Friday, March 31, 2017

Go Poem #17 -- A Wordsplashed Poem

by Brett Vogelsinger

I use this image, created on Wordle, to project a wordcloud of the language from the poem "Turtle" by Kay Ryan onto the screen. Students predict what today's poem will be about. Sometimes I even tell them that the title is hidden in the word cloud. 

Naturally, as in most poems, some of these words have figurative meaning.  After reading the poem twice, we discuss which nouns are used literally and which are used figuratively.  What does the use of these figurative nouns add to the poem?  Why use figurative language as a writer?  What does it add to the experience of readers?

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Further Reading:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Go Poem #16 -- Imaginings Begin With "If"

by Jason Stephenson

Sometimes I like to ask one of my students to read our poem aloud, but I always make sure to read "If I Were A Dog" by Richard Shelton aloud to my class. It takes some practice to know how to deliver the lines because, as most students will notice, there are no commas or periods. The only form of punctuation is the apostrophe. We might discuss that -- the lack of punctuation and its effect of creating a doglike speaker whose thoughts run together.

Actually, according to the second stanza of the poem, the speaker is a human, only imagining if he or she were a dog. The speaker uses the subjunctive to imagine a different reality. As a class, we might discuss what is "doglike" about the poem. Possible answers include the master, the stick, the licking, the peeing, the fetching. Usually, though, I let students drive most of the discussion: What did they notice about the poem? What do they have questions about?

We don’t always respond to a poem by writing, but “If I Were a Dog” cries out for imitation. I ask students to take the title and replace Dog with something else: “If I Were a __________.” In the past, students have chosen to write about cabbages, teachers, and even the opposite gender. (Think “If I Were a Boy” by BeyoncĂ©) Here’s a fine example from one of my students.

If I Were a Dollar
I would be lost from wallets
and pockets
left on the street
until I was found by a young man
looking to buy a pack of gum
or some Altoids
then I’d be given as change
to begin the adventure again
but since I’m not a dollar
I stay within the same
routine every day
never getting to see
the world
If I were a dollar
I’d be given as a gift
or a tip
or maybe made
into a crane
or maybe I’d be dropped
into a drainage hole
lost in the sewer forever
but even still
I’d be on an adventure
if I were a dollar.

--Jared C.

Jason Stephenson teaches creative writing at Deer Creek High School in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Further Reading:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Go Poem #15 -- "All Nouns and Verbs"

by Brett Vogelsinger

One of my favorite (and perhaps the truest) quotes about poetry is from Marianne Moore and serves as the title of today's post.  "Poetry is all nouns and verbs."  Pick your favorite poem and look at it closely.  Your favorite words, the pieces that really make it tick, will be the nouns and verbs.

Many students know the poem "dog" by Valerie Worth when they come to me because it was memorably used in the short novel Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. My students have frequently read this book in late elementary school.  Now we examine it in a different way. 

After the first read, I ask them to count how many verbs they can find.  Following this initial census, I have the kids start calling them out while I circle the verbs on the screen.  Instead of giving the poem our customary second reading, this time I only read the title and the verbs.

Does the poem still work? Can you still get a similar picture, even if we use just the title and a list of verbs?  Why is this?  What makes action verbs so powerful for vivid writing?  Sometimes students associate adjectives with helping the reader see something in their writing.  Why can verbs be just as effective, if not more so, in helping readers visualize a scene? 

What I love about this activity (beside the brevity and straightforwardness) is that it blends in a review of parts of speech and provides a skill that can be extended to any genre, for essays and short stories are just as improvable as a poem is when the writer gives full attention to the verbs during revision.

While this activity focuses on verbs, consider using Jeff Anderson's idea, published previously on this blog, to focus on the power of nouns.  

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Go Poem #14 -- Mythological Allusion

by Elizabeth Howlett

Students read the poem "Demeter’s Prayer to Hades" by Rita Dove silently as it is projected on the screen. Every time I present a poem to my students I explain that poetry is written to be heard, that the ear may pick up on what the eyes do not. Therefore, the second read is my vocal interpretation of this poem’s tone and fervor. Whether you do or do not know the story of Demeter, how does the speaker’s tone strike you?

As a poem about mythology, the first quest is to ferret out all of the mythological allusions. Who are Demeter and Hades? What is the nature of their relationship? Consider presentation of the myth as a paired text.

What if we take the mythology out of it? Is this not a mortal scenario?

If someone has wronged us, don’t we wish that they could have “knowledge” of the impact they have had?

Still, the poem does speak of both gods and mortals. Being a deity in mythology does not mean you are without flaws, and worshipping the gods means believing in those who are subject to the
weaknesses of man.

What are the consequences for anyone who attempts to “play god?"

This poem invites rich discussion and deep thinking about our own lives and the power of allusion.

Elizabeth Howlett is a seventh grade ELA teacher in San Antonio, Texas.

Further Reading

Monday, March 27, 2017

Go Poem #13-- Poster Poem

by Rose Birkhead

Through the school year, I use the Three Big Questions found in Reading Nonfiction - Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. (What surprised me?  What did the author think I know that I do not know? What challenged, or confirmed my thinking?

I use the "Poster" strategy that Kylene Beers mentions in her book, Nonfiction Notice and Note as we read "1975: Year of the Cat" an excerpt from the book Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai.  I focus on using the question "What does the author think I know that I do not know?"

First, I read aloud the poem to the students. At table groups, I have a copy of the poem in the center of large chart paper. Each student is given a different color marker. Without speaking, students underline and write notes about the poem, noting what the author thinks we know that we don’t know. All notes are written directly on the chart paper. Students are allowed to draw, write, and underline. I also walk around the room with my own color marker. I also do not talk, but try to push the paper conversation along by using words, pictures and phrases on each groups’ posters. Beers suggests giving ten minutes to students, but my students tend to only be able to focus on the activity for about five. I find this activity to be beneficial for my quieter students. Taking away voice allows all students to have more of a voice.

Once the five-minute vow of silence is over, I encourage each group of students to converse about the notes written about the poem. Together, students create questions about what they wonder. I post the charts around the room, to remind us about the powerful use of our written words. I also use this activity to begin our read aloud of the book, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai.

Rose Birkhead is a Reading Specialist at Holland Middle School in Warminster, PA. She teaches 7th and 8th grade literacy classes and  strives to create a positive learning environment where her students feel successful on a daily basis.

Further Reading:


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Go Poem #12 -- Advertising With Poetry

by Brett Vogelsinger

Today's post offers two poems for the price of one.  Both are in video format, for the poems have been adopted by companies in hopes of making their brand appeal to the hearts and minds of customers.

First, we have Charles Bukowski poem "The Laughing Heart" found in a Levi's commercial.

Second, we have Maya Angelou's "The Human Family" found in an iPhone commercial.

Using one or both of these poems, discuss these questions as a class:

What does the company seek to communicate about their brand using this poem?  What associations do they want you, the audience, to make with Levis or Apple?  What connotations are they developing for their brand? 

What are your thoughts on using poetry for the purpose of advertising? Does it devalue the poem that someone besides the author is using it to make money?  Or does it bring poetry, framed professionally with images and music, to a vast audience, making poetry more approachable?

It may be worth noting that both of these commercials were produced after the death of the poets who wrote the poems, so someone other than the original poet had to give permission to use the poem in this manner.  If you were responsible for the copyright of a famous poet's work, what questions would you ask before granting permission to use the poet's work in a television commercial?

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Further Reading:

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Go Poem #11 -- Experiencing a Poem

by Pernille Ripp

My classes read the poem “Hugging Jose” by Jason Reynolds because they love the work of Jason Reynolds, and also because it shows poetry from a different standpoint.  Not the traditionally viewed version of poetry, but instead one that is written to evoke emotion and help students connect to the form of poetry.

I read it aloud while the students follow along and then in small groups I have them discuss the following questions:

Who is the person writing it?
Who is he writing it for and why?
How can you relate to this poem?
How do you feel after reading this poem?

A big part of our focus whenever we discuss poetry is looking at how language is used to evoke emotions and so we do not analyze poetry in the traditional sense, but instead reflect on what mood we are in as readers after experiencing a poem.  Which words are powerful to us and why?  The answers vary from group to group, and I think this is so important to emphasize with the kids; there is no right answer but instead answers based on our experience.  

I wrap the lesson up by asking about the end message -- the final two lines of the poem -- what does Jason Reynolds want us to walk away with?  This poem speaks to many of my kids, not all, but I think it offers a way to show them that poetry might be more raw than they assume.

Pernille Ripp is a seventh-grade language arts teacher from Madison, WI. Follow her work on Twitter: @pernilleripp

Further Reading:

Friday, March 24, 2017

Go Poem #10 -- Rhythm That Runs Downhill

by Michelle Ambrosini

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will be the gladdest thing  
   Under the sun!  
I will touch a hundred flowers  
   And not pick one.  
I will look at cliffs and clouds
   With quiet eyes,  
Watch the wind bow down the grass,  
   And the grass rise.  
And when lights begin to show  
   Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,  
   And then start down!

I project the poem onto the board, and first each student reads the poem independently.  Next, I ask students to notice what word or phrase stands out to them as I read the poem aloud.  

Students turn and talk to their table partners and share their standout words or phrases and explain their reasoning:  “Why did that word or phrase stand out to you?” I ask.

Students volunteer their standout words or phrases, which I underline on the board.  Their responses typically include “hundred flowers,” “cliffs and clouds,” “quiet eyes,” “grass rise,” and “lights begin to show.” The reasoning most students share for these words or phrases is these simple images are ones that they can easily visualize.  

We discuss how the writer does NOT describe each image with an abundance of figurative language.  I ask students to think about how the poet creates the sensation of standing at the top of the hill without this abundance of imagery.  

Now I re-read the poem aloud, asking students to notice the sound of the poem. Students typically begin by noting the rhyme pattern (2nd and 4th lines of each stanza).  

Students notice the poet’s use of repetition of “I will.” Repetition or pattern is a style choice that we have discussed throughout the year, specifically how writers can create rhythm through repetition as well as rhyme.  Students comment on the poet’s pattern in each stanza (longer line of 7 or more syllables, shorter line of 4 syllables).  We discuss how this pattern, too, creates rhythm.  

I then read the poem aloud a final time, asking students to close their eyes and to visualize themselves at the top of a hill.  When I finish reading aloud, I ask the students to share what happened in their visualization when they “started down!” Most comment that they run or roll down the hill at a fast pace.  I note that the poet created a rhythm using rhyme, repetition, and punctuation (students notice the exclamation points too) that propels them forward down the hill.  

Michelle Ambrosini teaches seventh-grade English at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA.  

Further Reading

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Go Poem #9 -- Name That Title

by Drew Sterner 

My class reads the poem "My Father's Tie Rack" by Joan Larkin twice -- once aloud and the second time silently -- to enhance understanding. I share the poem on the screen up front without the title. Students write down a guess for what the title may be in their writer's notebook. They identify one or two lines from the poem that they have used as clues for the title they have written down.

My students gather in their base groups to share their ideas and then vote on the one they agree is worth sharing out to the whole class. After each base group shares out their title and rationale with the whole class, I reveal the actual title.

Further discussion can ensue with students identifying lines/words from the poem that clearly point to the actual title. Discussion may reveal that this poem appears to be someone going through the remnants of a recently deceased father’s closet and imagining the memories attached to the variety of ties he owned.
Other details that can be explored if time allows include the following:
  •  Examining the use of fragments and word economy to create powerful images and suggestions. This is something that we often connect back to our style notes for narrative and other types of writing in our writer’s notebook. Students can create their own fragments in similar style for clothes that they are fond of wearing from these mentor text examples.
  • Analyzing how the author personifies the ties as memories.
  • Dealing with specific phrases like “the hole,” which implies the burial of the father or “Vishnu’s skin,” which is a reference to a Hindu god, often depicted with sky-blue skin, which symbolizes his formless and infinite power.
Students typically enjoy the use of powerful fragments found in the poem that personify the ties as possible memories in the father’s life.

Drew Sterner is a Middle School ELA teacher in Central Bucks School District. 

Further Reading

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Go Poem #8 -- A Poem in Two Languages

by Brett Vogelsinger

I must confess, I am a little partial to the poem "Revenge" by Taha Muhammad Ali because I was present for its English-language debut at the Dodge Poetry Festival in 2006.  To hear a poem spoken first in Arabic, meaningless to a primarily English-speaking audience, reminded me first of the marvels of language; what is without meaning to one person is deeply, profoundly impactful to another.  And when I heard this poem repeated, the second time in English, the power of Ali's words brought the entire audience to our feet, for here was a poem entitled "Revenge," crafted in one of the most conflict-striken regions of the world, that is actually about the power of choosing peace.

If you choose to share this entire video of the poem with your students, it will take a little more time than some of our Go Poem activities, but I think you will find it to be worth it.  I share photocopies of the poem with my students, turned face-down until after the video has finished playing.

Part of what makes this poem so impactful is its structure.  What we may refer to as a "plot twist" in a novel or a movie we refer to as a "turn" in a poem.  Where does this poem take a surprising turn?  What is the nature of that turn?  By surprising us with these unforeseen turns, what do you think the poet wants us to leave the poem thinking about, wondering about, or believing?  (That last question digs at the question of theme, but isn't it so much more interesting than asking "What is the theme of this poem?")

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

Further Reading

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Go Poem #7 -- Taking Poetry to the Court

by Tracy Enos

Whenever I bring a piece of writing to a class, I always ask the same two questions: What do you notice? What stands out to you?  With poetry, it’s helpful to read the poem twice.  The first time it sinks in.  The second, you read with your pen, circling, underlining, jotting notes, taking notice.

I teach 13-year-olds, so sometimes what stands out to them surprises me.  Their honesty and innocence helps me to see the unexpected detail.  With the poem “Fast Break”  by Edward Hirsch, in addition to our faithful and true, “What do you notice?”  I also ask them, “What is going on here?”  One of the first things they notice is that the poem is all one sentence.  One action-packed, detail-rich, glorious sentence.  Then we discuss what’s happening.

This poem is a beautiful example of showing action.  Poems about sports are usually goldmines to 8th graders, but it’s the visual action of this poem that makes it even more appealing and brings it to life.

“The shot that kisses the rim,” “the gangly starting center,” “orange leather,” and “the lay-up against the glass” -- these are images my kids know.  Hirsch has created snapshots of common territory in the world of a teenager with the power of language.  We talk about the action, maybe even acting out the descriptions, if your class is dramatic.

If there is time, we draw our own images to reflect the “camera” on the poem.  This leads to yet another wonderful conversation about the need for writers to paint pictures in their reader’s head.  Hirsch does that so well.

If we are in an imitation mood, having the kids try to write their own action filled event is always a good time.  Maybe a scene at a skate park, a football game, concert, lunchroom, or even a video game.  Trying to, “legally,”  keep the poem one sentence is both an exercise in creativity and grammatical power.

The poem is also fun to compare and contrast with Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat”.  Thayer’s poem is exploded into many stanzas and the action is slowed down to create suspense.  Thematically, it’s also fun to explore the difference between Casey’s one man show and Fast Break’s team effort.  

Ultimately, students enjoy the quick action and realize that poetry doesn’t have to describe ethereal  philosophical issues or feel like a guessing game.  It can be as comfortable as a basketball and as familiar as the sound of a swish through a net.  

Tracy Enos is in her 8th year of teaching English in West Warwick, Rhode Island, where she has the pleasure of learning with and from amazing 8th graders every day at Deering Middle School. 

Further Reading