Words from the Wise

(While I’m spending spring break finishing my 20Time2018 project, here’s an updated repost sharing ideas and tools to celebrate the upcoming National Poetry Month in April. Enjoy!)

Of course we should fold in some extra poetry lessons to celebrate April as National Poetry Month, but who has the time? With state testing and AP exam prep, this month is a bullet train, whipping by with scary speed. But what if we slowed that roll just a bit? April’s also supposed to signal warmth and new growth, the perfect time to dig some rhyme. I know we all have a lot to do, but here are a few easy options to help our English teacher tribe add more poetic voices to our curriculum.

6 Simple Ways to Add Poetic Goodness to Your Class:

1. Post a fresh poem each day on your classroom door, white board space, or projector as kids enter the room. You can visit Poem-A-Day at Poets.org or cruise through Billy Collins’ curated list of 180 poems to grab tasty morsels or assign this task to a trustworthy student. Ask students to bring in a favorite poem to possibly be posted in your classroom and maybe even give a bonus point to anyone whose poem makes it to the board.

2. Share a favorite poem with your students (if you can deliver it from memory, even better) and then invite two or three volunteers to also share a poem each week. I have my kids present on Fridays before our SSR reading sessions and give a bonus point to each volunteer’s Quarter Trio team.

To inspire your kids, follow up your poem on the next day with this drop of sweetness from Sarah Kay:

Or this drop of inspiration from Suli Breaks:

Or this drop of awesome from Lin-Manuel Miranda:

Be sure to turn on YouTube’s closed captioning option when viewing, which’ll help kids connect even more deeply with these works.

3. Play the Pieces & Parts Poetry Game (a.k.a. Frankenstein Poetry)
Here’s how it works: Give every student three Post-It notes. On one of the sticky notes, ask students to write a noun. On the next, an action verb. On the final one, an adjective. Then, have students post their notes on your white board, grouped by part of speech. If you have a large class, you might want to have two or three separate posting areas in the room to allow students to spread out a bit.

Once all of the words are posted, assign teams of two/three students to work together to construct a poem using only nouns, action verbs, and adjectives from the sticky notes. They may add other words (articles, adverbs, “to be” verbs, etc.) to allow their poem to flow smoothly, but the only nouns, action verbs, and adjectives allowed must come from the sticky notes.

In one variation, students are allowed to choose from any of the words on the posted notes. In another variation, you choose the sticky notes to give to each team. Yet another even-tougher option is for you to choose ten nouns, ten verbs, and ten adjectives total; then, every team must stick to only those words. You can be as loose or as rigid with the poetic form as you want, giving free reign in terms of length and structure or requiring a perfect little haiku. The choice will probably depend on how much time you have available for this task.

Once the poems are written, have each team project their poem for the class to read while one member performs it aloud for their classmates. You could have students vote for the best one at the end of the performances, though that’s usually not necessary to ensure a good time with this high-energy lesson.

4. Host a creative writing day (or two?) with any/all of these activities, including:
• Blackout Poetry
• Paint Chip Poetry
• Reversal Poetry
• Acrostic Poetry
• Roll of the Dice Poetry
In this earlier blog post, I show you exactly what you need for each activity, including free printable instruction sheets. Just click here to grab these Five Ready-to-Use Poetry Activities.

5. Compete in the New York Times’ Found Poetry Student Contest.
Although this year’s contest hasn’t yet been announced, you can use the materials I built last year to get your kids excited about blending high-quality informational text and creative writing. Last year, the contest window was from April 5 to May 9 and I’m guessing The Times will continue to host this popular feature.

6. Finally, I must mention my own four-week poetry unit that engages even the most resistant poetry haters. It’s one of the most popular items in my shop:Nice, right?
The poetry unit, which can be used as-is with one class or easily broken into separate lessons to use with different classes, includes:
• A suggested day-by-day lesson calendar.
• How to Read a Poem introductory lecture with guided notes handout to provide structure, strategy, and a reference guide for students as they work through all of the poems in the unit.
• Know the Lingo poetic terminology grid/matching game activity to help students quickly review poetry terms they already know and learn some they might not already know.
• Pop Music/Classical Poetry compare/contrast activity where students deconstruct two songs they enjoy (“Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes and “Breakeven” by The Script) and compare them with classic poems that use the same themes and structures.
• Close reading/poetry dissection activity to use with William Shakespeare’s classic poem, “The Seven Ages of Man.”
• Dynamic lecture to teach Shakespeare’s poetic sonnet structure and iambic pentameter.
• Write Your Own Shakespearean Sonnet activity with modern topic assignment slips.
• Close reading/poetry dissection activity to use with Robert Herrick’s classic poem, “To the Virgins to Make Much of Time (Gather Ye Rosebuds).”
• Close reading/poetry dissection activity to use with Walt Whitman’s classic poem, “O Me! O Life!” This lesson also includes a compelling non-fiction and media criticism activity.
• Poetry Cafe: A Spoken Word Experience activity plan, which includes detailed instructions on how to host your own student-led poetry reading, two examples of modern spoken word poets in action (different than the Kay, Breaks, and Miranda pieces above) and a student assignment sheet.
• Close reading/poetry dissection activity to use with Walt Whitman’s classic poem, “O Captain! My Captain!”
• How to Haiku student worksheet with haiku examples and visual inspiration to encourage students to write their own haiku poems.
• Close reading/poetry dissection activity to use with Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, “The Raven.” This lesson includes dynamic, multimedia lecture materials and a Faux Poe worksheet/creative writing assignment.
• Compare/Contrast activity of two poems written about Helen of Troy.
• Acrostic poetry handout with advanced examples and a student writing challenge featuring four different teacher-choice options.
• Blackout Poetry (also known as Found Poetry) lecture and hands-on activity.
• End-of-unit exam, including 18 matching questions, 6 multiple choice, and 6 short answer questions calling on students to analyze two poems they have not previously seen in the unit. Includes detailed answer key.

You can learn more about this unit, which includes 58 pages and 147 slides, by clicking here.

Hope some of these ideas will find a place in your classroom. Get your poetry on, everyone!

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5 years ago

Thank you!!

Laura Randazzo
5 years ago
Reply to  1kindness2day

Of course, 1kindness2day. 😉

5 years ago

Holy cow! You are so amazing and I love getting your emails in my inbox. I can always count on you for ideas that will engage my students and me—not an easy task! I purchased your poetry unit and can’t wait to use it very soon. Thank you for your sharing attitude. ?

Laura Randazzo
5 years ago
Reply to  Hope

Thanks so much for your sweet note and support of my shop, Hope! Definitely think about adding the creative writing stations activity (#4 above) as a wrap-up/fun supplement to the unit. I’ve used those for the past two years as a capstone to the poetry unit and the activities have been a huge hit with my freshmen. Hope your kids like them, too! 🙂

Mary Mora
Mary Mora
5 years ago

Love your blog.. Thanks so much!

Laura Randazzo
5 years ago
Reply to  Mary Mora

Thanks, Mary. Love the love! 🙂

Emily Seresky
5 years ago

They are have announced the contest! Here is the link:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/learning/our-ninth-annual-found-poem-student-contest.html Enjoy!

Laura Randazzo
5 years ago
Reply to  Emily Seresky

Woo-hoo! Thanks for the link, Emily. 🙂

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