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March 20, 2015 Celebrating National Poetry Month By Rhonda Stewart
Grades 6–8

    Finally spring is arriving! April is known for several events such as April Fool’s Day, Earth Day, World Health Day, Take Your Child to Work Day, and National Poetry Month, just to name a few. Recently I was introduced to the Dear Poet project and it could not have come at a more opportune time. What a great way to reintroduce poetry to my students and celebrate National Poetry Month!

    The Dear Poet project is the brainchild of the Academy of American Poets. In a nutshell, students watch videos of various poets reading and discussing their poems. After viewing the videos, students have the opportunity to write the poets to express their thoughts, ideas, or ask any questions they may have about the poems.

    The Academy of American Poets provides lesson plans as a resource for teachers to use. The lesson plans are extremely thorough and detailed. As excited as I was to have access to these plans, I realized that I would have to modify them to fit into the curriculum that I am required to teach. So using their plans as a baseline, I was able to make adjustments. Bottom line, my students get exposed to another genre and the experience of “close reading” a text for deeper meaning.

     

    Dear Poet Project Poems

    "One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

     

    “I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes

     

    “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks

     

    “Unity” by Pablo Neruda

     

    Using the Activities

    There are several pre-activities (remember I did say that the lesson plans were detailed and thorough). I made the decision to begin with an activity that focused on the idea of voice. Students were asked to respond to prompt: "What comes to mind when the term voice is used in writing?" They were given a sticky note where they could write their responses. I had to reassure them that I was only interested in what they were thinking and that there were no wrong answers. Once they were convinced of this, they relaxed and let their ideas flow. We discussed the power of voice in writing.

     

     

     

     

    After discussing voice, I informed my students that they would be reading four different poems, after which I would want their impressions. I let them know that these poems were geared at middle and high school students, and for them to really give them some thought. Once my students heard this, they were eager to begin (I think they were excited to be given “more advanced” literature).

    The reading was presented as a carousel activity. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, it just means that the work is placed around the room, and students rotate (at a signal I give) as they respond to the assignment. Lately, I have included music during writing workshop to support my students' creative juices, and decided that I would include music in this activity as well.

    Each student had one piece of paper divided into fourths. They were to write the title of the poem and their response to it in each section. I was so proud of them. They took to this assignment the way a duck takes to water. Here’s a quick peek of them working on their responses. So serious about their work!

    Upon completing the carousel activity, we had just enough time to reflect on what was done in class. Last week I focused on using exit tickets as a way of assessing learning in the classroom, and for this lesson, I used the "parking lot." After reading the thoughts my students put to paper, I realized that I must continue to keep my lessons fresh. This is not always easy to do, but it gives me food for thought.

     

     

     

    As we go through the month of April, we will try out some other poetry lessons in class. We'll even try our hand at responding to the Dear Poet project and maybe share some of our work.

     

     Pearls of Wisdom Think of creative ways to set the mood for students to write. Play music, dim the lighting, or even change rooms. Who knows, you just might set the right conditions for the writers in your room to blossom! 

    Any ideas for writing poetry that work with your students, please share. I enjoy sharing ideas that make all of our lives easier!

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Susan Cheyney

GRADES: 1-2