How do you ignite in your students a love for words? From basic interpersonal skills (BICS) to cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP), students feel empowered when they can recognize/recall/distinguish/apply the right word for the right context. (Maybe we all do.) I came across a few resources this week I think just might help promote discussions around the power of words:
Newspaper Blackout Poetry – This is a new genre for me: newspaper + marker = poetry. “Instead of starting with a blank page, poet Austin Kleon grabs a newspaper and a permanent marker and eliminates the words he doesn’t need. —NPR’s Morning Edition
Update #1 -A year ago the New York Times Learning Network titled its poetry page as 11 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month. They too have done some updating! This year you’ll find double the number of activities listed on their Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month with the NY Times.
Update #3 – National Writing Project – If you’re looking for links sure to inspire, encourage, and support you in your efforts to nurture a love for poetry in your students, the NWP’s National Poetry page will not disappoint you. Their continually expanding resources include categories that range from Spotlight Poetry Programs for Teachers to Teachers as Poets, Poets as Teacher. It’s the voices of teachers sharing their challenges, successes, and strategies for bringing poetry into their students’ lives that makes this site so unique, so valuable. It’s the depth and breadth of articles from Writing Project teachers like Lesley Roessing, for example, sharing what she has learned about Creating Empathetic Connections to Literature that makes visible the power of “teachers teaching teachers.”
Addition #2 – PBS NewsHour Extra: Poetry includes lesson plans, links, rules and tools, teacher favorites, student poems, poetry submission and more. Links to Minstrel Man and and I’m Nobody provide windows into the power of poetry to impact our students’ lives.
Addition #3 – Interested in poetry as a tool for teaching for social justice? Check out the Voices from the Fields website. I bought a copy of the book, which pairs poetry with personal narratives/oral histories, about 9 years ago, before there was an accompanying website. If you are looking for additional first-hand accounts of the migrant farm worker experience, here’s a link to a project I did eight years ago to connect elementary students with college students who spent their childhoods working the fields of California.
Addition #4 – And just for fun, how about the exuberance and humor of poet Carlos Andres Gomez, whose style might serve as a call to high students who thought they were not into poetry:
By Any Medium Necessary – Oakland Leaf Youth Roots‘ interactive session on poetry is one I will remember for a long time to come. As I watched this articulate team of four students from the flat lands of Oakland – along side their teacher G. Reyes – make visible how new literacies were empowering them to challenge the long-standing acceptance in their community of “it is what it is,” it was clear to me that “passion” is the opposite of – and antidote for – becoming “inured.”
The decades of racism, poverty, and crime in the Oakland, California (where I was born), that have “inured” (SAT prep word of choice by the Youth Roots team: “transitive verb to make somebody used to something unpleasant over a period of time, so that he or she no longer is bothered or upset by it) its residents of color into accepting ‘what it is,’ is now being challenged by these young “word warriors” and “ARTivists,” who thanks to the passion ignited by G. Reyes, now believe that Oakland can become something better.
The evening entertainment of poets from Portland’s Jefferson high school and the samba drummers and dancers from a local middle school also stemmed from the passion of two teachers, committed to empowering the youth of their school communities to challenge “what it is.”
I realize that the opposite of any verb should also be a verb; however, the opposite of “inure” is “passion.”
A poem begins with a lump in the throat. ~Robert Frost
The only problem
with Haiku is that you just
get started and then
Poetry has the tendency to promote literacy skills in ways that can have a life-long impact on students.
As a 6th grade humanities teacher, I regularly shared favorite or timely poems. Every year in March, prior to our annual week at science camp, I would introduce haiku. Students immediately bought in to the format because “Hey, we only have to write three lines – and there’s a syllable limit!”
Something close to magical always happened as they began drafting, discovering on their own that with the line and syllable limits, “every word needs to count.” And the challenge was on to find the perfect word, which might have to be re-thought if the syllable count didn’t work for that line. They were hooked.
As we headed down the California coast towards science camp, at any given stopping point, such as the tide pools, I could see students, against the backdrop of sand and surf, silently counting on their fingers…counting syllables for the haiku they were composing in their heads. Each year, they returned from camp with notebooks a bit worn from the journey, but containing literary gems – just in time for April’s National Poetry Month. And each year I witnessed the power of poetry to inspire students to imagine more, to read more, and to write more.
In my current position as a technology integration specialist, I visit many school sites. Often, particularly at the elementary level, student poetry is boldly displayed on the classroom walls…just begging for a broader audience. New technologies, such as VoiceThread, for instance, make it increasingly easy for students to take their poetry beyond the classroom, out into the world. If you browse the VoiceThread gallery using “poetry” as a search term, you will quickly find hundreds of samples. To restrict your search to K12 samples only, switch to ed.voicethread. The VoiceThread Library has short articles to help you imagine the possibilities for combining images with power of the human voice.
Poetry, maybe more than any other genre, lends itself to multimedia writing and innovation. Phoetry (photograph + poetry), for example, is making its way into our language and into teachers’ toolkits. The samples shown on Flickr.com or on teacher educator Arnie Abrams‘ workshop handout (scroll to find Fog) will provide you with a window into this emerging genre. Blogger/teacher Bud Hunt invites you into his second annual NPM 2010. Throughout the month, he will post the daily photo “as a way to generate some prompts for folks who maybe wanted to write poetry, but needed a little push.“
There are many ways to take a poem beyond paper and pencil – and, in the process, to build on students’ reading, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and self-confidence as writers. Sometimes community collaboration, a bit of technology, and a shared belief that all students are entitled to poetry can rock students’ worlds, pushing them to academic levels they had not dreamed possible. Teen Salinas Speaks, for example, illustrates the empowerment that comes from this synergy.
If you have been looking for lessons, new ideas and resources, and maybe a little inspiration to ignite your celebration of National Poetry Month, check out the ten sites I’ve listed below. I’m betting you’ll find at least one activity you can use tomorrow!
National Writing Project – This organization (to which I’ve been a member for 15 years) is at the heart of how I approach the teaching of writing – including poetry. What you’ll find on their National Poetry Month and the National Writing Project site are Writing Project teachers, including Natalie Bernasconi, telling their stories and sharing their reflections and lessons learned about the place of poetry in their classrooms.
Edsitement – Not be outdone by NCTE or NWP, the National Endowment for Humanities has also assembled some outstanding resources on their National Poetry Month: Forms of Poetry site. If you are looking for a unit on Langston Hughes, I recommend The Poet’s Voice – Langston Hughes and You, a scaffolded lesson that will address two central questions: What is meant by voice in poetry, and what qualities have made the voice of Langston Hughes a favorite for so many people? You might use this lesson as a starting point, and then revisit the NWP site to introduce Gavin Tachibana‘s creative idea to combine Langston Hughes’ poetry with Tibetan prayer flags in the inspiring Dream Flag Project.
11 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month – The New York Times Learning Network is an outstanding resources, both for its content and for keeping newspapers alive in the classroom. What a great assortment of ideas for hooking students on poetry! The concept of illustrated chapbooks, complete with a template from Microsoft, via seasonal greetings from Robert Frost is the first idea for celebrating the month. Keep going…all the way to the 11th way: Finding Poems Everywhere, ideas for creating found poetry “from newspaper articles, sports broadcasts, school lunch menus, field trip permission slips and the like.” Be on the watch for the Learning Network’s upcoming Found Poetry Challenge!
Poetry 180 – From the Library of Congress, “Poetry 180 is designed to make it easy for students to hear or read a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year.” I recommend starting with form Poet Laureate Billy Collins’ An Introduction to Poetry.
Favorite Poem Project – Listen to and watch volunteer readers from across the nation sharing their favorite poems.
Poetry Forge – Tapping into visual appeal of Flash, Poetry Forge is “an open source archive, designed to allow teachers and student writers to explore, manipulate, create and develop innovative tools for the development of poetry.”
Poets.org – From the Academy of American Poets, this site offers resources and a call to action – with Put a Poem in Your Pocket Day. The idea is simple: “Select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 29.” But wait, there’s more…for the busy educator…how about Poet’s in Your Pocket, Poet.org’s mobile poetry site. Download the Poem Flow app from iTunes and you’ll be able to browse over 2,500 poems by author, title, occasion, or form. Imagine the possibilities! You too can “read a poem, anytime, anywhere—whether to fill a spare moment, woo a darling, toast a friend, find solace, or recite a few immortal lines—verse is now at your fingertips.” Amazing!
Whether you weave poetry into your year-long English/Language Arts curriculum (as a number of state content standards currently mandate), use it for making cross-curricular connections (how about a Periodic Table Poems), or save it as a treat for “when testing is done,” please join the conversation and share your questions, ideas, and best practices for igniting a love of poetry.