My students recently criticized me en masse for doing too much. I told them we’d have “work” to do every day until the end of school on the 22nd. Today, I discovered that the first day of “doing too much” wasn’t really doing too much. I will present a simple and effective poetry lesson that shows this. Also, you’ll see an interesting collaborative poetry activity.
I introduced poetry to my students today. The Do Now asked students to define poetry in their own words. Afterwards, we discussed our general attitude towards poetry. Most said they hated it. They though it was “confusing,” “stupid,” “pointless” and “dumb.” I told them that I agreed that, these days, poets and poetry are often looked upon with disdain. Who really needs it, right?
I then told them that we were going to “reexamine” that idea. I was about to defend poetry by explaining 3 characteristics that make poetry powerful and unique. I made sure to provide relevant examples of each characteristic, to show them that poetic language–language that is intense, precise and concise–can be useful in any context (in this case, while describing a person’s job and while expressing love to a significant other).
Here is the (static) Powerpoint for your viewing pleasure:
The crazy thing about this was that I originally made this Powerpoint for grad school. I presented it to my masters colleagues. Almost nothing is changed. Yet, my students ate it up. They were all nodding in agreement after I presented each example, which showed that poetry is more meaningful than meets the eye.
Furthermore, they were able to pinpoint the characteristics that we learned in the guided practice poems. They immediately noticed the concision in the Craigslist Missed Connection ad. They saw the intensity of the “Smoke and Mirrors” poem. And they agreed that Dryden’s language was precise.
I was also able to “wow” my students and flaunt my poetic knowledge (limited though it may be) by reciting John Dryden’s “Happy The Man”. They literally could not believe I had a poem in memory (sidenote: in our 21st-century, gadget-filled world, doing things from memory is losing its place–this saddens me). The cheering was incessant.
Thus, as we moved into our “Independent Practice,” my students had completely changed their views on poetry: they could relate to and saw value in it. Now we could do some composition–collaboratively! (Note: the TFA model of lesson planning involves the “gradual release of responsibility” where, on some sort of skill, the lesson goes from “I Do” to “We Do” to “You Do”. Unfortunately, the link between the guided practice (“We Do”) and independent practice (“You Do”) was quite weak. I blame this on the end of the year. I wanted to have some fun. I did, however, ask them to use intense, precise and concise language.)
The collaborative poetry exercise was a hit. Students basically took a blank notecard and wrote down a topic that they wanted to write about on one side. Then, they wrote exactly one line to begin the poem before passing it clockwise around the classroom. The next student wrote one line. Once the poem returned to the original writer, s/he wrote the final line to close out the poem. What came about was an interesting mix of poems that showed the give and take necessary in any form of collaboration.
What pleased me the most was that many of the themes and messages that I have tried to convey throughout the semester appeared in the poems.
- First, I am comical in the way I express my love for literacy (I tell them that “books are like babies” and when they ask me if I’m hitting up the club on Friday night, I respond, “yes, definitely–the book club, that is!”).
- Second, I am emphatic about students not being “afraid to take risks or make mistakes.”
See for yourself…
Books are like babies,
They need to be taken care of and understood
Books are like the key to life
Books make you smarter
Books broaden your mind
Books are interesting
Books are [the] way to success
Books [are] good thing[s] to learn from
Treat them with respect.
Taking risks is a way to become successful and smart
Risks help you be fortunate
Doesn’t hurt to take risks
Risks must be taken to exceed
Taking risks can open a door
Taking risk[s] can help you do the right thing
Taking risk[s] can help you [win] something
Just do it,
There’s nothing to it.
I’m going to attempt to leverage my students renewed interest in poetry to teach students how to write found poems tomorrow. This will also help me purge the many magazines that my classroom has accumulated this year (thanks to you library donors out there)!