Tuesday, March 20, 2018

2018 Poem #6 -- Our Many Worlds

by Rama Janamanchi

One of my favorite poems to teach is Joseph Legaspi’s “Amphibians.” It is a short poem which offers so many avenues for discussion and teaching that we often reference it as we go through our unit. The activity I am sharing below is one that I use when I introduce the poem.

We begin with reading the poem. Each student reads a line until punctuation indicates a significant stop (the period, the semi-colon, or colon). Then we read the poem again chorally. Once we are done with the choral reading, I ask them to list amphibians they know and picture those amphibians, their habitats, and whatever else they know about them.

The students then write down their own habitats: Where do you live? Then they list one activity they most closely identify with. Then we go into identity more broadly. Once they have listed about five or six words they use to identify themselves, we talk about similarities in the room. We begin with activity: all the basketball players stand together, all the gamers gather together and so on. Then they find them moving around the room and shifting groups based on race, hobbies, being the eldest, being adopted and so on. As they position themselves into different groups, they note the people with whom they share these groups.

Once the activity is done (about 7 minutes), we talk about Legaspi’s line: “Immigrants give birth to Americans.” Our many identities converge into the shared experience of the activity, of being students, of being learners. At the close of the activity, we read the poem again. I usually then ask them to reflect on the poem in their journals to give them more time with the poem.

Further Reading:

Rama Janamanchi teaches at a private high school for students with language-based learning differences. Twitter: @MsJanamanchi410

Monday, March 19, 2018

2018 Poem #5 -- Linking Old Poetry to New Research

by Brett Vogelsinger

poem "Rhapsody" is an early twentieth-century poem in the form that fits nearly everyone's preconception of what a poem ought to be. It is rich in rhythm and rhyme.  It also highlights a basic human need that feeds our emotional well-being: gratitude.

Share this poem, twice aloud, with the class.

by William Stanley Braithwaite

I am glad daylong for the gift of song
     For time and change and sorrow
For the sunset wings and the world-end things
     That hang on the edge of to-morrow
I am glad for my heart whose gates apart
      Are the entrance-place of wonders
Where dreams come in from the rush and din
      Like sheep from the rain and thunders.

What gratitudes here surprise you?
Why is it important to maintain gratitude even in the face of adversity?

Share this quote from a Forbes article, published in 2014:

 "Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma.  A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.  Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience."

It appears that contemporary science supports the theme of this classic poem!

Student can respond for a two-minute quick write in their Writer's Notebook: What is something you are grateful for in spite of adversities you may be facing right now.

Further Reading:

Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth-grade English teacher at Holicong Middle School in Bucks County, PA.  He is the faculty adviser for the school literary magazine, Sevenatenine.  Besides his annual blogging adventure on this site, he has published work on Nerdy Book Club, The New York Times Learning Network, and Edutopia.  Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman

Sunday, March 18, 2018

2018 Poem #4 -- The Sport of Writing Small

by Lauren Heimlich Foley

As my students preview the title of the poem "Baseball" written on the board, their murmuring echoes throughout our classroom, and curiosity lingers in the air. One student remarks, “A poem about baseball?" Disbelief paints his voice.

In preparation for the first reading, I invite my seventh-graders to notice the author's craft.  They mark up their pages as I recite Baseball by Bill Zavatsky.  Sharing their favorite lines, they highlight a variety of techniques including descriptive details, dialogue, figurative language, tone, and theme.  One recurring observation is mentioned in every class: the poem shows a single moment -- Bill catching the ball.  

After their initial reactions, I ask students to consider how they might use the poem as a mentor text: what words, phrases, sentences, or ideas will help them use precise details to reveal their own stories.  Once I reread the poem, students refer back to a list of personal memories they collected during a previous class period, select their best ideas, and write their own pieces. 

Roughly five minutes later, partners share their creations and reveal how "Baseball" has influenced them.  When student volunteers read their work to the class, they showcase an array of topics: competing at a swim meet, winning a soccer game, painting a canvas, honoring a beloved pet, and saying goodbye to a grandparent. 

I appreciate Bill Zavatsky’s poem because it immerses students in a relatable situation, challenges them to write about a specific moment, and encourages them to employ writing skills that convey their experiences. Whether their work remains an exercise or fuels a future writing piece, we can always return to “Baseball” for inspiration on how to write small.

Further Reading:

Lauren Heimlich Foley teaches seventh-grade English Language Arts at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

2018 Poem # 3 -- But There Is This

by Jeff Anderson

Poetry has the capacity to help us see what is common through new eyes.  Before reading the poem "You Can't Have It All" by Barbara Ras, I ask students, “Have you ever heard the expression, 'You Can’t Have It All'?" After gauging students' familiarity with this expression, I say, “Some say we’ve heard it often enough that it's a cliche, but I’m in love with the way Barbara Ras uses the well-worn expression in a fresh way, making it the opposite of cliche. Let me read it aloud to you, so you can observe how Barbara Ras uses the expression." (When reading this poem aloud, I generally remove the line about the skin between a man's legs without fanfare, though this is at the discretion of the teacher of course.)

“How does Barbara Ras make the cliche do work?” I ask the students after reading this poem.  In our discussion, I highlight that concrete, everyday experiences become worthy of our focus, our appreciation, our gratitude. 

“To me, poetry is meant to help us pay attention,” I say, " to focus on all the wonderful world and all it gives us. Writers pay attention to things that might note be noted or recorded on first glance. We look again at the simplest things, like the way Ras sees a clown hand in a fig leaf." 

We read the poem a second time, for poems are meant to be read at least twice.  This time our goal is to note what Ras feels she can have and start letting thoughts of what you can have in life begin to come to the surface “like the white foam that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot."

This opening can be extended into a full writer's workshop, wherein students write their own “You Can’t Have it All” poems, focusing on making the simple sublime. You can’t have it all. But there is this and this and this. Each poet has the unique capacity to see those things. I invite students to call out to others by giving them voice, by making poetry, stringing together words and experiences you—only you—care about. 

Further Reading: 

Jeff Anderson is a writer of middle grade fiction and a professional developer for teachers who has been sharing writing strategies with students and teachers for 25 years.  His books for teachers include Mechanically Inclined and Patterns of Power.  Learn more about his work at www.writeguy.net or on Twitter @writeguyjeff

Friday, March 16, 2018

2018 Poem #2 -- Expanding Our Definition of Poetry

by Brett Vogelsinger

Sometimes students appreciate opening up the definition of what makes a poem.

Grant Snider, creator of Incidental Comics and author of The Shape of Ideas, is a comic strip artist who explores the creative process in his work. Many of his pieces read like poems and might spark students to create their own.

I discuss these questions with my students: Is "Lightness" a poem?  Why or why not?  What is poetic about it?  How does it challenge or expand our definition of poetry? 

The opening line makes a quick, useful mentor text for Writer's Notebook practice in creating metaphor.  Students might complete the statements "I would most like to be a __________________."  If you have time for an entire lesson, completing a nine-frame comic extending that metaphor would also be a meaningful experience for your students. 

Further Reading:

Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth-grade English teacher at Holicong Middle School in Bucks County, PA.  He is the faculty adviser for the school literary magazine, Sevenatenine.  Besides his annual blogging adventure on this site, he has published work on Nerdy Book Club, The New York Times Learning Network, and Edutopia, and you can follow him on Twitter (@theVogelman).

Thursday, March 15, 2018

2018 Poem #1- What's It All About?

by Brett Vogelsinger

Some poems are so simple and beautiful that overthinking them, as English teachers are prone to do, can risk losing the potent, raw effect of the words.

I first discovered Nikki Giovanni's poem "Quilts" in her illustrated children's book I Am Loved.  I was next to my sons, reading them the book at bedtime, when the poem suddenly seized me, choked me up, sent chills down my spine.

To allow students to have this experience with poetry, it is sometimes necessary to minimize our intervention and discussion of the poems.  We must also unabashedly share our own unexpected emotional responses to a poem.  For me, it was the closing lines that move me the most:

        When I am frayed and strained and drizzled at the end
         Please someone cut a square and put me in a quilt
         That I might keep some child warm

        And some old person with no one else to talk to
        Will hear my whispers

        And cuddle

So when I share this poem with students, I tell them it is new to me, and the first time I read it, it almost made me cry in front of my sons.  I do not try to explain why this happened, just share that it happened, and that I hope they find a poem like this in their lives at some point, maybe even in the course of our class.

After hearing the poem twice, read aloud the first time by me and the second time by one of my students, I asked the class only one question: "What's this poem about?"

This simple but excellent question about poetry invites divergent thinking early in the class period.  In this case, students brought up that the poem is about aging, usefulness, love, timelessness, change, and comfort.  The question avoids killing the poem with over-analysis, and the student observations are varied.

Try this with "Quilts," or with a poem of your own choosing that speaks to your heart.

And welcome to our second year of Go Poems.  I hope you find some intriguing ideas for reading daily poetry in your classroom.

Further Reading:

Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth-grade English teacher at Holicong Middle School in Bucks County, PA.  He is the faculty adviser for the school literary magazine, Sevenatenine.  Besides his annual blogging adventure on this site, he has published work on Nerdy Book Club, The New York Times Learning Network, and Edutopia. Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


This year, explore thirty new poems, each with a suggested class activity, that you can bring to your classroom for National Poetry Month 2018.  Written by teachers and poets from around the country, the daily posts on Go Poems will help you discover poems that say "Go!" to learning, thinking, close reading, writing, and growth.  Subscribe now via email in the blog's sidebar to make sure you do not miss a single post. And thank you for all that you do to bring light and learning to your students each day.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Newspaper Blackout Poems -- A Bonus Post!

As a big "thank you" to all of our contributors this year -- fifteen teachers from around the country in all -- I'd like to close out this year's blog with a video demonstration from Austin Kleon, author of Newspaper Blackout and Steal Like an Artist, on how to create newspaper blackout poetry. If you have never done this before, your students will love it!

Would you like to be a writer for Go Poems next year?  Posts resume on March 15, 2018.  Read submission guidelines here.  It is not to early to start a draft!  Shoot me an email at bvogelsinger at gmaildotcom if you are interested in writing for the blog. Enjoy the rest of National Poetry Month, especially Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Further Reading: