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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Reading & Writing Poetry

For my last writing workshop unit in the spring, I taught a poetry unit.  I have to admit that teaching poetry makes me nervous.  And for a good reason.  I quit teaching for 7 years after my second baby was born and when she went to first grade, rather than go back to teaching full time, I decided to take a creative writing class at a local university.  We had three major writing assignments for the semester and then for the final we picked our best two assignments to revise and turn in.  One was a short story, one a memoir, and the third was poetry.  When I received my poetry assignment back, I also got a short note from the professor encouraging me not to use the poetry assignment in the final.  So it's not just my opinion that poetry is not my thing.   That note just keeps popping into my head every time I think about teaching poetry. I'm not sure how well I can teach something that I can't do myself, so I knew I really needed to enlist some good poet mentors for this unit.


I started by finding 12 different poem types to teach: couplets, quatrains, cinquains, alphabet poems, limericks, ubi sunt poems, doublets, free verse, found poems, acrostic poems, picture poems, and villanelles.  I typed up small definitions for each poem type that my students could glue into their writing folders and my plan was to explore a new poem type each day and have the students work on writing one of each.  I used the R is for Rhyme by Judy Young book for many of the examples.
Clicking on the cover will take you to Amazon.
Then I started looking for poems we could use as shared text to read and analyze.  Because of where we were at in U.S. history, many of the poems have a civil rights theme.  I put these poems on chart paper, but you could easily throw them up on the screen with a projector. 

Then I went through lists and lists of literary devices and picked out some that I thought would be good to teach.  You can see my complete unit plans by clicking on the picture below.  Links are also included on the document.


I ended up adding a few days to the plan for writing the more difficult poems.  A day was fine for the couplet and quatrain, but free verse, found poems, and especially the villanelle needed more time.  I also threw in a few writing days where students could work on any poems they needed to finish up or any poem type they wanted.  I threw in a day after  3 or 4 poem types were taught and then again after another 3 or 4 types were taught.  I checked off poem types as we went to make sure that all of my students were completing at least one of each poem type.  I split it into two check off periods, but next year I will check off on a weekly basis just to make sure that no one gets behind.

Final Projects

For our final project, each student had to pick 5 poem types to include in their book of poems.  These are the poems they were required to edit and revise.  My students were required to also put a text box on each page explaining the type of poem, so they got points for the poem itself and for the explanation.  Bonus points were given if any of the literary devices were used.  You can grab my assignment sheet and grading sheet by clicking on the picture above.

This young poet not only integrated social studies into her writing, but was determine to use all the literary devices she could.

I was surprised that I didn't get more free verse poems put into the final projects.
Many of my poets liked having some rules when they wrote.  I think this poet was creating her own rules.
Limericks were one of the class favorites.
Unfortunately this happened while we were writing villanelles and this young poet created a limerick within 5 minutes of the fall. I think it was everyone's favorite poem.  

Doublets were created by Lewis Carroll and they can be very difficult to compose, but my students loved playing with the words to change one letter at a time.
I know he says he hates them, but this poet had a lot of fun sharing this poem with the class.  He thought he was so clever.
This ended up being a really fun way to end our year of writing.  While I usually write along with my students, this time I just shared mentor poems and that worked out great too.  Who knew that a poetry unit would be so fun?  As you start planning for next year, remember that April is National Poetry Month and Tuesday, April 24, 2018 will be Put a Poem in Your Pocket Day.  You can grab my student assignment for the day here.

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