I love teaching writing. Let me be more specific. I loved teaching writing except when it came to poetry. For some reason, I’ve always managed to bring to life the other writing formats and genres with engaging lessons set upon a backdrop of real world contexts. The students, for the most part, ate it all up and asked for more. That is, until I mentioned we would be exploring poetry. The good times would come to a screeching halt as their faces reflected what I had also thought of poetry as an elementary student: boring and challenging to understand (how did I know what so-and-so meant by this-and-that?…and who cares?). So of course, with my determined and stubborn personality, in the past few years I’ve focused on learning how to breathe life into this wonderful writing genre. It hasn’t always been an ocean of roses but, for the most part, the exploration has led us to a whole new level of appreciation and learning.
We have just completed our poetry unit (which will continue informally throughout the year) and I can honestly say that the class thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d like to share with you a few of the activities and resources that made the experience engaging, meaningful, and memorable.
If you haven’t already done so, I strongly encourage you to purchase Classroom Events Through Poetry by Larry Swartz (just purchase any of his books on poetry and drama and you’ll be well on your way to an incredible teaching/learning experience). It’s a practical and concise book that provides easy and meaningful activities to explore poetry in our classroom and our lives. We started by looking at poetry in books, researching it on the internet, and sharing it with each other in daily poetry circles. We created newspaper poems by cutting out words and phrases and ordering them to try and create a themed poem. We took 2-4 sentences from a favourite poem and created a graffiti wall on our classroom door (the students thought this was very cool!). We acted out poetry, sang poetry, and shared the lyrics of our favourite songs after listening to them together. We learned about different structures by having groups of students become “specialists” as they taught the class the structure, gave examples, and had everyone try to create their own.
The culminating task involved creating a poem in the structure of their choice and presenting it at our Poet’s Cocktail Party! This was no ordinary party! Invitations were sent out, the poems were displayed all around the classroom, students dressed up, and food was ordered (grapes, cheese, crackers, cupcakes, and grape juice in place of red wine). As jazz music played, students mingled by reading each others’ poems and discussing their thoughts and opinions. A few students shared their poems and we snapped our fingers in appreciation of their work (yes, we snapped fingers, not clapped because that’s apparently what poets do).
A few students decided that they wanted to enter the Urban Voices poetry contest and their poems have been sent off. How special would it be to have a winner come from our class! Keeping our fingers crossed.