A Year’s Worth of Authentic Poetry Writing
Subject Area: Language Arts
Grade Level: 6-8
Time Needed: 14-15 total weeks, spread throughout a school year, and divided as follows:
· 2 weeks for initial project introduction, topic generation, poetry warm-ups, and anticipatory sets
· 5 2-week Poetry Methods Lessons, interspersed throughout the school year
· 1-2 days for each of 9 required poems for public display (1 per month). Class time for peer revision, editing, and publication.
Standards: Writing Standard #1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
Writing Standard #2: Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
Reading Standard #6: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts.
· Poems for reading and modeling (I use an anthology, supplemented by various collections of poetry, and ask students to bring in any collections they’re willing to share)
· Samples of student poetry (I use copies of poems written by students in previous years, supplemented by poems found on-line or in professional literature)
· Heavy duty clear plastic sheet protectors
· Prizes for each month’s “poet laureates” (I have generally offered bookstore gift cards to the 2-3 authors of each month’s winning poems)
Part 1: Setting the Stage
Prior to introducing the Poetry Everywhere project, students write several easy “formula poems” (acrostic poems, bio poems, etc). We read a wide range of poems, and try to move quickly away from these introductory forms once students are accustomed to the diversity of poetic forms. Students bring in their favorite poems to share, and we discuss what makes them poems, and what makes them likable. These introductory exercises allow me to assess students’ prior knowledge about both writing and reading poetry.
To introduce Poetry Everywhere, I tell students that the most precious gift of language is its ability to enhance life experiences. Poets help us see everyday objects and universal ideas in a new and fresh way. They use language to enhance experience. This year, we will be using poetry to enhance our school, and all of the students’ (in grades K-8) experiences with the school. To begin, we must identify the places in our school that could be “brightened or enlightened” with a little poetry. To this end, we tour the school, while students record places and topics for poetry (e.g. the fire hydrant for poems about fire or heat; the lunchroom for poems about food; the bathroom stalls for “thought-provoking” poems). Following the tour, students work in groups to compile their lists. At day’s end, I have a ready-to-reproduce list of topics for poems throughout the year. Each student receives a copy of the student-generated topics, along with rubrics for poetry submissions, and a schedule of due dates for first and final copies of 9 poems spread out from September through May.
Part 2: Poetry Methods Lessons
Interspersed throughout the school year, I teach 5 two-week units, each focused on an essential concept in poetry. Each lesson is additionally integrated into my larger curriculum. For example, the lessons on discrete poetic devices (metaphor, imagery, alliteration, etc) reinforce my requirements for students’ use of specific methods of elaboration in their expository writing, adding to their toolbox of strategies to improve writing. The unit on sonnet writing reinforces our study of a Shakespearean drama. While our school is in the unusual position of allowing me to take a whole year to focus on poetry, the lessons are so integral to teaching essential reading and writing skills, they can and should be integrated into any language arts curriculum. The 5 Methods Lessons are as follows:
Part 3: Publishing Poems for An Authentic Audience
Beginning in September, students are required to publish one poem a month for public display in the school. Students know that the poems will be strategically placed to maximize their effect on the audience. Along with the guarantee of a fairly large and diverse (everyone from Kindergarteners to adults) audience, I offer a monthly contest. I ask for three judges (I’ve used our director, secretary, and teachers who do not share my students), who score each poem using the same writing rubric I give to students. The compiled scores of the judges produce 3 monthly “poet laureates,” whose poems are published in the school’s monthly newsletter, The LECS Press, and displayed prominently in the school’s foyer. Some of the techniques I use to help students produce high quality poems for display throughout the school are as follows:
· I offer models on all different levels. Some students are reading Shel Silverstein; others are reading Robert Frost. Students naturally gravitate to the poems that speak to them at their skill and maturity level. Using student-produced poems from previous years from students who write at a variety of levels also helps students to find attainable models of expected work.
· Advanced and gifted students have the challenge opportunity of on-line publication and competition.
· Students with IEP’s receive ample classroom support to achieve attainable goals for reading and writing poetry.
Technology Link: Students use computers both in class and at home for the following purposes:
· Word Processing for preparing poems for publication.
· On-line references (e.g. rhyming dictionaries, thesauruses, dictionaries)
· On-line poetry contests
· Poetry websites that allow instant on-line publication
· Poetry Writing Rubrics are provided at the outset of the project, and periodically revised to meet specific instructional goals.
· Additional assessments are taken during the methods lessons, using rubrics generally based on students’ ability to identify literary devices in the poems they read, and use them in the poems they write. Focusing on the specific methods writers use not only aligns with the benchmarks in my curriculum, but produces measurable improvements in students’ writing.
· When teaching essay-writing, I incorporate the literary devices learned through poetry study into the essay-writing rubrics, requiring, for example, at least three metaphors and the use of hyperbole in a persuasive essay.