Tag Archives: dictation

Embedding Poetry in Core Literacy Instruction


Selfie at our session. –“The Sound of Sense: Putting Poetry at the Core of Literacy Instruction”

Saturday Heather and I presented a session on poetry at the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. When I wrote the proposal last year, I had been accepted but had not attended The Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, and I had hope that my life would be transformed through poetry after my stay in Franconia at the end of June. I knew I’d have ideas to share with other teachers at this conference. I was right.

That’s how faith works.

I shared the strategies that have shaped my teaching into fine points for skills acquisition since I learned them at the

Frost Place:

Dictation. When we dictate a poem, slowly, speaking each word and each line with care; when our students write each word, each phrase, each metaphor and simile, they take ownership of the language and see into the craft of the poet. In this ever-moving world, our students need to s-l-o-w-d-o-w-n and feel the beauty of the print on the page. Words become tangible and approachable. Comprehension improves. Analysis advances.

Arguing a Tone. My friend Margaret shared this strategy:  Choose a poem that begins with “how” or “why” or one that you know can be read in opposing tones. (Dickinson’s “How gentle is the little brook” works well.) Divide the class into two teams, and ask one side to read the poem with a tone of anger. Ask the other side to read the poem with a tone of happiness. Instruct students to find text evidence that supports their given tone then hold a debate. After discussing, students can then take their thinking to paper and write paragraphs that show analysis of the tone.

I Wonder for Revision. At the Frost Place, I loved being in the company of working poets. They inspired me with their thinking and their calm. I learned as I listened to their language. One afternoon we sat in a circle as a poet shared his work. We listened and offered feedback in the form of “I wonder…” He listened and took notes. And he left with a page of possibilities that he might have wanted to play with as he revised his poem. I’ve used this strategy with my students and had great success. I wrote about it here: A Feedback Protocol for Revision Workshop.

At the end of our session on Saturday, I read my poem I wrote modeled after Meg Kearney’s poem “Creed.” Just like at the Frost Place, I cried when I read about my mother. Poetry is emotion. And it’s an emotion that we need to help our students see and feel and play with. Sure, we can reserve a unit in our curricular year to devote to poetry, but our students will love it, understand it, and appreciate the wonders of language when we embed poetry in every unit throughout the year.

It is possible, I know, because I do it.

What are some of your ideas for embedding poetry in your core instruction? or, what are some of your favorite poems to share with students?


Dictation in AP English — It’s a Quiet Your Mind Kind of Thing

The sign on the door of my classroom

I asked my students to turn to a new page in their writers’ notebooks. I told them that I would read aloud a poem. Slowly. I would repeat each line twice. I would spell words that I thought were difficult. I’d tell them where the punctuation went. I’d tell them where the line breaks were. I’d give them time to write.

All they had to do was listen.

You would not believe the moaning.

I explained that to truly understand language they would need to listen to how language works. They needs to hear the words, the rhythm of the sentences, the length of the sentences. They needed to quiet their minds long enough to block everything out but the sounds of each and every word.

“The sound of sense, then. You get that. It is the abstract vitality of our speech. It is pure sound–pure form. One who concerns himself with it more than the subject is an artist. But remember we are still talking merely of the raw material of poetry. An ear and an appetite for these sounds of sense is the first qualification of a writer, be it of prose or verse.” ~Robert Frost

I didn’t expect students to understand so much Frost’s meaning, but I did realize the value of getting students to find a center and make the words their own as they write them down.

I’d experienced this first hand at the Conference on Poetry and Teaching at The Frost Place last summer. Every morning, we’d sit on metal chairs in the small barn behind Robert Frost’s house and listen and write what we heard.

The practice is called DICTATION. “It’s a slowing down and feeling the language in your bones,” says David Cappella, co-author with Baron Wormster of A Surge of Language — Teaching Poetry Day by Day. (Here is a sampling from Heinemann.) Wormster explains, “[Dictation] is a kind of reading aloud to think aloud so you can live out loud. Poetry is life in the slow lane. Poetry tells us to slow down and to pay attention. Poetry directs our attention.”

I have used dictation three times with my students so far this year, and three times we have experienced a calming of the mind that moved us to specific and powerful learning.

1. We focused on word choice, paying particular attention to words we found interesting and unique. This lead to better word choice in our Go World video stories.

2. We focused on sentence length and variety, paying particular attention to the rhythm in the poem. This lead to more purposeful syntax patterns in our next blog post. (All of my students manage their own blogs. See this post here to know more about our blogs.)

3. We focused on figurative language, paying particular attention to the sensory words that created the images. This lead to more colorful, intentional and moving language in our notebook play leading up to narratives.

My second semester starts today. Today I will dictate a poem to get us started, I think it will be this one by Anais Nin:

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 5.17.58 PM©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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