Category Archives: Writers Workshop

Tried and (Still) True: An Architectural Approach to Writing

Helen Becker

If you know me, you know that I am a Brene’ Brown fan. No, take that back. I’m a huge Brene’ Brown fan. Brown helps me make my life make sense, both personally and professionally. Brown’s work as an ethnographic researcher influenced my research in educational best practices. As I began my doctoral research in self-efficacy and perceptions of college and career readiness among high school students, I gravitated to Brown’s experiences in grounded theory. Grounded theory, she writes, evolves from people’s lived experiences rather than from experimentation to prove or disprove theories.

Brown adds, “In grounded theory, we don’t start with a problem or a hypothesis or a literature review, we start with a topic. We let the participants define the problem or their main concern about the topic, we develop a theory, and then we see how it fits in the literature.”

Reflecting on these statements, I had an “A ha!” moment: much the same happens in the writing process when a teacher allows students to authentically express their thoughts and ideas. We create opportunities for our students to start with a topic – maybe a person, place, or a moment – and see where the writing takes them. Then we add layers and layers of instruction to shape the first draft into new drafts and eventually, maybe, into various writing products. A poem? Perhaps. An essay? Form follows function.

We teach writers how to bend their writing into new and different forms rather than generating prompt after prompt after prompt for students to write in circles of nothingness.

So how does Brene’ Brown fit into this blog post? Brown’s May 4th Dare to Lead podcast features author and leadership expert, Douglas Conant, and his new book (with Amy Federman) The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights. Conant’s book, like many featured by Brown, has high priority on my “To Read Next” list. In the podcast, Conant discusses the importance of a strong foundation to guide us through times of uncertainty. Times like now. Our experiences, Conant states, are a blueprint for our future.

Brown and Conant’s discussion intersected my own thinking as I pondered the next installment of “Tried and (Still) True” for Three Teachers Talk. What came to mind? Blueprinting.

Blueprint writing from an equity stance means considering spaces other than the “traditional” blueprint layout.

Tried and (Still) True – June 2021

This month, I’m sharing The Blueprint, modified from a lesson learned by many Abydos teachers, with credit for the original lesson going to Dr. Joyce Armstrong Carroll in the first edition of Acts of Teaching and Peter Stillman in Families Writing. While the original lesson described in Acts of Teaching calls for a house-esque foldable, over the years, I modified the lesson to have students think about any dwelling space (a home, a basketball arena, a car) where they could envision a blueprint. Modifying the lesson in this way meets the needs of students who may not have a place to call home but rather a place where they feel at home.

Here’s a rough sketch of The Blueprint lesson cycle:

We begin with the concept of a blueprint: what is a blueprint, who uses it, what it communicates, and why it is important? We look at sample blueprints and engage in some inferential thinking based on what the blueprint communicates between and beyond the architect’s blue lines.

Then I invite students to think about a space that is important to them. We might draw on previous pre-writing activities such as “People, Places, Moments” or an A to Z list. I encourage students to think about spaces other than a house: one student drew the dashboard of his beloved vintage (beatup) Camaro while another chose the principal’s office because he spent a lot of time there. Before students land on a place to sketch, I model how I sketched the blueprint of my grandmother’s house in Longview, Texas. I tell them how the details you can’t remember don’t matter. What matters is what you remember. I also remind them this isn’t Art class. I’m not grading the accuracy of the drawing.

Once students get their own blueprint generated, I have them focus on one aspect of the blueprint where they can add more detail: what is on the walls? Is there furniture? Plants or trees? Photos? This line of inquiry generates more details to add to the blueprint.

For example, some student-writers feel more comfortable on the basketball court or soccer field.

Then I invite students to write about the connections they feel to this space or to one aspect of the space they just drew. These connections may turn into a narrative or an informative piece or a poem. Form follows function.

One year, a student blueprinted my classroom. He wrote, “In Mrs. Becker’s classroom, I can be myself. I can walk in the door, sit in my desk, look at the pictures of her family, and I feel like I am part of her family too.”

Carroll says in Acts of Teaching, blueprinting “allows students to recreate places that hold memories worth writing about” (18). It is in these memories that stories come back to life from the perspective of the writer, now a few years older and hopefully wiser. Collecting these stories on paper, what Brene’ Brown calls “storycatching,” becomes a means to understand our past and use our memories, both positive and negative, to guide our writing and shape our future selves.

About the author:

One time I blueprinted my Moscow kitchen and wrote about scorching quinoa and testing the bounds of international relations.

Dr. Helen Becker has used blueprint writing as a pre-writing vehicle in nearly every high school ELA course she has ever taught, accounting for roughly 16 years of her own blueprint stories! She has blueprinted about life in her tiny Moscow apartment (pictured here) with her husband as well as the layout of the #8 hole – her nemesis – at Leland Country Club. In her current role as a Research Data Analyst for Clear Creek ISD in the Houston, Texas, area, she is more likely to blueprint her two-screen Excel spreadsheet dashboard than the dashboard of her car.  Her newest blueprint story though? Designing the guest room of her new home to welcome her first grandson for a visit at the end of June. The library of children’s books continues to grow by the day.

Friday Night Quickwrite 6/4

Welcome June! And welcome to Friday Night Quickwrite where I give a prompt each Friday and invite you to write along with us anytime this week.

Today’s prompt is a tweet from Alan J. Wright. Alan wrote this poem while in the middle of the pandemic, but I think we can still take his wise advise on any given day and at any time in our lives. Read his words and let them take you to a time, a place, or a moment in your life that was stormy. What jewelled fragment did you find? How did you resist the tempest? Where did you find the strength? You could even take a line or a word and write off of it. The important part is that you free your mind and let your words flow.

The line “resist the tempest” is what was speaking to me today. I have so many temptations that are keeping from doing things I need to be doing. I am trying to take care of ME this summer, and there are too many temptations. I am searching for that “jewelled fragment” that is being offered. As I wrote in my notebook, I realized that maybe I am searching for the whole jewel and not just a fragment. Maybe I am wanting too much, too soon.

Please share your writing or your process with us in the comments below, and please spread the word with your writing friends. We welcome all writers!

Leigh Anne jumped into summer today, as today was the first pool day of the season. When not teaching 6th grade ELA, she enjoys reading and writing poolside.

Researching conspiracy thinking

I’ve never felt super-confident about teaching research. I often feel like it’s a made-up genre, that research manifests itself in so many different ways that teaching it in isolation is a little bit like eating the ingredients of a cookie without mixing them. But when I read a book like On Immunity by Eula Biss that beautifully blends genres as she researches vaccinations, or when I read Eating Animals and follow along as Jonathan Safran Foer breaks into a chicken farm, I’m enthralled. They don’t seem to care about synthesizing sources or MLA formatting, though they do both things. Their content is king, and their structures are malleable. They seem to live and move in the spaces that overlap between narrative, exposition, argument, and analysis. They write with heart and voice and objectivity that creates clarity even while including subjective experiences that add authenticity. So we set about to try some authentic research during second semester, and though our products may not measure up to Biss or Foer, we made steps in their direction. There is nothing new about the topic or process below. I’m just sharing how the puzzle pieces came together this year (we were fully in class from the beginning) because it might spark an idea for your classroom. 

A framework: truthiness v. factfulness

We started the unit by thinking about what Stephen Colbert called “Truthiness” in 2005 (see the original clip from his show or a good article about it), which was his way of describing the kind of information problem that arose when the internet and cable news usurped traditional media. Those issues have only been exacerbated by the rise of social media since then, so we set out to define the difference between truthiness and factfulness (using some of Hans Osling’s Gapminder resources). This gave us a pretty simple lens to use to evaluate sources (is it truthy?), and it gave us a way to talk about what kind of information we’re consuming. 

We used the following essential questions to guide our work:

  • In what ways does “truthiness” interfere with our culture?
  • In what spaces would “factfulness” improve our culture?
  • Are we living in a “post-truth” culture? Do facts matter?

Students did a small team task where they found examples of truthiness in their social media feeds and we discussed the relationship of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda. It felt like a pretty organic way to begin thinking about research, and it gave me some language to use as they began doing some writing.

Some examples that a group from 4th bell used to illustrate the prevalence of truthiness in their feeds.

I also had them take an argument essay they had written during first semester, choose one body paragraph, and make it more factful. It was fun to see them recognize the truthiness in their own writing, which set up some expectations for our writing later. You can see an example of a student from my 4th bell below:

An angle: conspiracy theories

One of the other challenges about research writing is the topic generation process. I see value in letting students choose a topic. I’ve also seen the frustration of a kid who genuinely doesn’t know what to do and has options paralysis. So I chose conspiracy theories for the class because it’s a place where truthiness and factfulness intersect. I envisioned students reading what conspiracists think and say, and then reading the evaluations and rebuttals of those conspiracies. It’s a natural way to explore several perspectives.

An individual task: choosing a research path

We did a series of Deep Dives to start the research, one that focused on conspiracy theories broadly (why people buy in, what some common and obscure ones are–some sources we used), then students chose one conspiracy to dig deeper into. We never really called it research, which I think made us all feel better. We were just learning about chemtrails and the Denver International Airport. Students built a 2-3 page paper that used the sources to help us understand the conspiracy. We used a section from Eula Biss as a mentor text, then I gave them some structure options, basically a really loose outline, hoping to help us think more like Biss and Foer, more like writers making choices. Some took risks, some played it safe. But our goal was to let what we had found in the deep dives dictate the structure. Topics ranged from celebrity deaths (Michael Jackson, Princess Diana) to QAnon, from assassinations (MLK and JFK) to animals (birds aren’t real).

A team task: defend a conspiracy theory

The final piece was to share out because the topics were so interesting. Each student shared an overview of their research with their table teams, then the teams each picked one and were tasked with convincing the rest of the class that the conspiracy was true. This forced them to think a little bit differently, to do some additional research, and to help us have a little bit of fun before the deluge of spring standardized testing hit us. 

Takeaways

  1. De-emphasizing the research aspects and emphasizing the content questions enabled us to actually do better work on the research aspects. By not frontloading information about MLA format, embedding quotes and citations, or other general research expectations, we were able to better discuss those elements as they more naturally arose and students felt a need for them.
  2. Me choosing a topic is okay if there are still opportunities to personalize the pathways. Student ownership over the subtopic and paper structure seemed enough to keep interest and ownership high. 
  3. Conspiracy theories are a rich opportunity to think about the misinformation epidemic. While some are political, my students veered away from those. With that little bit of distance we could talk about the challenges of navigating our feeds, of considering sources and modes, of being more conscious citizens. They found it to be a topic worthy of researching.

Check out some good posts from TTT on research to kickstart some more ideas:

Nathan Coates teaches junior English at Mason High School, a large suburban district near Cincinnati, Ohio. His favorite conspiracies are sports ones, like the NBA suspending Michael Jordan for gambling or fixing the draft for the Knicks to get Ewing.

Friday Night Quickwrite 5/28

Many of us are enjoying the beginning of summer, while others still have a few weeks of school left. No matter where you are in the end-of-the-school-year process, I hope you take some time to write. Writing and journaling have so many health benefits, which is why I extend this writing invitation to you each week.

Although it is titled Friday Night Quickwrite, you can join us and share anytime during the week. I will provide a spark or prompt with some kind of inspiration to get your mind going, and when you are ready, just write and share.

This week I am sharing a text from Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. This book is full of short entries organized from A to Z that captures moments, observations, and emotions from her life. This book is full of writing ideas and inspiration. The one I used tonight is filed under “Childhood Memories” and includes a table with the heading of “What My Childhood Tasted Like.”

In my notebook I made a table similar to AKR’s with food items and a little snippet of what they remind me about my childhood. It was fun to recall these special memories. I even texted my siblings and asked them about foods, and we share many of the same memories.

I am always intrigued how foods, smells, and songs attach themsleves to memories. Many of these food items on my list could be written as a memoir, a poem, or even a short story. Full of writing possibilities!

Please join me and writing about your childhood tastes and share it with us below. Happy writing and enjoy your long weekend!

Leigh Anne is currently on summer break and is waiting for the water temperature to warm up so she can read while relaxing with her sister and daughter (both teachers!) in the pool. When not on summer break, she teaches 6th grade ELA in southern Indiana.

Friday Quickwrite 5/21

Welcome to the weekend and another Friday Quickwrite. Remember you can come back and write any time with us. It doesn’t have to be Friday night (it just rhymes with quickwrite!)

I saw this post by Tera Jean Elness on Instagram last week and it got me thinking, and of course, it got me writing, too.

To honor is to revere and to revere is to regard with respect tinged with awe.
(and big thanks to dictionary dot com cuz I really LOVE that definition)
Yes.
Tinged with awe.
Pretty awesome, amen?
Honor your brave Beloved.
Hold it in high regard and give it the weight it deserves.
Honor your brave.
Your brave in staying.
Your brave in going.
Your brave in trying despite the risk.
Your brave in holding on.
Your brave in letting go.
Your brave in finally – FINALLY – living fully and freely as YOU.
Yes.
Honor your brave Beloved.
Your brave in the heartache.
Your brave in the tears.
Your brave you’ve been hiding all of these years because you believed that your voice was simply one of many and not one that needs to be heard.
What a lie amen.
Honor your brave Beloved.
Honor it.
It deserves it.

The words “honor your brave” really spoke to me, and I began to think about the times when I didn’t think of myself as brave. The brave in holding on and letting go and living fully.

I made a list in my notebook and was led by an item on that list. An item that is too private to share but one that needed to be written. I hope you find some inspiration in Tera’s words this weekend, and I would love to hear what path these words led you.

Happy Writing!

Leigh Anne finished up her 14th year of teaching today. It was a wild and wacky one but amazing nevertheless. She is looking forward to some summer reading and writing time by the pool.

Friday Night Quickwrite 5/14

Welcome to Friday Night Quickwrite, a time to sit back, relax, and get a few words on the page. My orignal intention was to post this once a month. However, I received positve feedback from teacher-writers, and they enjoyed writing last weekend. They found that it was a good way to wind down from the week and take some time just for them.

So, here we go for week two.

This year I have been particpating in a Teacher Leader Bootcamp for Indiana teachers. Thursday was our wrap-up, and our former State Superintendent made a surprise visit. She talk about how important teacher leaders were right now and how as teacher leaders, “we never totally arrive.”

I took to my notebook to write about this quote. It lead me to begin thinking about my summer plans to grow as a teacher – I know I have not totally arrived!

What does this quote make you think about? Have you totally arrived as a teacher? As a parent? As a partner? Take a few minutes this weekend and jot in your notebook. Come back and let me know where this quote took you? I would love to have a conversation.

Leigh Anne is a mom to Megan, who is a third grade teacher and Ethan, who is a behavior coach for elementary children. She enjoys being a parent to “adult children” but knows she has not “totally arrived” in this area either.

Getting Uncomfortable and ‘Writing Beside Them’

When we were starting our Transcendentalist unit this year, we did a “nature walk” to try to get our students to experience some of the tenets of the concept. We were inspired by this teacher’s blog. My whole team took our students outside (and told online students to set a timer for about 15 minutes and sit outside as well). We left all electronics in the classroom and simply took in the nature outside of our school with all five of our senses. It wasn’t perfect since we were right by a traffic-filled main road and the students really wanted to talk instead of being quiet, but a lot of students got the hang of it by the end. One student reflected that they had not spent any quiet time outside to just take it in in years, if ever. Many were inspired to write like I am at the beach- more on that later.

The 2020-2021 school year has been one of tremendous growth for us all, whether we wanted to grow or not. I spent my year learning how to be even more flexible than ever before, becoming more clear on what is a priority and what can be left for later, and finding myself in a team leadership position when I was the only certified teacher present on my team for over two weeks. However, I do not feel I have grown in my teaching practice as much as I have in my character growth. For that reason, I am seeking situations to put myself in where I am uncomfortable to grow in that area; becoming a contributing writer on this blog is one of them. I am terrified!

Through my four years of teaching, I have mostly mastered the art of independent reading in class and using that to help students master/demonstrate mastery on most essential standards. I have become a pro at book talks and first chapter Fridays and reading conferences and recommending books. Now that I feel like I have my feet firmly planted underneath me with reading, it is time to become a better writing teacher. Writing is not usually a practice I partake in myself outside of school as I do reading. To be honest, it scares me! Will I have interesting things to say? Am I using a diverse enough vocabulary? Am I creative enough? I prefer my comfortable, familiar cocoon of reading, but I am forcing myself to Write Beside Them like Penny Kittle encourages. I will be re-reading that book over the summer as I make that the focus of my growth for the year.

Two people on the beach watching stars above the sea | Flickr

When thinking about improving the writing part of my teaching practice, I reflected on where I felt most inspired to write. Without a doubt, it is when I am in nature like my students above. My friends will tell you that I wax poetic and create all sorts of metaphors when we are at the beach. For example, there is nothing like staring up at a starry sky while laying in the cooling sand of the beach and hearing the salty water lapping up. The more you look up at the sky, the longer you take it all in, the more stars appear. It gets more beautiful, more bright the longer you take the time to look at it. That always stands as a metaphor for many things in life for me. When we slow down and just stay present, the more beauty we see. 

Taking both my experiences in nature and my students’ experiences, I have made a commitment to spend my summer outdoors with my notebook and pen in hand as much as possible to just be present and write as I feel led. How will you get uncomfortable this summer/next school year to grow?

Rebecca Riggs is a reluctant writer like many of her students, but she is working on it. She is in her 4th year of teaching at Klein Cain High School. She is looking forward to a summer of snoballs and walks at her favorite park. She is currently reading Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys and highly recommends it! You can find her on Twitter @rebeccalriggs or on Instagram @riggsreaders

Getting Smarter about Informative Texts

I’ve been thinking about how we use informational texts in our classrooms–if we use them and how often–since Tosh wrote about this topic about a month ago. Her statement is so me:

“I, like many other language arts teachers, overvalued and overemphasized the genres of fiction in the lessons I taught, and now I’m on a mission (crusade?) to help teachers connect students with interesting and complex informational texts that can broaden their knowledge of the world around them as well as model the writing they will have to do in that world.”

Like Tosh, I have my own 20/20 hindsight. And while I never taught my own children in an ELAR class, I did facilitate years of workshops where students “wrote prolifically in their journals and experimented with different writing styles. . . [and] a lot of poetry writing and narratives and imaginative stories” and little focus on reading “more complex informational texts.” Like Tosh, I felt “by focusing on the beauty of language and expression, I neglected the power and practicality of strong informational reading and writing skills.”

And then I got smarter.

It wasn’t that I needed to do away with the the reading and writing practices I had been doing. This kind of reading and writing works magic in developing relationships and beginning the habits of mind of authentic readers and writers–engagement soars when students feel the emotional tug of a beautifully written story or poem, and we invite them to write beside it and then share their writing with their peers. What I needed to do was use these practices as a springboard into an exploration of the more complex informational texts I knew my students needed.

I also knew that to keep students engaged, the spring in my board needed just a little bounce not a 10 foot one. Instead of a sharp shift from one type of reading and writing into another, we took a slow curve. We started mining our own expressive writing for topics we could research, read, and write about in other forms.

For example, since our first major writing piece was narrative, we’d packed our writer’s notebooks with multiple quick writes that sparked reflections about personal events in our lives. Imbedded in these events were topics–topics that could lead to a search for information.

Take my student Jordan (name has been changed for privacy) as an example. He wrote a touching narrative about his first memory after arriving in the United States from Mexico with his parents. He was five. A few of the topics Jordan identified in his piece included: immigration, parent/child relationships, parental responsibilities, financial hardships, mental health, physical health, citizenship both in home and new country. Jordan had a lot of ideas to work with as he chose a topic for our next major writing piece, an informative essay.

Topic mining like this can take time. Many students had a difficult time putting a name to the topics they had written about in their narratives. They also had difficulty in narrowing down those topics. But this is the beauty of talk in a workshop classroom–students talked about their writing. They reflected on it more. They shared their ideas–and they gave one another, writer to writer, authentic feedback.

Photo by Bruna Fiscuk on Unsplash. Narrowing topics is often like this quarry: stair step it down until the topic is small enough yet rich enough to write enough. Photo by Bruna Fiscuk on Unsplash.

Of course, as my writers moved into thinking about their informational writing, I started sharing informational texts we used as mentors. This is when we challenged ourselves with text complexity. We read and studied structure and language use. We discussed objective and subjective views and determined if we read any bias. We delved into how writers use data and statistics or why they might choose not to. And more.

And the bounce from narrative into informational writing worked. And it worked again later as we moved from informative writing into argument and later into spoken-word poetry.

Topic mining like this saves time. More often than not, students stuck with the same topic throughout the school year they wrote about during the first three weeks of school. And with each deep dive into form, students practiced layering skills, be it a variety of sentence structures, precise diction, or good grammar. (Skills all learned and practiced via mini-lessons.)

Informational reading and writing is vital to the success of our students beyond high school. We know this. (Think contracts, lease agreements, college textbooks.) I think we also know that some informational texts are downright boring (contracts, lease agreements, college textbooks.) And if your students are like mine, any text over one page–no matter what the writing style–is not likely to get much more than a quick skim without some pretty intense pleading.

When students choose their topics, our chances of engagement–pivotal for learning–grow exponentially. And the student who chooses to write a narrative about her family getting evicted after her father’s illness just might end up being the adult who writes that complex lease agreement.

While not your typical complex informational texts, here’s two I’ve used with high school students with great success: Joyas Voladores and How to Change a Diaper both by Brian Doyle. (P.S. If you are not familiar with The American Scholar, it’s a gold mine of fine writing.)

I’d love to know your favorite informational texts you use to teach your readers and writers. Please list them in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen reads voraciously, writes daily, and chooses texts to use with students wisely. She’s an advocate for student choice in every teaching practice. She lives and works in N. Texas. You can find her on Twitter @amyrass, although these days she’s mostly a lurker.

Friday Night Quickwrite

One thing I have learned by being a teacher of writers, is that I must write myself if I am going to be an effective teacher. When I write, I understand what my students go through when they are stuck or can’t come up with an idea. I understand the importance of organizing my random thoughts into something coherent and the power of a just-right word or perfectly structured sentence. I feel the joy of having written and sitting down with my students – writer to writer.

Today is the first Friday Night Quickwrite, a chance for you to grab a notebook and a favorite pen or open to a blank document on your computer. I invite you to take a a few minutes out of your weekend and write with me. I will share a poem or a text that has inspired me to write beside it. Sometimes I may share my notebook pages while other times I may share where the text led me in my thinking and my writing.

I invite you to share your own writing, your writing process, or your writing path in the comments section below. The importance doesn’t lie in the sharing; rather, it lies in the joy of writing.

For National Poetry Month, I wrote poems about quilts and shared them on my blog, A Day in the Life. I guess I still have quilts on my mind as that is the topic for this first quickwrite.

Tonight’s Prompt:

Quilts
Nikki Giovanni

Like a fading piece of cloth
I am a failure

No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter
My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able
To hold the hot and cold

I wish for those first days
When just woven I could keep water
From seeping through
Repelled stains with the tightness of my weave
Dazzled the sunlight with my
Reflection

To read the rest of the poem, please visit Poets.org

What does this poem remind you of? Where does it lead you? Is there a line that stood out for you?

When I read this poem, I immediately thought about elderly people, people who sometimes don’t feel wanted or needed. I taped the poem inside my notebook and wrote beside it. I wrote about my mother-in-law during the time I returned to college to become a teacher. She had Parkinson’s disease and was confined to a wheelchair, but she would help me write my papers. It was a special time between us, and I am glad I captured these moments in my notebook.

I would love for you to join me in this first Friday Night Quickwrite! Write anything that Nikki’s words bring to mind for you and share it in the comments. I look forward to reading your words.

Leigh Anne Eck is a 6th grade English Language Arts teacher in southern Indiana, and she has been teaching face-to-face this school year. Although this has been a great class, she will be glad to see this year come to close in ten days!

Advice Poems: A Way to Wrap-Up

I love giving people advice (my sisters tell me I like it a little too much). Some of my favorite social media posts involve creative ways of giving advice, like this one I saw just this morning.

I notice that students like giving advice too, so as the year starts rounding third base to home, I’ve been thinking about how students might leverage that love of advice to reflect on their learning this year.

Years ago I was in a class at Miami University with Tom Romano where he introduced us to Charles Webb’s poem “How to Live.” (Penny Kittle also writes about this poem in her book Write Beside Them.) I remember being captivated by the declarative nature of the poem. The directness in language, the specificity. I loved the way Webb broke the lines, almost like the white space was a deep breath as he pushed through to more advice. I loved the way verbs featured so prominently.

After spending a bit of time thinking about what we liked about the poem, Dr. Romano invited us to write in the style of the poem. This was before I had a grasp on mentor texts and for me, someone who didn’t identify as a poet, I felt empowered. I could tell people how to live! I’m a bossy person; it’s a natural fit.

I wrote several versions of the poem with different audiences in mind, but my favorite was the one I wrote to my children, twins who were 3 at the time. Over the years, I’ve revisited this poem and the same audience, tweaking my advice to Jacob and Emma at various stages of life.

I’ve found that students love writing in this way too. They also have so much to share. They know some things, and when we invite them to consider their audience, it helps them focus the kind of advice they share.

Over the years, I’ve been collecting advice poems, and I’m sure you have too. What would happen if we gave students the opportunity to write advice poems now? As they close another school year, one unlike any other, how might they give advice on how to live? Or how to learn? Or how to…

I was reminded of these advice poems today as I was reading through Rudy Francisco’s latest book I’ll Fly Away, I came across the poem “Instructions for black people,” and I was struck again by the declarative nature (an early version can be found here). The sentence variety, the space on the page. I’d like to bring this to students and put it next to Webb’s poem. Study the tone, analyze the way the theme of the poem contributes that tone.

More importantly, I’ll invite students to write their own advice poems, to offer instructions to someone.

Some of my favorite advice poems:

Entreaty” by Catherine Pierce

“Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out” by Ron Koertge

How to Play Night Baseball” by Jonathan Holden

Ten Things I’ve Been Meaning to Say to You” by Jason Reynolds (this is a list but I love the idea of advice in a list)

In the spirit of the assignment, here’s my version:

To Those of You Teaching Right Now

Share poems with students,

spend a day (or two or three) reveling in the language,

consider structure, craft, line breaks, tone.

Invite students storm their braints,

asking what they might be able to offer advice about.

Name an audience — who most needs to hear what you have to say?

Use one, 

or all, 

of the poems as a guide, 

as a road map, 

as a GPS.

Start writing.

Let the keys click-clack, the words creep across the page.

Write with them, in front of them, in their midst.

Trust the gush (as Dr. Romano says).

Let us know what other advice poems you love to share with students, or how you might use this with your writers. 

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in the Cincinnati area. When she’s not running kids to baseball practices or trying to get her dog to relax, she enjoys reading (duh) and binge-watching her latest guilty pleasure Younger starring Sutton Foster.

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