Say it Ain’t So! Poetry Can’t Help Readers with Non-fiction!

I know, I know. I write about poetry ad nausem.  Poetry has been a focus for me this year I’m constantly finding ways to fold poetry into my instruction all the time. I wrote about it here.

Don’t single me out; Amy included her own poetry thoughts in this post.

I’ve noticed that my students don’t connect their emotions to non-fiction pieces as well as they do with poetry.  That’s unfortunate because real world issues should elicit an emotional response…but in most cases they just don’t.  I think its important, in literacy instruction, that we try to bridge that gap.

Recently, I found an opportunity to integrate a little poetry with some non-fiction.

One of several non-fiction pieces that I brought into the classroom was this one from the New York Times written by Carl Wilson. The piece talks about Rupi Kaur and her popularity compared to those who published poetry before the avalanche of social media.

Our focus was not only to look at these non-fiction pieces in order to see the moves that authors make, but also read with the thought that we could respond to the articles in the form of a Letter to the Editor.

I chose this response format because I saw that it might facilitate and opportunity for us to talk about citations, embedding quotes, and responding to nonfiction in a way that might appeal to my students.  Not only did the student struggle to connect to the pieces, they struggled to keep their eyes open the first time they read through.

Not coincidentally, the poem of the day was by Rupi Kaur herself.  It was about how when we let go of someone to whom we are connected, it can be cathartic. At least thats what it means to me.


(I know its hard to read, but I hand write the poem on the board every day.)

I invited the students to respond to the poem in one of two ways: either by using the poem as a mentor text that could engage their poetic thoughts and help them write a poem of their own, or by responding to the poem about how it makes them feel or think.

We group talked our emotional reactions and shared how so many of us could relate to the poem.  Most of us connected with it in some way, but we discovered that those connection vary widely from person to person.

The next day, we came back, read the articles, began our letters to the editor, and completely failed to connect with the pieces on an emotional level.

There had to be a way to show them that we can have an emotional response to non-fiction. So, in a move stolen directly from Kelly Gallagher, I wrote a model Letter to the Editor in which I roasted the author and his article for being wrong-headed and totally missing the point of Rupi’s poetry.  The students perked up as we went through my example noticing elements like formatting, structure, embedded quotes and properly cited sources. Most importantly, they saw how I was able to show an emotional engagement with another author’s non-fiction piece.

We brainstormed some reasons that they struggled to make the same connections to non-fiction and talked about how they can have the same kind of emotional reaction across genres.

By the time we ended our discussion, they blasted off on the trajectory of writing their own letters to the editor, providing blistering commentary or thankful praise to writers they’d never even heard of before.

The writing I read was authentic, heartfelt, and emotional.  Something about weaving the poem and the article about the author of the poem allowed them to carry that connection to other pieces and release their feelings in a way that showed a real connection to something they otherwise would not have paid a second glance.

What I was reminded of once again, was that this isn’t about non-fiction texts or thoughtful poems.  It was about the students embracing their potential as writers and having the confidence to express their voice. This is a lesson that I’m sure I’ll have to learn over and over, but I won’t stop treating students as writers, even when they don’t believe that they are. 

 Charles Moore fell in love with Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward and no one has seen him since.  Rumors persist of sightings out in Phoenix and even San Francisco. Please visit his hourly musings @ctcoach or visit his instagram account @mooreliteracy1.


TCTELA 2018: Professional Learning in Style on the Isle

I like to think I know about teaching.  Then I go hang out with hundreds of brilliant educators and I realize how much I have to learn.

(I hope Helen and Megan see what I did there)


I just got home from the TCTELA Conference.  The 30 minute ride north on I-45 allowed me a brief opportunity to reflect on this weekend and think about the experiences that I encountered and the people I had the pleasure of meeting.

Collaborative Conversations:

Spending time in different sessions with different people from our District rejuvenated me. I enjoyed sitting with Adam Glasgow and taking in a presentation on curriculum development from two teachers from our district: Helen Becker and Megan Thompson.  I loved hearing them speak the workshop language.  It’s nice to take in a lunch with teachers from other schools in our district and really get to know them. There were also impromptu twitter education sessions and conversations about snacks.

Mary Margaret

Super Star Speakers:

Alfred Tatum is brilliant.  His presentation was first thing in the morning on Friday and was a perfect start to the conference.  His ideas about texts belonging to all students perfectly echo the words of Atwell, Kittle, and Gallagher.  Here is a video of Dr. Tatum talking about self-selected reading.

Pernille Ripp is inspiring and passionate.  She is one of the most ardent speakers I’ve ever heard and when she said, “Our fidelity should be to the students, not the programs. See the children and hear their voices,” I knew I had a new teacher-crush (Sorry Kelly Gallagher).

Donalyn Miller made me continue to think about my role in the classroom and as an advocate for literacy.

Chris Lehman closed out the conference this morning and his ideas about close reading should be standard practice for all of our reading teachers.

Chris Lehman

Looks like I’ll be spending money on more teacher books soon.

Harvey Panel:

Diane Miller of U of H Downtown set up this panel of amazing educators.  Unfortunately, our time slot worked against us and more people sat on the stage than in the crowd.  In that aspect, it kind of reminded me of the JV soccer game the night before.  That wasn’t really the point though.  The point was that these educators shared their uplifting stories and shared some of their emotional baggage.  It’s important to give a voice to those who are thinking and acting outside the box to help kids.

Call to Action:

Get involved.  Connect with innovative people on social media!!!  NCTE is in Houston this year.  Meet up with us!!!! If you are a Texan, Join us at TCTELA next year in San Antonio!!!

Charles Moore’s students sometimes revolt when he tells them to quiet down and all they want to talk about is their writing.  He can’t wait for the weather to warm up so that he can enjoy craw fish and his pool and maybe even devour craw fish while in the pool.  You can find his frequent thought bursts and his passive aggressive treatment of trolls by checking out @ctcoach on twitter.  His poorly executed instapoem collection can be seen @mooreliteracy1 on Instagram.

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