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adventures in teaching creative writing

Archive for the tag “poems”

Go Poems

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When I taught Pre-AP and on-level English 2, I devoted the start of each Thursday’s class to a poem. Nothing intimidating. Just some quick reading and discussion. Maybe a tiny bit of analysis. Once a nine weeks, I might invite students to imitate the poem through writing. Too many students (and teachers!) are intimidated by poetry, and I love discovering what poetry can do through only a couple of lines. I relied a lot on American Life in Poetry and The Writer’s Almanac for beautiful, accessible poems for my students.

My teacher buddy Brett Vogelsinger from Pennsylvania is a rock star. He starts every English class with a poem. He’s also currently in the midst of a special event blog, called Go Poems. Brett explains:

To celebrate National Poetry Month in April 2017, this event blog will present a poem and a “springboard” into a discussion, activity, or lesson plan each day.  These poems can be used at the beginning of class to essentially say “go!” to close reading, creativity, and critical thinking. Hence the title of this blog: Go Poems. 

Brett asked me to write a post for Go Poems. I ended up writing two. Today, Brett features my first post about a reversible poem by Brian Bilston called “Refugees.” Check it out!

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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?

Epiphany in Seventh Hour

In class today I introduced action verbs through two poems from the American Life in Poetry website. I chose “My Father’s Left Hand” and “Spitwads.” Both poems have some excellent action verbs like catapult and waggle. I read the poems aloud and had volunteers come up to the SmartBoard and circle some of the action verbs that stood out to them. Their classmates shouted suggestions (some of which were not always correct, but that allowed us to discuss the differences), and then we identified the strongest action verbs in each poem. We also addressed any words that weren’t verbs (and said why) and words that didn’t convey much action. For example, some students thought splat was an action verb in “Spitwads,” but it’s actually functioning as a noun. After we examined these two poems, I showed my students photographs and had them write a sentence about each photo that included at least one action verb. For students who wanted a challenge and wanted to show off their English swag*, I told them they could include two or more action verbs. To end class, they wrote a sentence on an index card as their ticket out the door and underlined the action verb in their sentence.

I have four sections of Pre-AP English II, and to entertain myself I sometimes change up the lesson in my later hours. In sixth hour, I asked all my students to act out the motions of the father’s hand in the first poem I read aloud. Each time I read a new action verb, their motions changed, which helped to emphasize the difference between a “blah, vanilla” verb and an action verb. In seventh hour, I decided to have a drama student stand in front of the class and act out the hand motions. One student suggested we turn off the lights for dramatic effect, but I thought we wouldn’t be able to see him. “I’ll help!” one student announced, and he shined his iPhone like a spotlight on the drama student’s hand. He did a terrific job, and afterward, I thanked him and told the class “to give him a hand.” We laughed at my unintentional pun and clapped for him.

All this to say, it wasn’t until seventh hour that a student (actually, it was the spotlight-er) thought to ask what the father’s right hand was doing. It hadn’t occurred to me until then that the father had probably had a stroke. He couldn’t move his right hand at all! That’s why his left hand did so many actions like flutter, flap, and fall. At the end of the poem, the father’s hand trembles “until it’s still,” indicating he has fallen asleep. One student in sixth hour interpreted this lack of motion as death, but I disagreed with him.

What do you think?

My Father’s Left Hand by David Bottoms

Sometimes my old man’s hand flutters over his knee, flaps
in crazy circles, and falls back to his leg.

Sometimes it leans for an hour on that bony ledge.

And sometimes when my old man tries to speak, his hand waggles
in the air, chasing a word, then perches again

on the bar of his walker or the arm of a chair.

Sometimes when evening closes down his window and rain
blackens into ice on the sill, it trembles like a sparrow in a storm.

Then full dark falls, and it trembles less, and less, until it’s still.

*I use the word swag not to sound cool, but to make my students dislike this annoying term. If their 30-year-old teacher says swag enough, maybe they’ll stop using it themselves. Ha!

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