Each morning, I receive two poems in my email inbox: one from The Poetry Foundation, and one from The Writer’s Almanac. One morning in July, I received “More of Everything” by Joyce Sutphen, read it, and thought, wow. That would be so powerful to write beside with students.
As it turns out, some pretty brilliant thinkers receive these same poems in their inboxes, and they took the same poem and ran with it in a beautiful direction:
I often have my students write beside poetry inside our notebooks, but Linda Rief and Penny Kittle have inspired me to bring poetry to the personalization process. I love the idea of having students glue this poem into their personal photos and collage pages we create: it prioritizes an individual, emotional response to literature that is valued in the workshop classroom…and the results of the thinking around this text are beautiful, too.
As you and your students begin the school year and personalize your writer’s notebooks, perhaps you’ll consider adding a text to the start of your journals. Will you share any poems or short texts you frame your year with in the comments?
Shana Karnes lives in Wisconsin with her husband, daughters, and cats. She is teaching and learning alongside amazing teachers through the Greater Madison Writing Project this year.Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I used to avoid poetry. Now, I’m really not pointing fingers at anyone — okay, yeah I am — but I blame it on my teachers. Not one of them shared poetry just for the love of poetry — of rhythm and words and images often cloaked in color and emotion. Not one. Not one used poetry as inspiration for other writing. It was always analyze this and write a paper on it. Bleh. My least favorite kind of writing.
Good poems have the potential to be great teaching tools. Sure, analysis but so much more. If we want students to love language or even play with it in their writing, we have to expose them to language worth loving — and encourage them to make paper swords and sequin-shiny shoes with it. Inviting students to write beside poems with us is one good starting place.
This month Shana and I attended the Poetry Foundation Conference for teachers in Chicago. We read, talked, listened to, and explored poems for a week. (And slept on the worst dorm beds possible.)
The thing about immersing yourself in poetry for a week is this: You start seeing poetry
Giordano’s Pizza — so good!
everywhere. Billboards, names on shops, menus in restaurants, bikers on the path along Lake Michigan, ceramic swans cuddling on the other side of a pane glass window, and pizza!!
Poetry is like an English teacher with a brand new set of 36 Flair pens. Color everywhere!
In my workshop classroom, we share a lot of poetry. Sometimes just for the love of it. Sometimes to talk about. Sometimes to inspire us to write.
Here’s a few poems (and a lesson plan) my group and I collected for our project at the poetry conference. We titled our presentation Boundaries & Borders: Exploring Poetry Beyond our Front Yard (That’s a shout out to Gwendolyn Brook’s “a song in the front yard.”) I’ll tell ya, we hashed around a topic for a long time and finally decided that reading poems that help us explore our personal and societal boundaries might make an interesting backdoor into exploring identity, which is a topic many of us develop out thematically using a variety of other texts in our courses. If nothing else, the images we collected (all found at Unsplash) might be interesting to use to prompt student thinking.
If you’re looking for other topics, take a look at the Poetry Foundation. There’s so much there! And if you like podcasts, you might like this one: the Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith. It’s my first-ever podcast listen, and I’m hooked.
So, what are some good poems to write beside? You decide. And please share some of the poems you love in the comments!
Note: This post is a part of a series. It’s based primarily on the most frequent questions about readers-writers workshop asked at our workshop trainings. For more see here.
Amy Rasmussen is a teacher, writer, artist, and house-plant enthusiast. She lives near Dallas, TX and is a believer in all things that make us better humans. Follow her @amyrass
I’m always trying to find valid, fun, and interesting ways to assess different reading standards without assigning essays or quizzes. This year, in addition to conferences, graded video discussions, and “short story clubs” (instead of book clubs), I’ve assigned one-pagers to my students.
Most recently, I assigned a one-pager to my grade seven students. We have been studying poetry for the last several weeks, reading, writing, and talking about it. We developed a list of words we should use in order to raise our discussions to a more academic level, and my students created a word wall with that list.
When it came time for a summative assessment over the poetry we’ve studied, I decided to assign a one-pager.
A one-pager is exactly what it sounds like: one page of illustrations and information which demonstrate the student’s understanding or reflection of whatever the topic and learning that has been studied and practiced in the previous unit. With seventh graders, I allow them to make their one-pagers larger than the typical A4 size paper, so sometimes their “one-pagers” end up more like “three-pagers”, but the idea is that they are a cohesive unit, and taped together as one large captioned illustration rather than a series of pages that are stapled together in the corner like an essay might be.
Before assigning the summative assessment, I assigned a practice one-pager. All three of my seventh grade classes practiced with Shel Silverstein’s Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would not Take the Garbage Out. It was a big hit. It’s funny and chock-full of poetic devices. Plus, it’s relatable to seventh graders and has a nice lesson at the end.
We spent a couple of work sessions practicing, talking, coloring, writing and generally having a nice time learning and reflecting on what we have learned. During the third work session, I asked my students to self-assess their practice one-pagers, using the rubric, and writing on the back of their papers what they think they earned in each of the three categories.
The rubric covered three standards, so students weren’t overwhelmed by small pieces and tasks. There are requirements for this assignment, but still a lot of room for individual choice and creativity.
This extra day of working with the practice poem paid off. I overheard students having their own “ah-ha” moments, checking the word wall for definitions and ideas, and talking to each other about things like couplets and alliteration. The conversations were really fun to overhear.
When it came time to complete the summative assessment, my students were ready. Each class was given a different Shel Silverstein poem: Cloony the Clown, Clarence, or Sick. Each of these poems contains several of the poetic devices we studied, and were written by a familiar poet. The final products were knock-out. Below I’ve included a few samples.
This is one of the many ways I’ve used one-pagers as a tool for learning and as a tool for assessing. I’ll share more later, and I look forward to hearing about how you use them in your own classes!
Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.
One thing I know for sure: Writing is hard. Lately, I’ve been reminded how hard as I’ve tried to keep up with Sarah Donovan’s challenge #verselove2019 to write a poem a day during the month of April.
It’s only day 9, and Oh, my!
It’s not even the poetry part I’m finding difficult, which is surprising. Deciding on an idea and then sticking to it has wrecked me for eight straight days. And now I’m wondering:
How often do I expect students to dive into drafting without giving them time to talk and question and change their minds about their ideas? Do they have enough time to play and mull and sit with their thoughts before they make a commitment–or before a draft is due?
I know what so many great writers say: Just start writing; you’ll discover what you want to say. But what if that doesn’t work for everyone? Lately, it hasn’t worked for me.
So now I’m wondering: How can I plan for enough time to give everyone the time they need to settle in to their ideas before I plan enough time for them to write?
Now, I’m not talking about timed writing — or state-mandated test writing. Those are different (and in my humble opinion) horrible inauthentic beasts. I’m talking about the process of thought. The thinking it takes to draft with intention.
I’m pretty sure I’ve rushed it.
And I want to slow it down.
Amy Rasmussen lives and writes from her home in North Texas where the bluebonnets are blooming beautifully. She thinks about writing all the time and needs to get better at getting her thoughts on the page. Writing poetry, which is far out of her comfort zone, may help. You can follow her on Twitter @amyrass
I never call myself a poet, but I am in love with words.
I wrote this beside a poem in my notebook one day (I wish I could remember the poem):
Poetry is spiritual. Shouldn’t it be? It’s language laced in love and longing; purpose — and yes, peace. Sometimes. It’s also anger, anguish, sorrow, and despair. Poetry is people trying to find a place. It’s help in healing. It’s the tangle and torment of humanity shouting up and calling out. “Speak your truth.” the voices say. I’ll just play with speaking mine in verse.
Is that a poem? If I called myself a poet, I’d probably say yes. But I don’t, so I won’t.
I am like the kid too afraid to write. Too afraid to be wrong.
Can a poem be wrong?
I remember a several years ago when I first began teaching. I questioned myself a lot back then, and I had a knee-knocking fear of teaching poetry. Thinking to give myself an edge, I picked up the poetry binder the teacher before me had used. It screamed Keats and the Romantics. (Please don’t jump all over me if you revel in this era.) I’m sure the binder had other poets and other poems. I just remember how wrong it felt — how wrong I felt — trying to teach poems I didn’t love in a way my students and I didn’t love. We analyzed and analyzed. Never wrote beside a single one. I fear I passed the baton, my fear and even dislike of poetry, to my students.
That was wrong.
Thankfully, I learned to run toward the pain. I got better at teaching young people instead of teaching poetry. I learned to do more than have my students bring in their favorite song lyrics. I bought novels in verse and poetry anthologies. I read for pleasure. I wrote to discover, to wonder, to enjoy. I learned to love poets who made me think and feel and to experience language like I never had before. I shared all of this with my students.
It took me years to overcome my fear of poetry. How silly and how sad.
So maybe you are like the old me — stuck in a rut or an old binder. Maybe you dread all the talk of poetry in April because you’re stressed about test prep or whatever. Maybe you just want a little spring in your step. That’s what I now think poetry is — a pretty powerful spring.
Whether you love poetry, or not, here’s a little inspiration to get your bounce on:
Read Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest book Shout and dog-ear passages for craft lessons to help your writers. Or not, just read it!
Follow #TeachLivingPoets on Twitter and get more ideas than you’ll probably know what to do with in a decade. There’s a chat tonight discussing Phil Kaye’s poem “My Grandmother’s Ballroom.” (I attended a session at NCTE by the educators who host this chat. They are inspiring. Build your PLN.)
Sometimes it’s fun to look up words we already know. Today I looked up poet.
Don’t you just love the second definition? I’m thinking superhero with a pen.
Amy Rasmussen began writing love poems in 6th grade about her boyfriend Frankie, but somewhere along the way of life, she lost her love of poetry. She’s since read Good Poems and all the poetry of Billy Collins. Aimless Love is her favorite. She’s always on the lookout for new poems to write beside. This is a new favorite. She’s not sure why. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass
It’s that time of year where the kids are restless, teachers are exhausted, and gift-giving season looms. What if I told you we could use our writer’s workshop time to help us in all three areas?
Whether you have some days this upcoming week with students where you’re still not sure what you’re doing, or if you’re looking for ways to ease back into the routine once we get back from winter break, today I want to invite you to think about ways we can encourage students to use their writing as gifts for the people in their life.
I love Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book and how versatile it is as a mentor text. From the imitable structure to the crisp imagery to the simple illustrations, this book consistently inspires some of the best writing all year.
A few years ago we used this book as a thank you for my son’s first grade teacher. Each child wrote a “Important” poem about her, which a parent compiled into a keepsake book. I’ve written Important poems about my children at different ages, including this one about my daughter Emma. A colleague writes Important poems about each of her students at the end of the year, giving it to them as a farewell gift.
How might students craft their own Important poems?
I was first introduced to Charles Harper Webb’s poem a dozen years ago in a class taught by Tom Romano (note: that’s where about 90% of any good ideas I ever have originated — in a class with Tom Romano).
I think students have so much advice for the people in their life, and they are so often not asked for advice. How great it is to invite them into the conversation about how they think we can live our best lives? And how else might we complete the rest of “How to…”? Imagine the possibilities as students practice procedural writing in a non-traditional way.
Did you see this tweet from @jessica_salfialast week? It instantly instigated so much thinking and I have been itching to try it with students.
I love the idea of writing odes about unconventional items. After seeing this tweet, I was getting ready to work with a group of elementary teachers. As I was trying to think of how to adapt the content of this tweet for younger students, I remembered my most favorite book of last year, Crown: Ode to a Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James. This book is such a beautiful way to take an ordinary moment in life and to expand on what these small moments mean to our lives.
What would happen if we invited our students to write unconventional odes? I might write an ode to a tradition in my family, or to a special memory. What would you write about?
When I first taught honors 10th graders 13 years ago, I borrowed an idea from my colleague Leah Naumann and asked students to create a poetry anthology for a person in their life. Students were required to find a variety of poems and in a letter to the recipient, they wrote about the ways that each poem reminded them of their intended audience.
It was some of the best writing and most thoughtful analysis I read all year. Students read dozens of poems, thinking critically about how these poems might fit a person. They naturally thought about themes and symbolism. They read poems for deeper meaning in ways I had never managed to teach. It was inspiring. Then they compiled the poems and letters into a book form, gifting it to their person.
I knew this was a gift of writing in so many ways when a few years later a former student reached out to me. His mom had recently passed away after a long battle with cancer that had begun the year he was in my class. He told me that through creating that anthology, he found a way to express things to his mother that he hadn’t been able to articulate in words. He found peace in that after she was gone. What more could we ever ask for our writing but to help us to all find peace in this world.
How will you find ways to encourage your students to see the their writing as the gift it is?
Angela Faulhaber lives in Cincinnati, OH. When she’s not freaking out over Christmas lists and to-do checklists, she’s trying to focus on enjoying the small moments with her family. And to avoid all the germs that are floating around. She first heard about the idea of Gifts of Writing from Nancie Atwell and has loved the idea of creating space for students to envision a life for their writing beyond the classroom.
One of my favorite new terms this year is the struggle bus. My kids say it when they’re having a rough morning or when they don’t understand something or when they’re just generally having a difficult time in life–“I’m on the struggle bus today, Mrs. T.” It seems that hardly a day goes by without someone mentioning that phrase, so maybe that’s why it seems resonant to me today.
Actually, that’s not why at all. My workshop work has hit the struggle bus a bit this year in my grade level classes–that’s the truth of the matter. If you’re in this field at all for any length of time, you’re bound to hit it. That big old bright yellow school bus of a struggle bus is sometimes hard to avoid–is it those long tough early months of school? Struggle bus. Is it a gaggle of girls who just can’t seem to settle in to what you’re working on? Struggle bus. Is it game day and a classroom full of giant man boys who are so hopped up on adrenaline that reading and writing in the last period of the day is the last thing on their mind? Struggle bus.
So what do you do when you hit the struggle bus? Well, you find a way to mix things up and shake things up. I’ve hit some struggles this year with a couple of my classes that I haven’t experienced before. You see, I’ve always been pretty good at figuring out how to get kids interested in reading, and I’ve gotten to be pretty good at putting the right book with the right kid. I pride myself on it. I think back glowingly to the number of kids in the past few years who came in as avowed non-readers or who proclaimed themselves to be “over” reading since it was something that they did in elementary school with AR. Almost all of them left my room having read more than the year before and many of them have reignited a reading habit that I hope will only grow as they mature. I see them in the halls and they update me about their latest book or the new series that I should try. They reach out to me from college to ask for book suggestions or to mention to tour that they took in a college class of Flannery O’Connor’s home (and I was JEALOUS!). We formed bonds over those books and those conferences and those shared experiences, and those bonds haven’t ended just because they’re not currently enrolled in my classes.
This year, though, I’ve got a tough crowd. Oh, they’re the typical crowd I usually get–mostly super sweet, lots who are quite smart and interested in the world around them, some who are struggling in a variety of ways, some who like to act big and bad but are soft and squishy on the inside–teenagers are teenagers, after all. There are lots in this group, though, who seem to be particularly immune to my charm and reading connection magic. Some of my favorite “go to” books have fallen flatter than Tom Brady’s football in Deflate Gate. Some kids are serial quitters, picking up a different book every day. We just finished reading The Great Gatsby as a core text in my grade level class, with them reading Gatsby outside class and us working on connected texts during class…except I think very few were actually reading Gatsby outside of class.
I had my year all planned out based on some tweaks that I wanted to do from last year, but after Gatsby, I decided that what we needed was a major overhaul. Out go the window with my plans and carefully designed goals. I can teach many of the same standards with almost any piece of text–do I have to be tied to a plan that I made over the summer without a full understanding of the people in my room who would be most affected by those plans? Nope. What I’ve come to realize is that my year doesn’t have to be in exact lockstep to the plan I laid out for it. I work in a small private school, and I’m the only one who teachers Junior English, so I do have some autonomy that may not be available in other settings, but I intend to make full use of that opportunity.
Since I’m having trouble getting them to connect with longer texts, I decided that we’d spend the rest of the semester reading and writing poetry. Rather than having them dig into Farewell to Arms (for now, anyway) or jive our way into the Harlem Renaissance, we’re going to spend some time reading lots of poetry and trying our hands at doing some writing as well. I figure that I can pull in traditional beloved poetry and help my kids to see the connections to the new things that are being written today and even to the songs that they’re listening to on their phones.
That, for me, is the beauty of workshop. Because I tend to work with these texts as mentor texts, I have more freedom to tweak and adjust as I go and as I see needs in a classroom. If I have a group that responds particularly well to rhythm and rhyme, then maybe I pull some poetry that I can compare and contrast with some of Tupac Shakur’s pieces from A Rose that Grew from Concrete. (I also have to confess that they’re often shocked when I, a 45 year old white lady who I’m sure they think has no clue about such things, pulls out something from Tupac or references Biggie’s artistry. 🙂 I was in college in the ’90s–Tupac and Biggie were staples in the music scene. 🙂 ) Or maybe I’ll pull some silly pieces from Ogden Nash. Nothing gets a room full of teenage boys giggling than some of his silly poetry. But the magic happens when I hand the reins to them and have them enter the playground and try to work on their own versions of these texts, inspired by the style or by the content of one of these mentors. I love nothing more than seeing the big bad dude rush excitedly to his friend to share the phrase in a poem that he has just come up with or when the quiet kid decides to do her own parody poem of the “Johnny Johnny” meme and stands up to perform for the class and gets cheers and ovations.
The struggle bus will always be around, I suppose, but instead of getting run over by that big looming sense of doubt and uncertainty (or just of tiredness!), think about changing things up and switching them around, and invite kids into the playground that can be poetry. It doesn’t all have to be old stuffy boring pieces that make their eyes glaze over with boredom; it can be bright and vibrant and relevant and can reinvigorate your classroom.
What do you do when you hit the struggle bus in your classroom (or when the struggle bus is hitting you)? Let me know in the comments section!