Room 136

adventures in teaching English & creative writing

Blackout Poets Week in Review

A lot of planning went into Blackout Poets week, and I give Lesley Mosher credit for coming up with the initial idea. It never would have crossed my mind to host a week of blackout poetry on Twitter and Instagram. It seems like such a daunting task! In 2014, it’s very possible, though, with two hard-working teachers, collaborating through the power of the Internet.

We began our work with a series of emails, which morphed into an ever-growing Google Document. Along the way, we dreamed big and tried to get Austin Kleon to host an #engchat Twitter chat on blackout poetry. Austin was gracious enough to respond to my email request, but he was in the midst of touring with his newest book and couldn’t make any promises. Fortunately, Lesley and I were offered the #engchat hosting gig for March 17, and we are grateful to Meenoo Rami for the opportunity to talk poetry with passionate educators. If you missed the chat, it’s available online in the #engchat archives.

Lesley and I spread the word of #blackoutpoets week through social media and our respective blogs, and we waited. Would students and teachers post? Would we end up featuring only our own students’ work?

As you saw throughout last week,  students and teachers of various grades and subjects turned into blackout poets. You can see the highlighted poets in these blog posts:

A big thank you to everyone who participated. Lesley and I have already agreed to host this week again next year. We hope if you participated this year that you’ll do so again in 2015. And in case you missed your chance, please join us next year.

The spring can get very busy, so if you’d rather do some blackout poetry earlier on in the year, that’s great. Just remember to share some of the poems during #blackoutpoets week. The tentative date is April 6-10, 2015. Until then, keep writing and reading!

Wednesday’s Blackout Poems

It’s the middle of the week, and we still have teachers and students sharing their blackout poems on Twitter. This special #blackoutpoets week is a project between Lesley Mosher and me. Check out her blog for Tuesday’s featured blackout poems. We’re taking turns selecting some standout poems. To participate, all you have to do is tag your post with #blackoutpoets on Twitter. We also suggested Instagram, but we haven’t had any takers yet.

blackoutpoetofthedayWithout further ado, our first poem today comes from the Hawthorne Village sixth grade class, @HAWPS6 on Twitter. This student created a poem about gratitude, and even used four different words to create the new word must. Good job!

You Must Be Honest poem

Our next poem is by high school student J. Hoffmann who goes by @Jhoffnn on Twitter. He mined a passage from Jon Krakauer‘s Into the Wild to create a poem about the power of opportunity along with its occasional perils. It reads: “the tenure of joy that begins A doorway is stitched over gaping holes.”

Hoffmann poem

Our teacher poem is by Tim Pollock (@Mr_Pollock), who used Cormac McCarthy’s modern classic The Road to create some ominous verse. The tone in the poem matches the tone in the overall passage, which sometimes happens in blackout poetry. I like how Tim showcased which page he used from the novel by not marking it out.

Pollock poem

Finally, I could not end this post without highlighting the tremendous bulletin board that @HAWPS6 put together of all the students’ blackout poems from today. Check out their Twitter account to see pictures of their students in action, composing their poems outside in the nice spring weather.

Hawthorne bulletin board

Monday’s Blackout Poems

It’s the first day of #blackout poets week on Twitter and Instagram. Lesley Mosher and I will be posting some standout poems each day from those who are participating. Today we’re featuring blackout poems from a middle school student, a high school student, and a teacher. Congrats to everyone!

blackoutpoetofthedayLeah, a student in Michael Billotti‘s class, is our middle school blackout poet of the day. Here’s her poem:

Billotti MS blackout

Our high school blackout poet comes from Jenn Wofle‘s classroom. The poem is based on Lois Lowry’s book The Giver.

wolfe HS blackout

Our teacher blackout poet is Joy Kirr, who even blogged about her process of creating the poem.

kirr teacher blackout

Wanted: Blackout Poets

Blackout Poetry Week
April 7-11, 2014
Use #blackoutpoets on Twitter and Instagram

blackout poets logo

Fellow teacher and poetry enthusiast Lesley Mosher and I  invite all educators, students, and authors to help celebrate poetry in the classroom by participating in a worldwide blackout poetry event on Twitter and Instagram. Remember to tag all your posts with #blackoutpoets. You can find more information about how cool blackout poetry is by reading blog posts by Lesley and me. We also created some special examples based on the literature for the grades we teach. Lesley created this poem from A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd.

Middle Grade Example

Lesley

I made a blackout poem from Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.

YA Example

Jason

We’d love for you and your students to create blackout poems from your favorite novels, newspaper articles, or any piece of writing lying around your home. Students from all over the world will be participating and sharing their love of words. See you on Twitter and Instagram!

Please contact @blackoutpoets, @lesleymosher, or me for more information.

Discussion Questions for #engchat

Tomorrow evening (Monday, March 17) Lesley Mosher and I will be co-hosting the Twitter #engchat on how to incorporate poetry into the English classroom. The chat is from 7-8 EST, and I hope you’ll join us. We’ve made a tentative outline for our discussion. We probably won’t follow it to a tee, but this gives you a general idea of where we’re headed. We’ve been plotting and planning for a while now, and we’re so grateful to Meeno Rami, the founder of #engchat, for this opportunity.

7:00-7:10   How do you invite poetry into your classroom?

7:10-7:18   What obstacles do you face with poetry in your classroom?

7:18-7:25   What do you teach with poetry? What could you teach with poetry?

7:25-7:40   What types of poetry activities have your students loved?

7:40-7:50   What resources have you used with success?

7:50-8:00   Blackout Poetry Week information

Blackout Poetry #engchat

The weekly #engchat Twitter discussion will focus on blackout poetry on Monday, March 17, from 7-8pm EST. I will be co-hosting the chat with my Twitter pal Lesley Mosher. We’ve been planning some blackout poetry events for a while now to take place in April, which is National Poetry Month. Austin Kleon, author of Newspaper Blackout as well as the books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!, has agreed to try to drop in for part of the #engchat. We’ll be discussing what blackout poetry is, how to use it in the classroom, and what successes we’ve had with it, among other topics. I hope you’ll make time to join us!

Weekly Poems for Spring 2014

After the December #titletalk chat on Twitter, I cemented my resolution to introduce more poetry into my Pre-AP English 2 classroom. I am going to modify my weekly schedule of how I start each class with a literacy activity. Instead of giving two book talks a week, I will now just give one on Tuesdays, and Thursdays will now be reserved for a weekly poem.

Looking back on the fall 2013 semester, I’m not happy with how much poetry I shared with my students. In late September we studied three poems all titled “Mockingbird” at the start of our To Kill a Mockingbird unit.  In the middle of October we studied “Miscegenation” by Natasha Trethewey as part of our examination of TKaM‘s Dolphus Raymond. In November we read “The Black Walnut Tree” by Mary Oliver as a model for an AP-style essay over “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke. Additionally, one of the ten required genres students read was a collection of poems. They had to find at least two poems they liked/understood and one poem they disliked/did not understand for our book chat. That’s quite a few poems, I suppose, when you count the poetry collections (if students got around to them), but I want to share more poems as a classroom community.

For spring 2014, students will get a weekly poem, which is something I can’t say for last semester. Most of the poems I selected are fairly easy to understand, but they do great things with figurative language and have a lot of heart. I can’t decide if I will just display them on the SmartBoard or if I will make copies for all students to have and annotate. Since I have some students also enrolled in my Creative 1 and 2 classes, I chose poems I have not used in those classes.

Without further ado, I present in order the 19 weekly poems of the 2014 spring semester in Pre-AP English 2:

I have around 275 poems saved in a folder on my laptop that I’ve collected over 9 years of teaching. Many of the poems from my list above come from The Writer’s Almanac, whose podcast I listen to regularly. You’ll notice that in general the list is in alphabetical order by poem title, which is how the poems are organized in my folder. I placed “It’s Raining in Love” around Valentine’s Day and “Shakespearean Sonnet” during the Julius Caesar unit. Otherwise, the poems don’t really tie to a particular time of year, at least intentionally.

Unintentionally, I selected 12 poems by men and only 7 by women. Perhaps I can help balance things out when I continue the weekly poem in the fall. I already have my eyes on Rita Dove’s “First Book,” Jill Osier’s “Requiem,” Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Torn Map,” and Lisel Mueller’s “Things.”

What about you? How do you use poetry in your classroom? Do you save it all up for April, National Poetry Month? Or do you, like me, try to pepper in poems throughout the year? Or do you avoid poetry altogether?

First Lines Writing Game

My parents have hosted dinner parties for as long as I can remember. Dad cleaned, Mom cooked, and my sister and I mainly stayed out of the way. Usually the families we invited over had children around the age of Lynn and me, so we kids entertained ourselves after dinner by playing outside or invading the play room. The adults usually just visited, but sometimes they played a game they called Dictionary, which you might know better as Balderdash. In Dictionary, one person flips through a dictionary and finds a word whose definition escapes everyone. That person copies down the actual meaning on a slip of paper while everyone else writes down a definition that will fool everyone. The more people you fool, the more points you get and win the game. Sometimes the game devolved into writing down humorous definitions instead. I observed this game, and  as I got older, I eventually got to play. I recall sometimes playing just with Mom, Dad, and Lynn.

Imagine my delight when I heard of a similar game but with first lines of novels. I’m a regular listener to the Book Riot podcast, which shares news about all things bookish in the world, including this First Lines game. The person who created this game focused mainly on genre fiction–romance, mystery, etc.–but I think almost anything could work.

Procedure

  1. Show participants the novel’s cover.
  2. Give participants the title of the novel.
  3. Give participants the summary of the novel from the jacket flap or back of the book.
  4. Have participants write down the best first line that fits with the title and summary while you write down the actual first line.
  5. Collect all the slips of paper and shuffle them. Read them aloud.
  6. Have participants vote for their favorite line. The participant with the most votes wins that round.

I decided to try the First Lines game with my Creative Writing 2 students. For the book, I chose The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon.

Summary from the back of the paperback:

The summer of 1985 changes Reggie’s life. An awkward thirteen-year-old, she finds herself mixed up with the school outcasts. That same summer, a serial killer called Neptune begins kidnapping women. He leaves their severed hands on the police department steps and, five days later, displays their bodies around town. Just when Reggie needs her mother, Vera, the most, Vera’s hand is found on the steps. But after five days, there’s no body and Neptune disappears.

Now, twenty-five years later, Reggie is a successful architect who has left her hometown and the horrific memories of that summer behind. But when she gets a call revealing that her mother has been found alive, Reggie must confront the ghosts of her past and find Neptune before he kills again.

First lines from my students:

  • Today is Mother’s Day. [This line was ultimately chosen as the winner.]
  • Reggie sat up quickly, hands shaking from the reoccurring nightmare of that day in 1985.
  • Summer of ’85 was hands-down the worst summer of my life.
  • It was the summer of 1985 that my mom’s hand appeared on the step.
  • I’d never smoked pot before the summer of ’85.
  • He had a hunger that only hands could satisfy.
  • I have a weird face.
  • I try to forget what happened so long ago.
  • Nothing could ever be so horrifyingly unforgettable as the sight of her mother’s severed hand.
  • It was a dark and stormy night, when suddenly, all hell broke loose.
  • What’s worse than a bee sting? Seeing your mom’s severed hand. This is my story.
  • Cereal [sic] killers, to your surprise, do not kill cereal; they kill people.
  • Ever since my childhood passed, life was great.
  • Where are my hands?
  • Ring! Ring! Reggie’s phone began to ring.
  • Just one call and the nightmares resurface as I remember the one I left behind.
  • I had hoped to forget these things, along with my mother.
  • I guess you could say things got a little out of hand that summer.
  • I’m a cold, sassy tree.

The actual first line: It began with the hands. [No one chose this line as the actual first line, so I fooled all my students.]

I think this game offers students an opportunity to study the elements of different genres. It can also generate interest in the book being used for the game. If you’re ever at a loss for what to do in your English class or need something for a light day when half the students are gone, give the First Lines Writing Game a try.

Mockingbird Poems

HANDOUT: Mockingbird poems

My Pre-AP English 2 students are almost finished with Part 1of To Kill a Mockingbird. Before we even read the first chapter, though, we worked with some poetry. Knowing that my students rarely have the enthusiasm for poetry that I do, we began with a discussion of our beliefs and experiences with poetry. The responses I recorded fell all along a spectrum of YAY! and BOO! I only have two sections of English this year. I think you’ll recognize some of your students in these honest responses. I sometimes paraphrased what the students said, but other times I recorded what they said verbatim.

2nd Hour

  • In 8th grade, we wrote poetry. We were given rhyming and syllable restrictions.
  • Don’t like reading old poetry (could barely understand vocabulary)
  • Sometimes we have to read too much into a poem (grass is green, sky is blue—What was the poet really thinking?)
  • Studying poetry felt required. The teacher wasn’t excited. It felt like the teacher didn’t really want to explain it because the students had little experience.
  • Overused: “What is the author thinking?” Should be more like “What do you think?”
  • Don’t like long poems
  • Reading poetry  > Writing poetry
  • Don’t exactly like analyzing. Vague. Seems like you have to make things up.
  • Don’t like poetry. Sucked at writing them. Not that deep for analyzing. Feel okay with comprehending.
  • When you try to analyze, you get counted off for trying. Feel like there’s only one answer that the teacher got from the book.

6th Hour

  • Poetry is great because it soothes the soul.
  • Don’t like poetry because it’s hard to understand
  • Kind of confusing, written in stanzas
  • Writing poetry can be easy because you can make it rhyme.
  • Like the symbolism of the poem: each word represents something
  • Format has imagery, lots of description
  • I don’t connect with poetry on a personal level with the poems I’ve read.
  • I’ve written poetry for Valentine’s gifts and they’ve all failed. One girl crumpled up the poem and threw it in trash.
  • Poetry can be interpreted in lots of ways. There’s more one right answer when it comes to analysis. We get counted wrong for our interpretations.
  • Our teacher in 8th grade taught us how to write different formats of poetry.
  • We did not really read or write poetry in 9th grade.
  • Don’t like slam poetry.
  • Don’t like rhyming poems. (Too Dr. Seussy / elementary)
  • Poetry is a challenge. You have to think.
  • We like to use rhyme when we write.
  • Sometimes old poems have difficult vocabulary and the focus becomes more on the words than the actual poem’s meaning.
  • Poetry seems old.

After our discussion about our beliefs and experiences with poetry, I told my students that they were going to read three poems, which all shared the same title. Before anyone could groan, I explained that the main goal was to simply read the poems and decided which one was their favorite and why. The focus would be comprehension and enjoyment (plus a little deeper thinking with rationalizing their choice). I encouraged students to read the poems aloud and to use the dictionaries on their smart phones if they encountered any words that stumped them. (Perhaps I should have provided some footnoted definitions for some of the words in Kay Ryan’s poem.) Since my students blazed through the poems quite quickly, I added another task of identifying a different poetic device in each poem.

My students read three poems, all titled “Mockingbird,” by Judith Harris, Carol V. Davis, and Kay Ryan, a nice connection to To Kill a Mockingbird. I like integrating poetry throughout the school year instead of saving it all for a huge unit during April, which is National Poetry Month.

Overwhelmingly the students selected the Davis poem as their favorite because it told a story. “But it’s so much longer than the other two!” I goaded my students. “But we understand it the best,” they countered. I explained that the Davis poem was the only narrative poem from the bunch.

The other two poems, which are more lyrical, were not chosen as favorites as often. The Harris poem was sometimes selected for its nice imagery and its concision. Kay Ryan’s poem, while very short, had the hardest vocabulary–distempered, pastiche, capriccios, dispatch, and brios–and was only selected by one group as being the favorite. They liked it because it was difficult. Remember, these are Pre-AP English 2 students.

Overall, I was pleased with this first activity with poetry for the school year. It was not intimidating, nor formulaic (TPCASTT, anyone?). How do you use poetry in your classroom? How do your students respond to poetry?

HANDOUT: Mockingbird poems

Tour my House through Books

Do you stash books throughout your house like me? I started thinking about all my book stacks in my condo and decided to make a video, showing off all my books and talking about some of them. I just used my iPhone to record, and I had a hard time getting the video to upload to YouTube. I wanted to use the highest quality setting, but it somehow ended up as a basic quality. Throughout the video, you’ll hear my phone alerts go off twice. I wish I had thought to silence my phone before I started recording. This video is in fact a second draft. My first recording was shakier than this one, and I walked into dark rooms, realizing I should have already turned the lights on.

I think I might use the Vine app tomorrow to show off which books my English students are reading. Vine is a lot easier to use than YouTube. I might use Instagram instead, since it now has a video option, and I can post Instagram to both Facebook and Twitter. Plus, you can record more seconds in Instagram.

Enjoy my book tour!

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