Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "Burning the Old Year" showed up in my inbox on January 2, 2017, thanks to the amazing poetry teaching resources from The Academy of American Poets, available here and searchable via #poetryclassroom. The email included some classroom activities, which are excellent for starting a new calendar year, but as all teachers are wont to do, I began thinking about how to modify or adapt the listing idea so that this poem could have relevance any time of the year.
Ultimately, the poem is about what things perish quickly -- "lists of vegetables, partial poems" -- and what lasts -- "so little is a stone."
In their notebooks, I have my students sketch a fire for one minute while thinking about what aspects of life survive the "orange swirling flames of days" and what aspects do not. Then we make two lists. What things do we quickly relinquish in life, and what do we manage to cling to, sometimes despite wishing to let go. What is "paper" in our life and what is "stone?"
These two lists can provide rich ideas for later writing topics, so students can nurture this seed into their own creative writing if they wish.
Also, don't miss Naomi Shihab Nye's excellent speech about teaching poetry:
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.