texts tab to engage in cross-textual discussion, “Ask students to discuss how Shel Silverstein explores identity in the two poems. What are the disadvantages to hiding who you are, as explored in the two poems? How are the two poems similar in style and tone?"

Where the Sidewalk Ends” (6th grade)

In the title poem from Shel Silverstein’s collection Where the Sidewalk Ends, a speaker describes the pathway where the world of adults turns into the imaginative world of children. This extended metaphor of where the sidewalk ends will resonate with readers of any of Silverstein’s playful and imaginative poems.

Engage in meaningful discussion about the figurative language used in this poem by asking Discussion Question 1, “In the poem, only the children know the place where the sidewalk ends. What do you think Shel Silverstein meant in these lines? Explain your answer.”

Next Steps

Interested in teaching a mini-unit on inspiring Shel Silverstein’s poems? Check out our Author Study: Shel Silverstein unit for engaging assignments and activities to drive students’ understanding. This ten-lesson unit analyzes six of Silverstein’s poems in order for students to investigate the essential question, “According to Shel Silverstein, how should we live our lives?”

Looking for more poems and short stories to engage your students? Check out our Text Sets for a diverse selection of topics and texts, or add to your poetry unit with our Engaging Poems text set.

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