Writing to a Historical Poet
In these activities, students continue to explore the voice of poets and then write an informal letter to a poet asking about how a poem was written. By Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, EdD
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
- Unit Plan:
- Write a letter to a poet whose voice speaks to them
- State why the poem spoke to them
- Ask questions about the poem and how it was written
- Write the letter with an opening, body, and conclusion
- Write using proper conventions
Whole Class Warm-up
Get students up on their feet and stand in a circle. Do the following whip-arounds one after the other. Start each cycle with the following prompts:
- Right now I feel… (using only a hand gesture)
- Right now I feel… (using only their voice with no words)
- Right now I feel… (using their gesture, voice, and descriptive words)
Repeat the cycles using as many of the following prompts as you can: “I see…,” “I hear…,” “I dream…,” “I imagine….”
Students sit down at their desks to write how they are feeling (or what they see, hear, dream or imagine) at this moment using only descriptive words. They should try to capture—in words only—some of what happened when they moved and verbalized. (This may be difficult, but they should try. It will get them somewhat closer to what poets have to do with the tools they have—the blank page, their internal voice, rhythm, and words.)
Ask your students to take out their notes from the Selecting Favorite Poems From Historical Poets lesson in which they responded to poets’ voices and discussed their choices. They will use these notes when they write draft letters to these poets.
- Ask students to look at their notes and find where they explain why this poet “spoke to them.”
- Ask them to jot down in their journal or on a piece of paper some questions they would like to ask their poet about how they wrote this poem.
- Ask students to turn and talk with a neighbor about the questions they want to ask, review the questions, and make suggestions on how to improve them.
- Ask the whole class for examples of great questions to ask in their letters. Write some of these on the board at the front of the room and discuss what makes a good question.
Whole Class Writing Activity
- Review the format for an informal letter, including date, greeting, and closing.
- Review what makes a good letter in their own voice: their opening idea, the body of the letter, which should contain several paragraphs with their ideas and evidence, and their concluding thoughts.
- Ask your students to write a draft letter to their chosen poet, telling him or her what in the poem spoke to them and asking questions relating to how the poet wrote this poem and how he or she writes others.
- If they do not finish this draft, they can continue to write for homework. Or if you prefer, they can do the entire draft as homework.
Peer Review: Mirroring Activity
When your students have finished writing their first drafts:
- Place your students in heterogeneous groups of three—or in their usual writing groups, if you do peer review regularly.
- Ask students in each group to exchange letters so they each have someone else’s letter.
- If necessary, remind your students how to give constructive criticism, citing positives first and then specifics on what can be improved.
- Ask one student to read aloud the letter she has to the other members of her group.
- After she reads it, ask her to tell the writer what she thought the letter said and what was confusing about the letter. Is the letter writer’s voice strong and clear? The reader should also make helpful comments about voice, format, and conventions.
- The writer should take notes and incorporate helpful comments, especially those about how the reader’s interpretation differed from the writer’s intent.
- Continue the process in each group until all three people have had their letters read back to them and they've recorded helpful comments.
This can be accomplished in class, as a combined in-class and homework activity, or as homework.
- Ask your students to rewrite their first drafts, paying attention to the comments they received from their peers.
- Students hand in their second drafts to you for questions and comments.