Though we are all sort of burning the midnight oil by this time of year, I thoroughly enjoyed my Friday at the end of a jam-packed week. I thought I’d share this poetry lesson, which has gone well every single time I’ve done it, in every class, for several years—and with middle school students, that’s rare 🙂 The materials are provided below.
We’ve been studying poetry, paying lots of attention to rhythm, line breaks, punctuation, mood, and figurative language. Students had written and shared some of their own poetry but it was time to give them more opportunities to generate their own poetry, and at the ripe date of May 27 with seventh graders, it was time for multiple modalities.
I created six stations at tables. Each station has directions and materials on it. At each station, students are required to read the directions, explore the materials, and attempt to write a poem. The goal is really just to get some lines and ideas from each station. At the end of the day, they choose their favorite exercise(s) to work into a full-length poem or poems.
The stations are as follows:
Station 1: Picture Poetry
This station is filled with interesting images. I have a set of postcards with Keith Haring’s work (postcard collections are great for this). I have a set of large prints of Chris Van Allsberg’s art, a book of photography, a book with photos of military jets, etc. Students must choose an image as an inspiration for a poem.
Station 2: Listening Poetry
This station has laptops that are loaded with a folder of eight instrumental songs from diverse genres and all over the world. I include jazz, classical, drum and bass, Led Zeppelin, klezmer, hip hop scratching, choir music, Fela Kuti, etc. Students explore the music, listening with headphones, and choose a piece to use as inspiration for poetry.
Station 3: Objects Poetry
This station has interesting, diverse, and curious objects. Today these included a jar of India ink, a squishy rubber buffalo, a Mexican Day of the Dead miniature diorama, a lock with a key, a worn cloth bracelet, etc. Students must choose an object to observe and explore kinesthetically, then use as the inspiration for a poem.
Station 4: Stole Lines Poetry
This station has a bin full of poetry books. Students must peruse the books, reading through a few poems. Then they choose one line from a poem to “steal” and use as the first line to their own poem. They can use the mood of the original as inspiration or not. (Students used their own judgment about whether to put quotations around the line and cite the poet, depending on the nature of the line. In some cases the lines are so innocuous as not to need it; i.e., “My father always said.”)
Station 5: Letter Poems
In this station, students are given an example of a poem that is written as a letter. It begins, “Dear tomorrow…” They must choose a person, object, animal, or idea to which they will address their own letter poem, and then write their poem.
Station 6: Cinquains
Students had already learned about the American form of poetry invented by Brooklyn poet Adelaide Crapsey in 1871, called the cinquain. It has five lines and they follow the particular syllabic pattern of 2,4,6,8,2. Students write cinquains at this station. I have a box full of possible “first lines” with two syllables (for example, “listen” or “If I” or “gray shark”). Students may pick these out of the box if they want.
Students rotate through the stations in their table groups (approximately four students per group). I have found that about seven minutes is an ideal time to spend at each station. It is always interesting to see how students respond to different modalities. All students seem to enjoy the day, and many students who resist writing poetry are finally inspired to experiment with language and their thoughts on the page. Students who are avid poets, but who get stuck in the same type of writing every time, usually get some fresh ideas. It is also a great lead-in to revisions of poems.
Attached below are the printed materials I used today.
First, a packet which I printed double-sided and double-stapled so it opens like a booklet. It begins with some general directions for the day and is formatted for them to write everything inside. If your students have special poetry notebooks to write in, there is no need for something like this. Also attached are the directions I used for each table, designed by me and my co-teacher (learning specialist) Daniel Brink-Washington. (Note: not presented in the order listed above.) I put several copies of directions printed on colored paper on each table in transparent binder sleeves.
If you try this activity or already do something like it, please share about it!
[Image credits: Keith Haring piece – blogs.hightechhigh.org; headphones – goodhousekeeping.com; inkwell – superstock.com; letters – aldispainters.blogspot.com]