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 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.
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!
Have you heard of Poetry in Voice / Les voix de la poesie? It’s a recitation contest for Canadian high school students. They have a useful teachers’ page with lesson ideas and link to other resources. Speaking poetry aloud can completely change the way students can access poetry.
I just saw that this year’s national finals are being held in Vancouver! If you’re in the area, it will be pretty cool to check out: May 8 & 9.
The best part about Poetry in Voice (this month) is that they are doing the same thing as us: they are tweeting a different poetry idea every day. If you’re on twitter, check out @PIV_LVP.
This week I’m introducing found poetry to two classes of 6/7s.
There are many variations of the rules of found poetry: whether the poet must only use words from the found text, or if she can add her own; whether the found words/phrases must be used in the order they appear in the original text, or if the poet has license to move them around; whether one original text is used, or many. Its up to you what constraints you put in place. I used this lesson from ReadWriteThink and this description from poets.org to focus my instructions to my students.
I gave each student a short text, or excerpt. I chose six texts so each student at every table had a different one. I asked them to read it through once, then go through it again and underline strong words and phrases, then I asked them to make a list of what they underlined on a piece of paper in the order the bits appear in the original. That’s as far as we got in the first period.
In the second period they each read through their list and some chose to add additional bits from the original text as they felt necessary. I told them about the variations in ‘rules’ and let them, as writers, make their own choices regarding the “purity” of the text and the order of lines. They have started to construct their poems.
We’ll see what my young writers come up with…
I want them to consider the ‘story’ and voice in their original text as they construct something new. I want their new piece to have a distinctly different voice–and possibly a different story–from the original. The example by Reznikoff in the link above from poets.org is a great snapshot of what it could be.
The texts I chose were not simple texts. In fact, they are not ones my 6/7s would have anywhere near their fingertips. The texts I chose were:
You may notice some addition April-related thematic work here (cherry blossom festival, Earth Day). I though I may as well get these NF texts to double as thematic exposure too 🙂