Well, April is almost over. There has been lots of poetry at my school this month, I hope there has been at yours too.
Yesterday I sat down to have an informal book club meeting with a colleague (we’ve been trying to read a professional text on teaching creative writing and it’s been a sporadic endeavour) and our conversation went from creative writing, to chatting about a collaborative social studies project we’re doing together, to having a SUPER AWESOME poetry brainwave!
My colleague, Kelly, and I were discussing how we might build a short poetry piece into her class’ creative writing for term three, when we got of topic talking abut some struggles her students were having with the big social studies project they’re doing.
The SS project is called Historica. You may have something like it at your school: students choose a historical event, within their grade-based time period, to research and produce a variety of products to show their understanding. All the intermediate students participate and there is a big celebration at the end.
What we ended up with was a great solution to both these issues: we have decided to teach her students a simplified version of epic, or narrative, poetry. I teach Kelly’s prep time so we have lots of class time to work with. We will start with a review of basic figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification, alliteration.) I will practice those with the class until the students have a general facility with them. Kelly will focus on voice and word choice in the non-fiction writing they’re doing for their research project. Soon I will start to read some story-poems and tell them about epic poetry. We will talk about narrators in prose texts (fiction and non-fiction) and in poetry. They will write their own story poems, on topics of their own choice (or maybe we’ll do the stories of movies they already know, like Frozen) and I will ask them to use at least one each of the basic devices so I can check their understanding. Eventually we will hand out story/poetry frames that Kelly and I have written, tailored to each of their Historica topics (such as “the last spike,” “the potlatch ban,” and “the war of 1812.”) For instance, for the group researching the potlatch ban, the frame might start with a narrative voice explaining the significance of the potlatch to the Haida people, followed by the voice/perspective of an enforcing Indian Agent, followed by the voice/perspective of a Haida chief or other member of the community, finished by the effect of the ban. The frame is simple, but it provides the two grade 4 students a guide with some of the basic aspects of their topic (which is challenging for them). They will have to write a four-section narrative poem, based on their research, and using figurative language appropriate to the form.
I’m looking forward to seeing if this works, and what kind of results we get (in products, and in students’ enduring understandings.)