Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Small Wonders & e. e. cummings: Poetry and Mindfulness

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.
                                                                                                        -e. e. cummings

It was my father who taught me how to observe the world. After watching him with my nieces and nephew, I'm sure my education began at a very young age, but what I remember most are the forced nature hikes through the state forest behind our house. I say, "forced" because my mom made me go with him. She had some cockamamie idea that getting my nose out of my book so I could get some fresh air might be good for me. 

On our nature hikes, my dad would point out animal scat and tracks. He taught me how to find deer crossings and showed me where the bucks used trees to rub the velvet off their antlers. He taught me to identify trees by their bark and leaves. I learned to always walk away from bear cubs...quickly. 

To be a poet, one must be a close observer of the world. One of my new favorite poetry book discoveries is enormous SMALLNESS A Story of E. E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess. 

  • I think of this books as a hybrid text, because it tells the story of how e. e. cummings became a poet, from childhood to adulthood, but it also weaves his poetry into the story. Throughout the book, readers see how cummings learned to observe and experience the world around him. The title especially makes my heart strings zing. As a teacher and poet, I want my students to know that paying attention to the little things in life is often what makes life joyful. It makes us mindful of the present moment.

Activity #1

I've chosen three of Cummings'  poems to share with my students. They just happen to be on the end pages of the book. Reading his poems are like unwrapping a puzzle box. The language play is so much fun, as are his inventive line breaks. One of my favorite things to do is experiment with how we read his poems out loud. We read them as he wrote them, trying to pay attention to the way he has broken up lines and words. Then, I challenge my students to rewrite the poems with their own line breaks. We read them again and discover how powerful line breaks are in poems. With this activity, we're examining Cummings' writer's craft and answering the question: Why did he write it like that?

 Activity #2

Next, we talk about mood and imagery. We reread the poems and highlight images and language that jumps out at us. I curate a collection of visual arts and ask my students to pair the art with the selected poems. 

"Love Flight of a Pink Candy Heart" Florence Stettheimer
They spend a lot of time discussing their choices. The best part of this activity is that my students must think deeply about the poet's language, imagery, and meaning when pairing the poems and artwork. Check out the three paintings below. Which poem (shown above) would you pair them with? Why? I'd love to hear your thinking in the comments!
"Lake George Reflection" Georgia O'Keeffe
"The Pink Peach Tree" Vincent Van Gogh

Activity #3
I´ve been hoarding a collection of Altoids tins. This past fall, I sent out an email to my entire school district asking teachers to save the tins for me. I was rewarded with over 60 tins. Before our covid-19 quarantine, I brought them home and began to find small treasures to place in each tin. My plan was for each student to receive a gift-wrapped tin. Upon opening their tin, they would closely observe the treasure in their tin. Now, I'm uploading photographs into my Google Classroom site. Each student will choose a photograph to use for his/her prewriting and poetry writing exercises. 

The pre-writing routine I'm going to use with my students is called 10X3. It was developed by Project Zero. It helps students look deeply at an object or picture. The cool thing about this routine is that it's generic enough to be used for any type of writing. My students will use it to capture their descriptive writing ideas for a small wonder poem. 

We'll be writing all kinds of poetry in the next few weeks. This is a routine I'll be tapping into. As students develop their poems, we'll be sharing them in our Google Classroom site. If our quarantine goes longer (as I'm anticipating it will), we're going to have a virtual Poetry Slam using Google Meet or Zoom. I'll keep you posted on how that goes!

There's nothing easy about this covid-19 quarantine. The fear is paralyzing.  The schooling and routines that would've grounded our students is gone. I'm trying to help them make a little lemonade from the lemons they've been served. 

I hope the freebies below will help you out with your online teaching efforts. Please take care of yourselves. 
Click the pictures below to access the free Google resources.
You can access the newest episode of the We Teach So Hard podcast by clicking on the graphic to the left. It's all about using poetry in your classroom.  
                                        Finally, be sure to stop by Retta, Deann, and Kathie's blogs. They're chocked full of teaching ideas and resources for more poetry-themed books. You do NOT want to miss out on these posts!