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3 + Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month


em·u·late
/ˈemyəˌlāt/
verb
  1. match or surpass (a person or achievement), typically by imitation.

    "lesser men trying to emulate his greatness"
    synonyms:imitatecopyreproducemimicmirrorechofollow, model oneself on, take as a model, take as an example; 

"When we teach our students how to become writers, we want them to first read, then analyze, and finally emulate."

I can't remember who said this. I was sitting in our state's literacy conference listening to four of my teaching heroes speak: Pernille Ripp, Stephanie Harvey, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. As is often the case with me when I swim in a sea of ideas, I remember the ideas, but can't remember whose ocean I was in at the time. 

Emulate.

What a fabulous word, though. If I could offer any earth shattering tips for writing poetry with students, this word would be at the center of all my efforts. If you want to break out of the "write a haiku...now write a diamonte poem" rut, check out the 3 lesson ideas below.  Let me add that we read and discuss each poem in our reader's workshop block, before  I use them as writing models for my students. That's imperative!  


I love using Carl Sandburg's poem "Telephone Wire" for teaching personification. After we've unpacked our thinking about it, we start to notice how he has structured the poem. I give each student a key. I've collected stray keys for years and keep them on a huge ring in my desk.                                                                       We brainstorm. What features does my key have? Is that hole an eye? Are the jagged edges teeth? Does my key open doors or diaries? Does it lock things? What does it keep secret? What would my key say if it could talk. 

We fill our white board with tons of ideas about the purpose of our keys. Then, we each choose one of those ideas, and brainstorm vocabulary that would be associated with that particular idea. For example, I might choose "diary." Some of the words I associate with diary might be: Glittery, lock, lined pages, secrets, crushes, best friend fights, mad at my mother. Then, I begin to write a poem for my students, making sure that I talk about the structure of Sandburg's poem as I try to craft my own. 

Check out the some of my students' efforts! 


When I teach metaphor, I love to share Langston Hughes' "Mother to Son." We talk about how a staircase can be a metaphor for life. We explore the meaning behind the images. Fourth and fifth grade students can "get" this poem. It also gives us a glimpse at how writers use dialect in their writing. Again, we take note of the structure Hughes uses.                                                                      We brainstorm again. If we were going to offer advice to someone, who would we offer it to and what would that advice be? We create a list of ideas on the white board. One side is who we might write our poems to, and the other side is the advice we would offer. The kids LOVE this lesson. Check out their poems below!

Poetry can be found in the mundane happenings of life. One of my favorite poetry lessons uses "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams. After we discuss it and explore the poem's structure, we think of all the things we'd rather say in a note to someone than in person. Kids come up with the coolest ideas. Check out their list:
  1. Why I didn't clean my room.
  2. That I broke my dad's hammer.
  3. I broke the window with my baseball, accidentally.
  4. I cut Barbie's hair off (my sister was really mad).
  5. I found my mom's chocolate stash.
  6. I tangled my dad's fishing pole in the tree.
  7. I broke my mom's vase.
  8. I ate the frosting off of one side of the birthday cake.
  9. I didn't brush my teeth.
Their guilty confessions are hysterical and a window into their childhoods. I don't have any student examples from this lesson, but you can check out the poem I wrote with them as a model!


I could write and write about using poetry in my classroom (in fact, I have). It truly is one of my life-long passions. Poetry teaches us what it means to be human, and it helps us recognize and empathize with other people's humanity. Try reading an 800 year old haiku by Issa, Basho, or Buson. To me, the thrill is realizing that their realities were not unlike mine today. And that connects us...that connects us all.

This week, our We Teach So Hard podcast episode is all about ideas for National Poetry Month. Stop by an give us a listen. Just click on the picture to access!




We've gathered a wealth of poetry ideas for your classroom. Visit below!







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Striving & Thriving: Remembering Purpose in the Reading Classroom


We sat huddled around our small table. We were delving into Rules by Cynthia Lord. Charlotte hunched over her book. Mya absentmindedly twirled her poker-straight red hair, and Bella's nose was so close to the page that she looked cross-eyed...the price one pays when one forgets her glasses. Aiden sat on his knees and bounced up and down as he read. 

We were at that chapter, that chapter in all good books where you can feel the characters shift, and it feels like the electrical charge that hangs in the air right before a thunderstorm.

Catherine, the main character, forgets to care about what others think and wheels Jason in his wheelchair out to the parking lot. He has just revealed that he sometimes wishes he would die. She describes the boundless freedom that is running, and he asks her to show him. She runs through the parking lot as fast as she can while pushing his wheelchair while he demands that she run faster.

As I read aloud, I can feel the knot forming in the back of my throat, and I think, "Oh damn. Here I go again. I'm gonna cry in front of them. Again." My voice tightens, and my students shift forward in their seats. Aiden's butt finally hits the seat of his chair and stays there. Mya's hand snakes out to the counter behind her and grabs the tissue box and nudges it toward me. They are patient with me. By now they know that good books can have powerful effects on readers, and that their teacher is a crybaby. 

Together, they theorize that I'm crying because I'm happy. Catherine has helped Jason, and as Aiden says, "Jason's helping Catherine remember what's important. And it's not what everyone else thinks." This from the boy, who at the beginning of the year, spent more time shopping for books than reading them. As I listen to each of my readers interact with the chapter, my nerdy reading teacher heart swells with pride, and the tears in my eyes become more about them than Catherine and Jason. 

This weekend, I've been with "my people" at the Michigan Reading Association Conference. I've swooned in the presence of Stephanie Harvey, but drew the line at asking her to sign my chest (Wink, wink. She signed a copy of her book for me instead). Pernille Ripp made my heart skip a beat when she said, "It is time for us to become reading warriors." And I basked in the glow of Donalyn Miller's brilliance as she signed her newest masterpiece. 

Everywhere I went this weekend, I heard the same messages: 
  1. Reading is about behaviors, not abilities. 
  2. In order for students to be motivated and engaged readers, they must value reading. In order for them to value reading, there must be collaboration, choice, relevance and meaningful purpose. 
  3. Our students must have access to texts, and those texts must be culturally relevant.  

It's as if all my teaching heroes skyped with each other before they came to present, and they agreed upon common messages. 

The funny thing is, when I left school on Friday to attend this conference, I was in the foulest mood. I felt drained and cranky, and my famously brutal teacher self talk had kicked in. I bet you know what I'm talking about. 

"You suck."

"You're not doing anything well."

"You're not doing enough."

"Maybe Starbucks will hire you."

But when I attend conferences, there are so many windows and mirrors. There are presenters who hold a mirror up for me so I can glimpse myself and my practice and realize that I'm on track. And, there are those presenters that take me to the window to appreciate a new landscape of pedagogy.  The opportunity to reflect is priceless. 

Without it, I would forget about Friday afternoon moments like this:

 "Ms. Willis! We didn't do First Chapter Fridays today. Can we do it on Monday? I need a new book!" Aiden calls out. 

My butt-in-the-air striving reader is beginning to thrive. 

When I remember to pay attention, I am amazed.


This month, I'm linking up with other fab educators. Visit them below!

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