Monday, March 31, 2014

Poetry Mentoring: Guest Post, Elizabeth Stavis

love that dogWriting and interpreting poetry requires heavy lifting of key skills we want students to know: interpretation, synthesis, attention to detail, language, analyzing author's purpose, etc. But while students love Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, they sometimes shy away from the more subtle poems, confused by what they mean and lost in the language. It can be tough to guide them through the dense works.

Lucky for us, Sharon Creech has provided a kid-friendly guide. Love that Dog is a deceptively simple story about a boy, Jack, who gradually changes from a student that rejects poetry to one who not only works to understand poems, but writes them himself to share his life. The story is written as a series of poems, and famous poems are sprinkled throughout as Jack's teacher, Mrs. Stretchberry, introduces them. Jack begins the story with a clear stance:  

Sept 13th

I don't want to

because boys

don't write poetry.
Girls do.

 But as the book progresses, his feelings slowly shift until he is writing to authors and sharing his poetic works with the class.  

Love that Dog can fulfill many roles in the elementary classroom--as a novel to teach poetry or character change, as a tool to engage reluctant readers and writers in a difficult subject--but what I love is its ability to model how to mentor off of a great writer. As Jack reads famous poem after famous poem, he tries writing a version for himself. One of his most frequent models is William Carlos William's "The Red Wheelbarrow" poem:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Throughout Love that Dog (and the sequal, Hate that Cat) Jack is constantly re-inventing this poem.

So much depends

a blue car

splattered with mud

speeding down the road.

He models what mentoring off of an author looks like, as well as the idea of re-writing and revising.

Jack does this with numerous poems, and by the middle of  Love that Dog, students can recite the original poem by heart and immediately connect his work. Jack mixes and matches pieces of different famous poems, and they can trace the source of where each piece comes from. They learn to identify great works of literature, to read closely, to notice repetition and realize it's important.  

While we had been reading Love that Dog as a whole class read aloud, we had also been studying poetry during reading workshop. We focused on three main ideas: poem techniques help us to visualize the world in new ways (sensory details, similes, metaphors, personification, etc), poetic techniques help poems to have an interesting rhythm or sound (line breaks, alliteration, repetition), and poetic techniques focus the reader on the meaning or purpose behind the poem (all of the above).

Towards the end of Love that Dog, we combined the work students had been doing in Reading Workshop and Love that Dog and create poems that were inspired by the poems in the novel. We played around with different subjects, word choice, and line length, using the famous poems as a guide, but also thinking about meaning and sound.

What was amazing is how fluidly students were able to write these poems after all of the models they had read in Love that Dog. Even some of my most reluctant writers were successful. And they were proud--so proud--of their work.

"Inspired by" Poems

 photo 1 copy photo 2 copyphoto 2photo 3photo 1photo 4


  1. "Love that Dog" is such a great mentor text for poetry. When we read it earlier this year, my 4th graders wrote the most amazing poems too. I totally agree with you about students getting "lost in the language." Well said! That's one of the reasons why poetry works so well with close reading techniques.

    Mrs. Laffin's Laughings

    1. Poetry is the most natural way I've found to teach close reading--do you have other suggestions for great poems or books to do close reading with?

  2. We do the same thing with "inspired by" poems! I love reading this book with students. If you have long hair, you will get this... My favorite student "inspired by" poem from last year (I memorized it). So much depends upon a perfect ponytail without a bump and hair out of my face.

    1. Ha ha, it's great when you read a student's writing and think, "that's so true." Very cute!

  3. Your students did such a great job! I am heading to the library to check out this book this morning! Thank you!!


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