Poetry Workshop: Free-Verse Winter Poems
Celebrate the winter season and Black History Month with a frosty gem by acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
Warm kids' souls this winter with rich offerings from African-American writers, especially from acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni. This remarkable woman has more than a dozen collections of adult and children's poetry to her credit. Her distinctive writing style is hailed for being immediate, gorgeous, original, honest, powerful, playful, and exhilarating—and her ebullient “Winter Poem” is no exception.
Boost fluency by rereading the poem chorally. Then work together to retell its “story” in simple language, such as: A snowflake fell on a girl and she loved it. Then a bunch of snowflakes fell on her and she squeezed them. They melted and turned into rain and the rain turned her into a flower. Ask: Did the snowflake really call its cousins? Did the girl really turn into a flower? Some children may believe these things indeed happened, while others will think that they only occurred in the narrator's imagination. Explain that poetry is always open to interpretation and there are no right or wrong answers. In this way, all readers bring their own creativity to any poem they encounter.
Next, hold the magnifying glass up to Nikki's work. Explain that she wrote “Winter Poem” in a form called free verse. Free verse, as the name implies, means that the author “freely” writes without adhering to any rhythm or rhyme scheme. Can children find another way Nikki played by her own set of rules? (The poem contains no capital letters or punctuation!) Point out, too, that the whole story unfolds in a single sentence. This convention has the effect of moving the action along quickly and, in so doing, freezing one magical moment in time.
Finally, reinforce the concept of point of view by asking, Who's the speaker of “Winter Poem”? Explain that Nikki put herself in the shoes of a little girl narrator and wrote it from her point of view, using the “I” voice. This is called first-person narrative. To highlight the difference between first person and third person, work with students to rewrite the poem in third person. How is the new version different? Which does the class prefer?
Liza Charlesworth is a poet and the author of several books for children and teachers including 100 Awesome Writing Activities to Use With Any Book (Scholastic, 2001). This article was originally published in the January/February 2005 issue of Instructor.