One of my favorite mentor-text poems to share with students is Judith Viorst’s titular poem from her anthology, If I Were In Charge of the World. While accessible to young readers, Viorst’s poem is layered with surprising, touching, and witty ideas about what she’d do if she "were in charge of the world.” In just two class periods, your students can write meaningful poems and create planet-inspired artwork for a beautiful bulletin board display, perfect for Back-to-School night or parent-teacher conferences.
I copy Viorst’s poem onto chart paper for a whole class shared reading experience, and we read and analyze the poem “If I Were In Charge of the World” several times together. After three or four readings, my students are ready for a nuanced conversation about the choices Viorst made as a poet. I call their attention to the juxtaposition between Viorst’s mundane and trivial ideas, “I’d cancel oatmeal,” sandwiched with more profound ideas, “You wouldn’t have lonely.” We also consider the ideas where we can “infer a story” behind the tidbits Viorst shares, “There’d be brighter nights lights, and healthier hamsters.”
After we thoroughly scrutinize Viorst’s piece through the lenses of readers and writers, we write a class version of the poem on chart paper, combining ideas we brainstorm together as a class. I guide the students through their decisions about line breaks, and we discuss the power of specificity in word choice. I’ll say something like, “Wouldn’t it be so much more interesting if we wrote ‘There’d be no mint gum stuck to sneaker soles,’ rather than ‘There’d be no dirty shoes?'” I find that the more thinking aloud that goes into crafting the shared poem, the better the students’ individual efforts come out.
At this point, my students are bubbling over with the ideas that they didn’t get to include in the class poem, so I set them loose to write their own poems. I generally don’t provide a template — I want their poems to take on some of their own character and voice beyond mirroring Viorst’s model. In Rowan’s poem, pictured below, he decided to extend Viorst's idea to what he’d do if he were a “Guardian of the Galaxy.”
While I celebrate these departures from the model, some struggling writers benefit from the support of a template. I offer this basic template to provide a point of entry for all learners.
This is the part that really launches this project from a great everyday lesson to a stellar bulletin board display. (Yep, the space puns keep coming — I just can’t help myself!) Marker-ink sponge stamping is a quicker, less messy option than traditional sponge painting to create beautiful, abstract planets. Watch the video below for a quick tutorial on the art project.
12”x18” white paper, with large circles traced onto the paper for planet outlines
5-6 kitchen sponges, cut into small bits
markers (washable are great)
In two periods or less, you’ll have a colorful, artistic poetry display that parents absolutely love! They have an amazing time reading about what their children and their classmates would do as kings and queens of the world. I love reading these poems too — the ideas are often very honest and telling about who my students are as people.
Don’t forget to include a cheesy pun or two in the bulletin board display title! Third graders love puns . . . phew!
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