Tag Archives: #poetrychat

Legacy Speeches: Sharing Our Stories

Savannah, Mallory, Shaun and Tristan turn seventeen today…a new chapter in their stories and mine.

“You must read and write as if your life depended on it. Poetry is the liquid voice that can wear through stone.” Adrienne Rich

In my last post for Three Teachers Talk, I shared an excerpt from a poem written about my quadruplets’ birth. Today, they turn seventeen. Those four babies indelibly marked my life. They are part of my story, as I am part of theirs. Wondrous new pages are written every day in our stories and our students’ stories.

As an eighth grade teacher in a K-8 building, I understand that eighth graders wear the mantle of a particular nobility by the time they “graduate”from our building. As our school year draws to a close, one of the eighth graders’ rites of passage is to compose Legacy Speeches in our writing workshop.

It’s a privilege to walk on the holy ground of transition beside my students, as they traverse the territory between their elementary and middle school years, and high school. What do I love best about Legacy Speeches?

  1. They allow students to be wildflowers. Legacy Speech is an opportunity for each student to reflect on his or her unique journey. It is the idea behind George Ella Lyons’ well-known poem, “Where I’m From” expanded.
  2. Legacy Speech invites students to recognize and thank people who have mentored them during their formative years.
  3. Legacy Speeches encourage metaphorical thinking.
  4. Legacy Speeches express deep hopes in uncertain times. 
  5. Legacy Speeches allow students to share favorite pieces of writing that they’ve composed in our writing workshop, OR favorite mentor texts.
  6. Legacy Speeches invite students to speak for a live audience.
Let’s take a closer look at the elements of a Legacy Speech!

So, what is a Legacy Speech? It is an address that each eighth grader writes as a reflection on his or her life journey. We begin the speeches by doing preliminary thinking and writing about the four “pillars” of the speech. The Legacy Speech Pillars are:

  1. Life Cast List: The first pillar begins with this question: If you had to compose a cast list for your life, who would “make the cut,” and what has each person contributed to your story?
  2. Life Artifact: What object would you use to represent your life? Why?
  3. Deep Hope: Write a hope statement for yourself, your family, or your class as you leave middle school.
  4. Favorite Composition or Mentor Text: Eighth graders are asked to use their speeches as a “platform” for sharing part of a favorite composition they’ve written OR a favorite mentor text from this year with a larger audience. What difference has that piece made?

This year, to make the process as easy as possible for students, I shared my pillars on Google slides, and many of them chose to do their prewriting using Google slides as well. An example of one of my cast list slides is linked here.

After drafting their pillars using Google slides or docs, the students and I transitioned to rough drafting, and enjoyed a First Page Review Day when we had the opportunity to share our drafts with at least one other writer in our workshop. 

Every year, I write a new Legacy Speech beside my students rather than pulling the same speech out again and again. This keeps the process authentic for me and reinforces the sense of community in our classroom. An excerpt from my draft featuring some hopes for my current eighth graders is linked here. The end of the year is challenging, whether your students are eighth graders on the brink of high school, or seniors starting new chapters.  I’ve found that Legacy Speech’s offering of autonomy helps to keep students engaged in learning more than they would be  if I were mapping out every step of the adventure for them.

What’s next in our workshop? Students are presenting their speeches this week, and then they will conclude the year by sharing final portfolios. Eighth graders design portfolios consisting of FOUR favorite compositions from their year in workshop (plus their Legacy Speeches). Once again, they choose the pieces and write rationales reflecting what they learned from composing each piece.

What are your favorite ways to invite students into writing at the end of the year?


Shake the Dust: Writing an Epilogue Poem

Faith, Rhett and Deacon on stage in November for a production of Copperfield, now a favorite memory…

This is for the bus drivers driving a million broken hymns. This is for the men who have to hold down three jobs simply to hold their children. This is for the night schoolers, and the midnight bike riders who are trying to fly. 

Shake the dust….Anis Mojgani

Shake the dust. My students and I have been reflecting on what it means to be “dust shakers” during a year when we’ve all experienced “broken hymn” moments. This spring, as our time in writing workshop draws to a close, I’ve asked my students to cultivate their writing gardens by composing what I call an “Epilogue Poem,” a reflective piece about an element of their journeys as eighth graders. 

Our mentor poems for Epilogue Poetry are:

“The Golden Shovel” by Terrance Hayes:  (If you’re not familiar with Golden Shovel poetry, check out this New York Times article for suggestions on how to write a Golden Shovel Poem using a newspaper headline as a mentor text!)

“Remember” by Joy Harjo (Thanks to Oona Marie Abrams and Go Poems for suggesting this poem!)

“The Breath of Life” by Scott Myers: This poem is about the inestimable value of every breath.

“A Long and Happy Life” by Delta Rae (Thanks to Brett Vogelsinger for introducing me to this song!) In addition to playing the song, I like to share this behind the scenes video with my students because band members talk about using book titles as mentor texts, childhood artifacts,  and  discuss what having a “long and happy life” means to them. This inspires my students in their thinking about abundant life as they write their poetry.

“Shake the Dust” by Anis Mojgani: This beautifully written spoken word gem speaks to anyone who has ever felt marginalized.

After listening to the mentor poems, discussing craft moves, and making annotations throughout the week, we take the next step into writing a poetic reflection on any of the following:

  • A “watershed moment” in our lives. I define “watershed” as a moment that alters the trajectory of life such as a birth, death, divorce or separation, etc. While I would never obligate a student to write about a watershed, many choose to do so after a whole year of writing together.
  • Something we’ve learned during the pandemic
  •  A  favorite elementary or middle school memory
  •  A tribute to someone who has mentored us
  • What it means to have an abundant life
  • A reflection on our families

 We use Wakelet to curate golden lines from our favorite mentor poems and then try writing our own lines modeled after the mentor or simply publish an idea that we have for a poem.

My student Daiva posted:

 I chose this golden line from “Shake the Dust” :”So when the world knocks at your door, turn the knob and open it up, and run into its widespread, greeting arms.” I chose this line because the writer makes the world sound like a person. This line reminds me that the world will always welcome us, though we may hesitate at first. I liked all of our mentor poems, but this one spoke to me the most…

Natilia wrote a few of her own lines using “Remember” as a mentor text:

Remember the night sky.

Remember the look of it at 10’o’clock on a summer evening

With the breeze blowing in your face…

I wrote beside my students by posting on Wakelet, and then sharing a draft that I was composing using the Scott Myers piece as a mentor.  A portion of my poem, “Alive and Breathing,” is linked here.  Students will use the Wakelet posts as a springboard for their rough drafts.

April is the perfect time to shelter in poetry with our students, and to reflect on the joys and challenges of this “broken hymn” season in our learning lives.  Epilogue poetry compels eighth graders to capture their favorite memories, before they’re lost.

What are your favorite ways to shelter in poetry?

Elizabeth Oosterheert teaches 8th grade language and theatre arts in Iowa. She  loves writing beside students and sharing the stage with them.  Her favorite stories are Our Town, The Outsiders, and Peter Pan.  

The Pedagogy of Poetry Instruction: Join us for #PoetryChat

img_0341-1I have had the joy of watching Amy get revved up about a variety of teaching topics, but I’ve never seen her with a brighter glow than when she talks about her experience at The Frost Place.  Their Conference on Poetry and Teaching is an amazing opportunity for teachers, readers, and writers of poetry to experience the “reading-conversation-writing-revision cycle” that is so central to conference director Dawn L. Potter‘s poetic philosophy.

I’ve been reading much of Dawn’s aforementioned poetic philosophy, and seeing it in practice, in her book The Conversation–which is blowing my mind.  A thick, wordy tome with small print offset by the white space so signature to poetry, the book is full of wisdom that is the conversationrevolutionizing how I view the teaching of poetry.

As such, we are thrilled to have Dawn as our guest during March 7’s #PoetryChat, where she (and other chat participants) will converse about how to teach poetry.  Dawn’s expertise as a teacher and poet are incredible, and we can’t wait to hear her thoughts on our questions, and see her responses to chat participants’ questions as well.

Below are our questions for the chat–please share any that you have in the comments, and join us Monday, March 7 at 7 CT/8 ET for this month’s #PoetryChat on the pedagogy of poetry instruction.

  1. What poets and poems inspire(d) your love of poetry?
  2. What’s your best advice for helping students read and understand poetry?
  3. What’s your best advice for helping students WRITE poetry?
  4. How can teachers move away from poetry units and toward embedding poetry in ALL instruction?
  5. What is the best way to help make poetry relatable (and not intimidating) to its readers?
  6. As a poet, how do you approach reading poetry?
  7. What are your thoughts on revision?

Share your questions in the comments, and join us for the chat

#PoetryChat – Boys & Poetry – Monday, August 3 8ET

IMG_8888This week, the writers of Three Teachers Talk are together in Durham, New Hampshire at the UNH Literacy Institutes.  For five days now, we’ve learned with Penny Kittle and Tom Newkirk about strengthening our practice and our thinking.

Newkirk’s class, centered around his Misreading Masculinity (2001), is focused on boys and literacy.  We’ve read and discussed issues of violence, humor, personality, sexuality, power, and more–all surrounding boy readers and writers.

Join us to continue this conversation on the topic of poetry.  The four of us will be together in Portsmouth, ready to chat on Monday at 8ET.

1. How do you notice your boys responding to poetry in your classroom?

2. Should boys write poetry in an English class?

3. How is poetry uniquely valuable for boys?

4. How do you hook boys into poetry?

5. What are your best poems, poets, or poetry resources to engage your boys?

Poetry Chat August 3

#PoetryChat Tonight, 8ET

poetry-prompts-rantLet’s talk poetry.

A few months ago, a pre-service teacher I know asked me to give her some feedback on a poetry unit she’d written.  Her mini-unit, a 25-page document filled mostly by her professor’s formatting requirements, troubled me for a few reasons.

First, as Amy established, poetry is more than a unit–it’s a powerful way of teaching linguistic precision, the art of writing, and the freedom of expression.  It shouldn’t be a two-week item to scratch off a curricular checklist.

Further, pre-planning a unit in such a detailed way takes the power out of learning. “You’re doing too much of the thinking in this unit, and your students aren’t doing enough,” I wrote to her. She had selected every poem, every genre, and every skill for her students to learn–in doing so, she took away a valuable opportunity for her students to seek out, evaluate, and share found and original poetry.

Second, this teacher’s unit was full of contradictions.  I loved seeing her ideas about including slam poetry, spine poems, blackout poetry, and other engaging, unique poetry possibilities.  However, I was confused by what seemed to be an obligation she felt to teach every literary and poetry term ever.  “Focus on getting your students to learn how to WRITE poetry by studying other AUTHORS of poetry,” I advised. “When Dickinson was writing poems, it wasn’t because she was like ‘oooh I love metaphors’–it was because she had a broken heart.”

In teaching poetry, it seems like too many of us are yoked to an antiquated view of poetry–metaphors, dactyls, metric feet.  We are focused too much on the HOW of poetry, and not enough on the WHY.  As we teach our students, let’s focus on them as poets, not simple readers of poems.

Join us tonight at 8ET for a #poetrychat about ways to transform our students into poets by getting poetry off our shelves and into their hands, introducing them to mentor authors, and encouraging play with nontraditional poetry forms.

#PoetryChat Questions:

Warm-Up: Your favorite line or phrase from a loved poem

1. Why do you think many students find poetry intimidating or inaccessible?

2. When you teach poetry, how do you balance the students’ READING of poetry and WRITING of poetry?

3. What are your favorite genres of nontraditional poetry (prose poetry, spine poems, etc.)?

4. Who are your favorite mentor poets? How do you use them to teach your students?

5. What can our students gain from novels in verse? What are your favorite in-verse titles?

6. Let’s finish by sharing our most successful poetry teaching stories. What’s yours?

Launching an Official Monthly #poetrychat

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 2.49.34 PM

Evidently, there is not an official #poetrychat, but isn’t it a sweet idea?

Poetry serves as an important and beautiful lens into the literary world, and it deserves more than a hurrah during National Poetry Month.

I find that the more I talk about poetry the more I use poems in my classroom. Not like that’s a big surprise. The more I talk about books the more my students read.

So, I’ve been giving this a ton of thought. Do I want one more grape on my plate? And the answer has to be yes.

Today @JasonCarney5 artistic director of Young DFW Writers gave a pitch to my English department. Would we like to be a school that takes advantage of the Louder Than a Bomb program?

Um, yeah.

Meeting Jason and hearing about how his introduction to poetry changed the trajectory of his life was another testament to the power of poetry and what reading and writing it can do for a young person.

Aren’t we as literacy educators always looking for ways to engage and empower our young people and give them opportunities to grow as readers and writers?

So, yes, even if I get YDFW at my school next year (which I’m pretty sure is a done deal), I still feel the need to join other educators who are passionate about the “art” in language arts for a monthly poetry chat.

The teacher-writers at Three Teachers Talk are starting a monthly poetry chat. We hope to connect educators and poets, and work to infuse poetry into the year-long curriculum of ELA classrooms.

“A Poem about Topics for a Poetry Chat”

Spoken-word poems,

prose poems

found poems

spine poems


Ways to share student-written poems


Poetry to teach allusion,






Books in verse

Verses for book talks


We will meet the first Monday of each month at 8:00ET, directly following #engchat at 7. Remember to use the hashtag #poetrychat — and to have links ready to your favorite poems and lesson ideas.

Mark your calendar for Monday, May 4 at 7:00 pm Central Time.

Leave your ideas for topics in the comments. Thanks!

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