Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Poetry: Inspired by the Masters

Poetry is one of my great loves, and I have loved it since I was a child. While many people have novels on their nightstands, I have books of poetry. Poetry comforts me. It calms me. It amazes me. It speaks to my heart. Numerous bookshelves in my office at home hold many works by the great poets who are near and dear to my heart.
Now I understand and respect the importance of Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, etc. I know they are talented poets. I know kids love their poems. However, there has always been a part of me that longs to introduce my sixth grade students to the poets I love...and I do. It takes careful selection of just the right poems, but we always read works by Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, etc. Sometimes it takes my kiddos a little while to get into each poem, but once they do, they have a new appreciation of poetry. 

I found a great series of poetry books through Scholastic called Poetry for Young People. The series features poems by great poets with illustrations to entice the kiddos. These are just some of the books I have from the series (those we are currently using), but there are more in the series as well.
I always feature different poets in my Book Nook while we work on poetry. Our latest featured poet was Robert Frost.
One of the featured books is from the Poetry for Young People collection. The other book is You Come Too: Favorite Poems for Young Readers. I chose a poem entitled "Dust of Snow" from You Come Too

Our first task was talking to the text. This is a method I have always liked because it helps students  familiarize themselves with the text on their own first. It helps them feel more comfortable with the text before we launch into discussion. My students know that anything they write is okay while talking to the text, but they are always aware of the key points we usually discuss. Examples include unfamiliar vocabulary, theme, structure of the poem, setting, connections, questions, etc. Here is a student example (with the poem blocked out because I am not sure I have the right to put it here online...but you can find the poem "Dust of Snow" here).
After my kiddos talked to the text individually, I had them discuss their observations with partners. I always enjoy circulating and listening during partner discussion because it provides me with better insight into how my students feel about each poem we read. It also helps me gauge how well they understand each poem.

We then share ideas as a whole group. It's great to hear comments like, "Me, too!" or "I never thought of it that way!" as classmates share their notes.

A large part of our conversation regarding "Dust of Snow" centered on how one small moment in time...can completely change your mood. The poem focuses on a man who is having a bad day until a crow on a tree shakes some snow down onto him. It lifts his spirits and changes his day. 

We used this discussion as inspiration to write our own "Change of Mood" poems (as we called them). Each student selected a person's face from a magazine. Some years I have the students bring in pictures of themselves or those they have found in magazines (I get a lot of Justin Bieber and One Direction!), and other years, I provide the pictures for them.

Students analyzed their photos and the emotions on the people's faces. Each student then had to create a "snapshot in time" of a few minutes in that person's life. The character had to start out with one emotion and within a few minutes, something had to happen to change the person's mood (just like the narrator in "Dust of Snow"). Students really enjoyed creating scenarios for their characters.

As they worked on their rough drafts, they were SHOCKED when I walked around and cut the faces of their characters in half! They soon found out that on their good copies, they also had to illustrate the change in mood included in the poem by drawing the other half of the person's face with the opposite mood. They were all giggles and loved the idea! It was a bit more challenging than some of them realized, though!
They really enjoyed the lesson, and the best part is that afterward, students asked me if they could check the Robert Frost books out of my library. I can't think of much that makes me happier than students WANTING to read poetry! 

Poetry can impact people's lives. It can make you see things in a way you haven't seen them before. It can give you a voice. Before I sign off, I want to share a video that shows exactly what I am talking about.
Caroline's book was released yesterday, and I am anxious to receive my copy! Bravo to showing kids the power of poetry!
Until next time, happy teaching, friends!
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  1. We have been writing poems for a week now using the poetry unit in the Being a Writer program. My students have done a great job analyzing the mentor text poems in the series, and they have written some fabulous stuff of their own already. Next week they need to select a draft to revise and publish. First we will look at Mya Angelou's poem "I Love the Look of Words". I am definitely using your Talking to the Text strategy with that poem. Thanks for sharing, Stacy @

    1. I love Maya Angelou! "I Love the Look of Words" is such a great poem for kids. We have done that one before as well, and the kids always get it and enjoy it.

      Kids can really write some fabulous poems on their own, can't they? I think that the more they are exposed to the works of the greats, the better their own poetry becomes.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Have fun with the rest of your poetry unit! I'd love to hear how the talking to the text goes after you do it if you get a chance. :)

  2. I really like your strategy of talking to the text. I have been trying to incorporate more poetry into my intervention groups, and I think this strategy will work well. One of my favorite poets to use with my students is Langston Hughes. Thanks for sharing!

    Eclectic Educating

    1. I love Langston Hughes, too. His poems are so perfect for teaching theme.

      Thanks so much for commenting! All the best with your upcoming poetry lessons! :)

  3. I LOVE your strategy of talking to the text! Great poetry unit-if I teach 6th grade reading next year I'll be visiting you again. :)


    1. Hi, Shannon! Thanks so much for stopping by! Talking to the text works well for all types of texts in all subjects. It also works in all grades with modeling. I love it, and really feel it helps my kiddos. :)

      Thanks so much for your kind words and for stopping by ATUE!

  4. Agreed, love the talk about text concept. Simple and true to life.

    1. Things that are simple and true to life are always best! :)

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Amanda!


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