Tag Archives: Poetry

A Poem to Start Your Notebook

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.

‘Tis the Three Teachers Talk Holiday Poem

My dad was an 8th grade Social Studies and English teacher for well over 30 years, and his joy (and frustration) as it relates to education, inspired me to work in the classroom as well. I grew up on stories of my dad’s intelligence, humor, creativity, and passion in the classroom. This and other tales of how I’m pretty sure my dad was incorporating elements of workshop in his classroom in 1968, in a future post.

But it’s not only my choice in profession that was influenced by my dad, it’s the writing you are reading right this very moment. Dad has a gift with words. People are still talking about how clever and touching his speech was at my wedding…almost nine years ago. He has a way of turning phrases to make them as sharp as his wit and as beautifully deep as his heart. I’ve always wanted to write as powerfully as my dad.dad

So, early on, my writing filled with passive voice and right-clicked thesaurus words (the nuances of which I was not skilled enough to use correctly), I wrote. And I often wrote utter crap.

When I would ask my dad to read it,  an old school sea of red comments would flood the page. Arrows, strike-outs, question marks. It was harsh, but fair. And though I was often too stubborn at the time to admit it (a trait I certainly, thankfully, and ironically in this case, inherited from him directly), his insights pushed me to add clarity, depth, and insight to my craft.

Earlier this week, Amy wrote about writing when it’s hard. She spoke of filling the room with beautiful language, getting kids to keep talking with one another, and allowing time to think.

I humbly add to Amy’s list the idea of helping students to find what or who inspires them to write. With the mutual understanding that my “brilliant” quick write ideas aren’t always going to cut it and not everyone is lucky enough to have a writing mentor at home to inspire them, we need to help our students find inspiration. In essence, as their teacher, I need to be that writing mentor by sharing brilliant published writing, encouraging students to share their writing with one another, and in (sometimes with a knotted stomach) sharing my own.

I’m inspired today by both the last day of school and, again, by my dad. For years, Dad would take traditional poems and rewrite the lines to match the happenings at his school. Christmas, the end of the year, retirements…Dad would craft witty quips about teacher’s lounge antics, administrative frustrations, student silliness, and more. He has a gift for playing with the written word.

snow

So, dear readers, Dad, and Robert Frost, forgive me as I try my hand at a holiday poem to warm your workshop hearts. It’s all in the name of holiday cheer.

Stopping By a Workshop Classroom…

Three Teachers write here, I think you know. 
Ideas of workshop and reading to sow;
We read and write each day without stopping
To keep our students’ brains and pens hopping.

Some colleagues certainly must think it strange
To bring to our classrooms such a great change.
A room full of books and pages of scratch;
Such delight when a book with a student we match.

They may even, with concern, their heads firmly shake
To suggest that there must be some grave mistake.
But lives as readers and writers we give
For choice and challenge in our classrooms do live.

This workshop gig can inspire, uplift, and “readicide” it can mend,
But break is here my old dear friend.
So go on and with your family some happy time spend,
Because this week of school is finally (blessedly) at an end.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a very Happy New Year to all, and to all, a great break. I’m hoping to settle in for a long winter’s nap.

Who or what inspires your writing? How will you be spending your well-deserved break?
Please share in the comments below!

Writing When It’s Hard. Or School Should be Out Already.

Let me just say how cruel the school calendar is this year:  We have school through noon Wednesday. Kids are beyond crazy. Last Friday is typically the last school day before break, so it feels a bit like we are making up snow days for snow days that haven’t happened. It’s cold. And no one is going to want to be at school for the next three days. No one.

I’ve been toying with this post all morning. I don’t feel like writing. I just want to shop with my daughters who arrived in town over the weekend, and tend my five month old grandson who came to visit yesterday, and maybe bake some bread pudding in the crock pot. I do not want to write.

So what do I do to get myself to put words on the page? What do I do when I need students to want to put words on the page?

I look for inspiration. I help them find inspiration.

Lately, my students have been writing spoken word poems as arguments. They chose personal or social issues they care about, and they’ve crafted drafts that argue a position about their issues. Some are digging deep and writing with wondrous words. Others — not so much. But I’m not giving up.

I’ve learned that three things will help my writers when they sink low and cannot seem to rise back up. I must consistently —

Flood the room with beautiful language. In a spoken word poetry unit, this is easy. We watch a performance on YouTube most every day. “Spelling Father” by Marshall Davis-Jones is a new favorite. (I love the narrative frame and raw emotion in this piece.) If our goal is to help develop writers who intentionally craft meaning, we have to help students intentionally craft meaning. The more we recognize, analyze, and model the moves of writers, the easier writing with intention becomes.

Allow time for thinking. Waiting on students to think their way into writing can be hard. But I know that writing takes time, and when I rush students who haven’t had a chance to think about their ideas before they begin writing, the finished pieces rarely get the revision they need to be truly effective. Don Murray said, “Writing is self exposure.” It is. And the vulnerability can be immobilizing for some of us. Giving time and then waiting for students to make decisions about their writing pays off on the back end of the writing process. If we truly value student ideas, we have to give them the time to think of them.

Talk to students and keep them talking to one another. One-on-one conferences are a good idea any time, but during a writing unit, conferring time is essential. In large classes, we may have to stagger our live conferences with paper ones, and leave conferring questions, and “I wonders” on their pages. More than anything, students must know we are reading their drafts and offering feedback. I am working on getting faster at leaving quick notes. I find that when I zero in on one skill at a time students find my feedback a lot less intimidating (which is something I had to learn was even a thing.)

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Martina’s writing her poem about her culture. “I’m too white to be called Mexican, but I’m a Mexican.”

My plan for this week is to put these three things on a replay loop. We’ll start class with beautiful language, think and write and write and think — all the while talking to one another about our process and our craft.

We may just make it to Christmas break a little bit merry after all.

If you are still in school this week, what’s happening in your classrooms? Please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Try It Tuesday: Red Thread Notebooks

img_3173-1So much of a workshop philosophy centers on the assumption that reading and writing are forever intertwined.  Vocabulary, grammar, poetry–they’re all pieces of the puzzle that make up literacy and a passion for words, too.  It was with this in mind that I created Red Thread Notebooks.

The idea came from two places–one was Penny Kittle’s “big idea books” (found on page 8-9 of those handouts), which are reading response notebooks  centered around themes in literature.  The other was Tom Romano‘s “red thread” assignment, in which teachers had to write about which parts of our teaching philosophy would run through all of our teaching, like a red thread.

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This student booktalks The Selection in the “STRUGGLE” notebook.

So, when composition notebooks are just a nickel in the summer, I buy 60 of them each year.  My students and I begin the year by brainstorming themes and topics that are important to us–love, cell phones, faith, music, family, video games, death, high school, forgiveness, four wheelers.  We label our notebooks and use them all year long.

There are a variety of ways I invite students to write in these notebooks:

  • Vocabulary practice: list related words, synonyms, word associations, etc. similar to the notebook title
  • Skill practice: write dialogue, revise sentence structure, practice figurative language, craft descriptive writing, about the notebook’s title
  • Book talks: write about how the book you’re currently reading might add to a conversation about the notebook’s title
  • Grammar instruction: revise a sentence, imitate a paragraph, tinker with style, while writing about the notebook title
  • Free writing: write your thoughts and musings on the notebook title
  • Poetry: find an existing poem, craft your own poem, or create a found poem about the notebook’s title

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Hailey and Ryan practice dialogue in the “VIDEO GAMES” notebook after I teach a mini-lesson on its conventions.

Because these are shared notebooks, I ask students to refrain from using profanity in them or writing about any of their peers.  I don’t require names, but many students like to sign their writing.  Those are the only rules.

Once the notebooks have begun to fill up, students can refer to them to find book recommendations, writing topic ideas, or vocabulary words to add to their personal dictionaries.  They can also look for examples of skills practice, craft studies, or grammar lessons that we’ve done for additional guidance.  One year students even selected multigenre topics based on our red thread notebooks.

These notebooks are a lovely way to make permanent a yearlong conversation about literacy.  The topics change every year–Michael Jackson had his own notebook my first year of teaching, and this year Lebron James had one–but the opportunities to write, reflect, and make connections remain the same.

Do you think you’ll try Red Thread Notebooks next year?  Do you do something similar?  Please share in the comments!

Mini-lesson Monday: Poetic Literary Movements

This year was a balancing act. Bridging the old and the new. The curriculum I’m used to and the possibilities of workshop. Along with that came plenty of challenges, but also plenty of opportunities to improve on what I know by learning more about what my students can create with choice.

This lesson is from my American Literature class (sophomores) and occurred this past April when we were studying Realism. Students had conducted some research on what thematic and stylistic elements characterized the Realist movement in America and I turned to poetry to make the 19th Century ideas come to life.

Objective/s: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will analyze their Realism research and examples of Realist poetry in order to synthesize characteristics of the time period with original ideas in the form of Realist inspired poetry.

Lesson: Students came to class with notes they took on American Realism. I had asked them to research the major authors of the time period, famous works, common themes and stylistic elements of writing from that time, and the historical events that led to a shift away from Romanticism.

We started by taking a look at Stephen Crane’s “I Saw a Man Pursuing the Horizon.”

I saw a man

I modeled for students my own analysis, suggesting the elements of Realism I saw in the poem. The clash of Romantic thought and Realist. The futility Realists saw in trying to escape reality. The simple construction of sentences and relatively plain diction.

We then talked about connections to these realist ideas today. “Many of us are Romantics,” I said, “I think I’m one. But I bet many of you are Realists too. What does that look like in your life?”

I asked students to jot down some ideas in their writer’s notebooks of everyday events that speak to these same themes…what some would call the ordinary struggles of life. As I walked around and took a look at the ideas my students were generating, several jumped out at me:

  • Watching someone get bullied and not knowing how to help
  • Dealing with the hand you’re dealt
  • Unavoidable accidents
  • The ‘you’ no one would suspect

Holy poetry material! I shared aloud several examples of ideas I saw from their notebooks and then shifted to have them look at one more example to solidify the simplicity (and power) of realist diction and images.

“Now, I am of the opinion that some of the best poetry is exceedingly simple. The raw, honest truth of life, just like some of the ideas I saw when I walked around and peeked into your notebooks. Let’s take a look at one more example of realist poetry – a modern example.” I showed students  “The End,” a poem (no author found) I discovered when searching for examples of Realism:


The End

It didn’t come with a bang

or a big explosion.

It didn’t come with an inevitable apocalypse

or an armageddon.

It didn’t come with collision

or a war.

It didn’t end with a dying sun

or a waking moon.

It didn’t end in breached dimensions

or shattered realities.

It didn’t end with entropy.

It came when Existence stopped dreaming

And fell into a deep sleep.


Students read the poem silently a few times and I asked them to write down the lines that they felt were especially impactful, powerful, and/or moving. I then read the poem out loud and we discussed our thoughts on the lines they wrote in their notebooks.

Next up was time to explore. Students took their knowledge of Realism, their explorations of realist topics, and our discussion on the power of simple construction with simple ideas and set to work on their own realist poems in their notebooks.

Follow up: After students had time to work on their poems, I had them share at their tables. Each table elected one student whose poem they thought was particularly pointed and either that student stood to read it or asked someone else at the table to read his/her work. We always talk about taking pride and ownership in our writing to build community. Sometimes this means letting someone’s enthusiasm over the work of his/her peers fuel an energetic reading of the work as well. Kids love to read the work of their peers and I can see in the faces of the authors a pride often unmatched when they read their own work.

A few class periods later, I asked them to find additional poems with Realist characteristics. We used these as mentor texts for small group discussion and to compare with our own work.
Do you sometimes have to bridge the gap between old school and workshop? How do you make the old seem new again? Please share in the comments below.

#FridayReads: Poetry as a Gateway into Reading

Before I started reading novels in verse, I had no idea how important they would be to the readers in my classroom. So many of my students who say they hate reading will read these books of poems that tell a story. (Chasing Brooklyn is one of the girls’ favorites. The Crossover, of course, is one of the boys’.)

This week, Sung, one of my quiet students from Myanmar, asked for a recommendation for her next book. She reads far below that of an 11th grader in an AP class, but she’s tenacious and determined to catch up to her peers. She and I have focused on her fluency since the beginning of the year when in our first conference I learned she could read all the words in a novel, but she understood little of the meaning. (Similar to my ELL student who read every word of The Great Gatsby last year without comprehending any of it. This was before I clued in to her need to save face with their peers.)

“I am reading,” Sung said, “but I don’t know what’s going on.”

I’ve heard this before, and I always celebrate when my readers let me in on this secret. (It takes guts to be vulnerable, especially at 16.) In talking with high school students who struggle with reading, I’ve learned they usually have no idea why. Most of them think they are slow or dumb — or they simply claim reading is boring or dumb because it’s easier to say that than admit reading is hard.

The hard part for me is teaching them to read. My degree is in literature after all, and my Masters in Secondary Ed did little to prepare me for the adolescent reading crisis I face every day. So I teach reading by getting students to read. I talk to them about their reading and get them talking to me about their thinking.

8537327Sung had just finished her 8th novel in verse, her favorite so far, Inside Out and Back Again. As I conferred with this reader, she told me she wanted to try something more challenging that was a ‘real’ novel. What she meant was a story with more words on the page. (Last year I caught one of my ELL students at the book shelf flipping through books. When I asked him why, he said he could tell if he could understand it depending on the “thickness of the words.”)

I walked to my “Explore: It’s Your World shelf” and pulled a few books I thought Sung might like:  Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, In Darkness by Nick Lake, Copper Sun by Sharon Draper, Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse, a book of short writings by various authors about human rights, published in association with Amnesty International, and several other titles I cannot remember now.

Then, I gave her time to explore.

A few minutes later, Sung held two books in her hands and quietly told me she wanted to read them both. She left the room with Karen Hesse’s award-winning book and the anthology of stories by writers like these: Paulo Coelho, Yann Martel,  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ishmael Beah, and more. These are not difficult books. They are not complex. They are way too easy by most high school standards. But they are exactly what this young woman needs to not only grow in confidence as a reader, but to grow as a citizen of her world.

And an interesting insight? Quite often it takes more inferencing skills to understand the story in a novel in verse than it does with a story written in prose.

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For a list of other novels and verse, see this post.

Here’s a highlight from my most recently read novel in verse, Audacity by Melanie Crowder. I think it will make a nice quickwrite at the beginning of the year as we build a reading community:

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I passed my Spelling

and Mathematics exams!

 

I hurry after work

to the free school

to check the schedule

for the next round:

Geography

History

And Trigonometry.

 

The thing that separates

rich from poor

in this world

is knowledge.

A person can rise up

 

if she can read

if she can think

if she can speak.

 

I cannot attend

every class

every lecture

but if I share what I learn

with the girls in my shop

in between bites

during lunch

 

ff Pauline shares

with the girl in her shop

in between bites

during lunch

it is as if we all

Were there together.

 

I see

these lunchtime lessons

spreading like fire

skipping from one box of tinder

to the next

across the shops

through the slums

until the entire city is alight

with small

fierce-burning flames.

Poetic Mini-Lessons from Real-Life Mentors

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Fiction writer Emily works with Tyler, Logan, and Willy to discuss a poem.

If your town is a university town, like mine is, there are guaranteed to be some amazing writing mentors right under your nose.  Have you taken advantage of them?

Our university’s MFA program offers courses in writing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and I was lucky enough to connect with these fine folks through the Bolton Writing Workshops, which were a fantastic challenge for me to participate in.  And my students were lucky enough that several of the program’s MFA students were willing to come into our classroom and write beside them.

Our writers came to visit one of my least-poetically-inclined classes, bearing many mentor texts, three poem prompts, and two revision exercises.  They wrote beside my students and their seriousness inspired earnest effort from my kiddoes–I was so impressed.  Rarely have I seen fourth period so calm, engaged, or thoughtful.  Their method consisted of three steps–read, write, revise.

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Nonfiction writer Whit works with Dylan, Scott, Mariana, and Hailey to analyze a poem.

Read poetry.  The Bolton writers brought over 20 poems for my students to study.  A pro read the poem aloud, my students following along on their own copies at their desks.  We absorbed the language, the tone, the emotions of the poem.  The Bolton poets asked questions like:

  • “Why is the poem called this?”
  • “Do you believe this speaker?”
  • “Did you like this poem?  Why?”
  • “How many characters do we see in this poem?”
  • “What do we think of this (image, line)?”

Their language was important to me, as it created a community of writers by using the word “we,” focused on responsiveness to the poems rather than the extraction of meaning, and encouraged a variety of responses.  My students engaged with this kind of talk fully–I loved the quiet murmurings I heard as teens worked to construct meaning and understand these poems.

We read closely a variety of poems that did what we wanted to try–prose poems like “Instructions on How to Cry” by Julio Cortazar, or free verse like “The Instruction Manual” by John Ashbery, for a poem about instructions on how to do something.  Then we wrote.

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Logan’s poem about how to hunt

Write poetry.  Next came the writing–very low stakes, line-by-line, three times.  We wrote a poem where each line corresponded to a month in the year, one from the point of view of an animal, and one list of instructions on how to do something we felt expert at.

In poems with eight to twelve lines, my students wrote about hunting, death, school, love, welding, graduation, trust, and a wide variety of other topics.  Each poetic prompt allowed for a student to write about whatever was meaningful to him or her.  I loved the lovely images they produced, no matter the topics–like Logan’s “soft brass shells” in his hunting poem.

We wrote three drafts, then revised.

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Dylan’s poem about how to weld

Revise, revise, revise.  The revision process, like the writing process, was low stakes.  The Bolton writers advised my students to:

  • “Cross out your two worst lines.”
  • “Repeat your best image or line somewhere else in the poem.”
  • “Circle a line you love so we can share it.”
  • “Think about where you might add some alliteration.”

Language was celebrated, no matter how fancy or plain.  Dylan’s use of similes, metaphors, and alliteration in his poem about welding received lots of snaps.  I believe he felt comfortable sharing it because of the authentic atmosphere the professional writers created–he knew he’d be taken seriously, and his words were met with thoughtful  responses from both the Bolton poets and his fellow students.

The two-day workshop was a fantastic reminder of how simple it is to celebrate poetry in any classroom, within any timeframe, as part of any unit.  Simply read beautiful poetry, try your hand at a few drafts, then revise as much as you need to.  I loved participating in this workshop and watching my students blossom, acting and thinking and talking like serious poets.

Have you brought any writers into your classroom or school?  Please share how it went in the comments!

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