Tag Archives: Education

Guest Post: 4 Out-of-the-Box Ways to Teach Poetry, by Tess Palatano

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Guest Post: 4 Out-of-the-Box Ways to Teach Poetry, by Tess Palatano

Poetry is a powerful outlet for a student’s expression. As a poet myself, I take great joy in introducing the power of the craft to the classroom. Admittedly, this can be difficult. While some students cannot wait to start learning about writing, others audibly groan at its mere mention. Others sit in silent indifference. So how exactly can a teacher start their students on their poetic journeys, or encourage them to begin loving the works of poets like Mary Oliver?

I’ve outlined some activities that have had great results in my classroom — regardless of students’ preconceived notions. The goals of these hands-on lessons are to have students appreciate the craft and get them inspired enough to write some poetry themselves.

Activity 1: A Poetry Tournamenttrophy-153395_640

This activity is a fun and engaging introduction to poetry. The poetry tournament takes very little class time each day, and it exposes students to poetry in small doses while also planting the seeds for independent exploration.

The idea is to create a basketball-like tournament-pairing chart using poems, determining a final winner by reading the poems as a class. Locate sixty-four poems and pair them off, just like basketball teams. Read two poems each day and let the students vote on the “winner.” Do this until you have a final four, and then the final winner.

I’ve found it most helpful when a combination of teacher and students choose the poems. I ask the students to browse and choose a poem from poets.org or poetryfoundation.org that they enjoyed reading, for whatever reason. When the students choose the poems themselves, they are actively engaged and feel some ownership over the activity. A combination of teacher and students read the poems out loud each day.

You don’t have to do more than just read and vote on the poems before moving onto something new — the simple exposure to poetry and the gamification of the activity has plenty of its own benefits. Still, I like to ask my students to choose one in a set of questions to answer in their notebooks about the poem that they vote for. We discuss as a class, then vote.

As an extension activity at the end of the week, I sometimes ask students to write poems inspired by one they read that week — incorporating similar themes or techniques we may have discussed. A great time to start a poetry tournament is during the spring, when both college basketball’s March Madness and April’s poetry month happen.

Activity 2: Black Out Poetry

A blackout poem is a type of erasure poem, formed when a poet takes a marker (usually black) to an already established text and redacts words until a new poem is formed. Because the text is already in place, this activity has an easy entry point and is not too intimidating for students to try.poetry

I photocopy and repurpose pages from texts we’ve read throughout the year and hand out black or dark markers. Next, I ask students to identify words that resonate with them, then “black out” parts of the page around those words to create a poem within the text. Sometimes the poems’ meanings are similar to the original text, and sometimes completely new meanings are formed. As an extension, you can ask students to add an illustration or design to the poem that connects to their newfound meaning.

Activity 3: Paint Chip Poetry

This is a fun activity that requires some out-of-classroom resources. However, you can pick up some paint chips for free at a home improvement store, so don’t worry about cost. In this task, students engage in their own word play by selecting a card with at least 3 different paint names. They will then incorporate these words into a poem of their own.

Students will write in each section on the actual paint chip card, making sure to include the paint color in their writing. They can change the form or tense of the word, or even make it a name. The idea is to let the constraint open avenues for their creativity. For example, if given a card with shades of blue, the colors may be named: ocean view, seven seas, and planetarium. A poem could be formed as follows:

I look at the ocean view
my mind escapes to the seven seas
the dark blue of night spills across
the ocean floor
while inside a planetarium
a little girl sleeps

There are multiple other activities you can center around paint chips: working with metaphors and similes, or simply meditating on a color and its mood.

Activity 4: Found Poetry

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Just as it sounds, this poetry activity involves students “finding” poems — often in places they least expect it. Have students choose words or phrases from texts around the room or cut out words from magazines or even maps. Students can also listen to a podcast, TED talk, or song and write down some of the words they hear.

Once students collect a certain amount of words (I recommend 15 or 20), ask them to use these words to form a poem. It is helpful to have students write these words on slips of paper that they can rearrange in whatever order they’d prefer.

It is up to you if you’d like the students to add their own words to the poem, or restrict the poem to only the words that were found. With either method, this activity invites students to look at the pedestrian world through a poetic lens while freely expressing their creativity.

 After trying one or all of these activities, students will have some wonderful work to celebrate. Once finished, you can create an anthology of student work, or have students assemble collections of their own that they can share with the class. You can also direct students who are particularly motivated toward writing contests to submit their finished works. Poetry is sometimes a difficult topic to breach, but these fun and creative activities prove that with a little inspiration, anyone can become a poet. 

Tess Patalano is a writer at Reedsy, a marketplace giving authors and publishers access to free educational content on self-publishing, along with an avenue to hire talented developmental editors. She has taught writing to students in South Korea, Hawaii, and China.

In Praise of Geography

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world map 640px-BlackMarble20161kmBack in the olden days (late 1950s—early 1960s), geography was taught in elementary schools. Not all elementary schools, apparently, since my husband can’t recall ever studying it, but it was a subject at the parochial school I attended.

I think the first year it was offered was third grade. I remember being disappointed with our textbook, because it didn’t really deal with other countries, which, as a child of immigrants, I hungered to learn about. Instead, it dealt in general terms about land masses and oceans and mountains and map representations. It bored me, but I suppose it laid the groundwork for what was to come.

I can’t remember exactly what came next, but I suppose we learned the names of each continent and ocean and where they were located on a map and on the globe. We learned that we lived in North America, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and that our neighbor to the north was Canada, and to the south, Mexico. My next-door neighbor, Mrs. Brennan, grew up in Mexico, and she gave me a Mexican doll, which I brought to school for geography show-and-tell.

DSC01850In subsequent years, our study centered on the various countries located on specific continents. We were tasked with learning capital cities and prominent cities, principal exports, languages spoken, forms of government, characteristics of the landscapes and peoples, special customs, and being able to locate the countries on a map and tell what their borders touched.

As an adult, when I taught elementary general music, I would bring in a little geography, showing on the map a composer’s country of origin, or where an ethnic song or dance came from. I would show our location in Chandler, Arizona, and how you had to travel across the United States and sometimes across oceans and other continents to get there.

I’d like to say I remember everything I learned in geography as a child. But so much has changed. Countries have changed names, borders have been redrawn, and sometimes I don’t recall what was what. However, I do have a general idea where to look for places on a map.

I think the study of geography is important, and should be required at least one year at the elementary, secondary, and college levels. It’s such a shame when adults don’t know the difference between Austria and Australia or between longitude and latitude.

Creative Juice #163

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Creative Juice #163

Yay! Weekend reading!

Happy First Day of School

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Happy First Day of School

It’s the first day of school, and I’ve been called in on an emergency basis to fill in at the elementary school where I used to teach. Since I’ve been gone, the entire staff has left and been replaced by people I don’t know. Also, the locations of all the classrooms, offices, cafeteria, and library have changed. I can’t find my music classroom. I don’t have the main office number listed on my phone.

When I finally locate the music room, it’s filled with unruly students running around and using the ceiling light fixtures as trapeze swings, no responsible adults in sight. They’ve just been dropped off, and I have no idea what grade they are or when they will be picked up. I have no class list. I have no schedule. I don’t know what books, supplies, or instruments I have or where they would be located. I have no strategy for getting the students under control, no first-day activities planned.

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No, this didn’t really happen, but it is a recurring dream I’ve had frequently in the five years since I resigned from teaching. I’ve also had variations on this dream: my new classroom is a cabana on the beach and I have to keep my kindergarten students from drowning in the surf; it’s the day of the big musical performance and I’ve forgotten to cast or rehearse it.

And it’s similar to dreams that even veteran teachers have about being unprepared for the first day or for back-to-school night.

I actually always loved the first few weeks of school. Everything was fresh; the students were well-behaved, confident that this new year would be the best yet. The students at my school had new clothes and backpacks and pristine supplies to begin their classes. The impetus of novelty continued while the kids were challenged to progress to the next level.

This is the first year that I didn’t have a pang of regret on the first day of school. I like retirement enough that I’m not missing the back-breaking labor of setting up my classroom (teachers spend the day after the last day of school clearing their classrooms so that annual maintenance like deep-cleaning and painting can happen over the summer). I still miss the vibrance of working with kids, but my students who were kindergarteners when I resigned are now in sixth grade (not my favorite age group). I don’t think I could pick up where I left off.

The schools in my neck of the woods opened a few weeks ago, but when we lived in New Jersey, the traditional start of school was the day after Labor Day. Best wishes to all who are starting out this week. Give your teachers a hug for me.

From the Creator’s Heart #201

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From the Creator’s Heart #201

The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught (Isaiah 50:4 NRSV).

Video of the Week #189: How to Get Black Boys to Read

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Click here for more information about: Barbershop Books.

Video of the Week #177: Why to Read Aloud to Children

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