During a summer graduate class, I found myself re-inspired while participating in a poetry lesson modeled after Nancie Atwell’s writing-reading workshop. That afternoon, I dusted off Naming the World, making a promise to include more poetry the following school year.
Weeks later, I started a September class period with a poem by Ronald Wallace. To engage my students, I projected “You Can’t Write a Poem about McDonald’s” on the board and asked them what they thought.
Some groups, wanting to disprove the statement, created their own poems. Other tables believed McDonald’s was not an appropriate topic for a poem or would not make a strong writing piece. Still, others wondered if the clause was in fact a poem since quotation marks flanked both sides of it.
Once table groups shared their theories, I revealed that “You Can’t Write a Poem about McDonald’s” was indeed a poem. Students exclaimed phrases such as, “No way!” or “I told you so!” or “Really?” Intrigued by their enthusiasm, I wondered what their responses would be to the actual text.
After reading the poem and inviting students to share their highlighted lines, our room erupted with meaningful conversations. My nervous-unsure-second-week-of-school seventh graders transformed into investigators and analyzers. As I moved between groups, listening in on their discussions and asking questions to push their thoughts further, their commentary on diction, personification, imagery, similes, and symbolism led to dialogues on larger issues of consumerism, waste, world hunger, food accessibility, and the fast-food industry.
Additionally, we revisited “You Can’t Write a Poem about McDonald’s” during a later class period to discuss effective titles since my students’ initial reactions were so intense.
This poem’s ability to challenge my students’ beliefs of acceptable poetry topics while inviting them to take a platform through their own writing has made it one of my favorites.
Lauren Heimlich Foley teaches seventh-grade English Language Arts at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA.