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Poetry Month: day 13

When in need of new poetry activities, or poems to share with your students, why not stop by your school library and chat with your teacher-librarian?  Poetry in your library will be in the 811s (occasionally in the 819s).  Your teacher-librarian will likely have connections to resource-networks outside your school, and at the very least he or she will have a different perspective and set of inspirations for you to draw upon.

When we collaborate with a colleague, especially someone like a TL, who has a unique relationship with all the students in the school, we can incorporate a richness into your practice. I love working with colleagues, whether it’s a brainstorm over lunch in the staffroom, or a co-planned, co-taught unit.  I always feel like I do more conscientious work when I partner with someone.

Poetry Month: day 12

Today’s resource is one by our very own Starleigh Grass, who has served on the BCTELA executive a few times and who currently works for FNESC.

Starleigh wrote an article about using poetry text sets on social justice themes last year that is worth looking at again.  She shares a favourite unit on poetry.org on developing voice, and then suggests her list of poetry texts to adapt the voice unit to a more Canadian context.  She then briefly discuses ways in which poetry can be used as a path into inquiry.

Starleigh is a thoughtful and reflective writer and curriculum developer and I regularly enjoy hearing her perspective on complex subjects, such as the social justice topics listed in her post.  The texts she shares in this post are ones I would likely not have come across myself, and I am grateful for members of the BCTELA community like her for sharing.

Poetry Month: day 11

Slam poetry is often generated from a place of core feeling.  Not always, of course, but much of the compelling performance and slam poetry to be found online and at local poetry slams seems to originate deep in the speaker’s heart.

Because the topics are so close to the speakers, we often hear pieces about bullying, racism, and abuse and discrimination.  Provocative subjects, and powerful tools to hear about, process, and express issues of social justice.

I have just discovered Zaccheus Jackson.  He is a Blackfoot poet currently living in Vancouver.  He speaks about poverty and addiction, and the struggles of our society coming to terms with the history we share with first nations peoples.  His figurative language is wonderful (warning: he does use profanity).

On the subject of North American history, Alex Deng has piece titled “What kind of Asian are you?” which has been quite popular lately.  He’s from Portland, OR, but his voice resonates, I think, in BC.

When looking for slam poetry to play for you students always preview!  This is obvious to us teachers, but profanity seems to come hand-in-hand with difficult and provocative topics and more than once I have become excited about a piece to share with my students only to find that the last two minutes’ word choice push it beyond what I feel comfortable sharing with 6s and 7s.

I still love this form and these poets will continue to move me to tears regularly.

Poetry Month: day 10

I am introducing performance poetry to my students this week.  My plan is to give them a taste of an example and then move into two-voice poems.

I will introduce them to Shane Koyczan by showing them the first six and a half minutes of this,  and then I’ll hand out poems I’ve photocopied from a wonderful book by Paul Fleischman called Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices.  Because I want this to be an intro (and because I have limited time) I will give some of the shorter poems to some pairs but most I will give to groups of four and ask them to switch paired readers halfway through.

They will have the end of this first period and the beginning of our next to read through and practice their poems.  We will read them out to each other at the end of the second period…. unless they really want more time, then I might push it to next week and give them an extra period.  If I do give them more time I will likely do a second mini-lesson on performance speaking so that they have the tools to work with over the longer time-frame.

 

p.s. I found it harder than anticipated to find good, not too long, examples of performance or slam poetry that was acceptable and/ or engaging for an elementary audience.  If you know of a good source, please share!

Poetry Month: day 9

This week I taught my 6/7s about pantoums.  A pantoum is a structured poem, written in quatrains, with the repetition of particular lines creating a morphing effect in the voice.

Here is my Pantoum handout.

My students were not learning poetry terms with their classroom teachers so at the top of my handout there is some space for us to discuss and them to write down a short definition of a few terms which I them use in context for the rest of the lesson.
If you are unfamiliar with the formula of a pantoum, it is thus (from the handout):

line 1
line 2
line 3
line 4

line 5 (repeat of line 2)
line 6
line 7 (rep. of line 4)
line 8

line 9 (rep. of line 6)
line 10
line 11 (rep. of line 8)
line 12

(Continue with as many stanzas as you wish, continuing to make the 2nd and 4th lines from one stanza the 1st and 3rd lines of the next.  This continues until you get to the last stanza…)

Last stanza:
line 2 of the previous stanza
line 3 of the first stanza
line 4 of the previous stanza
line 1 of the first stanza

(So the first line of the poem is also the last.)

Once we had reviewed the structure, I read them some examples and we paid special attention to the repetition.  The third page of the handout is a blank frame, including the reminders of which lines are repeated where.  After a very difficult start for a number of students–choosing a topic, and finding rhyming words were a challenge–I allowed some of them to work in pairs.

Note: when a writer gets to line 6, after repeating his first line, he will often be worried that the poem isn’t going to make sense: line 5 (2) was written in the context of stanza 1, and therefore feels very weird as the opening to stanza 2.  That is how I felt when I first learned how to write pantoums.  They have to trust the form.  The writing of lines 6 and 8 will be guided by lines 5 and 7.  This is what creates the interesting wave-like development of the poem.

Will you try this with your students?  Have you already done it this year?  Do you have any favourite student poems?

Poetry Month: day 7

I’ve written about one found poetry idea already in this series.  Today I will give you a variation on found poetry that I did a few months ago with some of my classes.

One of the various creative writing starts I do with my classes is have them listen to music and write to the mood of the music.  I had done that already this year and wanted to use music again, but with a different focus.  I chose to play several songs from an album and asked my students to listen to the words, as best they could, and write down whatever they heard.  We all made a real time list of the words that jumped out at us from the songs (I did it too, on the board, which helped my ELLs).  Once we had listened to the first 2 songs, I turned down the music and let the students write whatever type of piece they wanted, while trying to use as many of their words as possible.  Again, while they were writing, I modeled with my own piece on the board – those who needed the model used it as an example, those who didn’t need it focused on their own writing.

The album I used this time is called Steal the Light by a band named The Cat Empire.  They are school-appropriate, upbeat, and have sometimes poetic, sometimes abstract lyrics.

Poetry Month: day 6

I have been doing a poetry activity with a grade 3/4 class this week inspired by the collection of poems by Mary O’Neill titled Hailstones and Halibut Bones.  All the poems in the book are about a colour and are listy-type poems describing what each colour looks, smells, sounds, tastes, and feels like.  There is a nice (but not intimidating) combination of literal and metaphorical examples in each poem.

After reading a few of the poems to the class I asked them to divide their paper into four quadrants.  Each quadrant was then labeled with one of the five senses (they would choose 4 of 5 in total.)  They selected their preferred colour and wrote it at the top of the page as a title.  This became our brainstorming page.  Students tried to come up with four or five things for each category.  As they started to lose steam, I read them a few more of the poems, which they could hear with more attuned ears now that they were getting ready to write their own.

Once most of the class had at least three or four things in each quadrant (ie. three things yellow smells like, four things yellow tastes like, etc) they turned the page over and used their brainstormed ideas to construct their own colour poem.

We will type them when they’re done (which will act as an additional ‘draft’) and post them around the library among the Kandinsky-inspired artwork created by another class.

 

Poetry Month: day 5

Poetry should be heard.  It should be read aloud and savored on the tongue.

Students often aren’t sure how to read poetry aloud: the periods don’t match the ends of lines; sometimes there is no punctuation at all; and if there is, it can be all crazy-town!
The proper reading aloud of poetry is important to me.  I have made a point–in whichever school I find myself come the days preceding Remembrance Day–to check that the students who are tasked with reading “In Flanders Fields” understand the phrasing and meaning of the lines.
The understanding of the phrasing of poetry can mean the difference between an impassioned or cold, robot-esque experience.

One great way to induct our students into the sonorous, lyrical, or imagist turns of phrase in the poetry we teach is to let them listen to poetry being read by others.  There is a great book/series called Poetry Speaks you may find it in your school library.  It comes with CDs of poets reading their work.  If you like this idea but don’t have any good recordings on hand, I suggest podcasts.

There are a number of websites which feature free resources like the short, streamed audio of single poems in the Poem of the Day section on the Poetry Foundation website, to the Vancouver-based public radio program Wax Poetic (note: every episode of this show is tagged on iTunes as “explicit” so it is likely best for senior students).  The Poetry Foundation also has a number of other podcast series.  Check out “Poetry Magazine Podcast,” “Poem Talk,” “Poetry Off the Shelf,” and “Essential American Poets” (and more) for some interesting listening.

Once your students have heard a number of poems and have started reading aloud with more art and confidence, you may want to suggest that they ‘give back’ to the online poetry world.  The Poetry Foundation has created a space on soundcloud for anyone to record and upload their own reading/interpretation of a piece of poetry.  It’s called “record-a-poem” and the cool thing about soundcloud, in case you’re not familiar, is that listeners can comment at chosen points throughout a sound recording which creates a really cool audio/visual populist and synergistic experience.

Happy listening!

Poetry Month – day 4

I have two words for you: Shane Koyczan.

You may remember him from a lunch-time salon at a BCTELA conference a few years ago, or you might have seen him preform at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Shane Koyczan is a BC spoken word artist, poet, and author.  He has won a number of slam poetry competitions and is currently on a performance tour.  He creates and performs provocative, heartfelt, and funny poems suitable for middle school and up (some are more appropriate for younger listeners than others.)

He is becoming widely known for his poem “To this day,” the popularity of which is growing into a full anti-bullying campaign.  You can see more videos of his work on his website here.

We think Shane Koyczan is great.  You might too!

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