Things To Do If… Student Poems

Last Friday, I was part of a literacy event in Stewartville, MN, called Hot Reads for Cold Nights. Wow. There were 500 or so people there, and organizer Renita Irvin had so many things going on: book exchanges, food, storytellers, silent auctions, and a ton of other stuff. What a logistical accomplishment! All these elementary school kids out with their families on a winter night to celebrate books!

In my room, I did four short sessions. In each one, I shared two or three poems with kids and (time permitting) wrote a group poem. We only had about 5 minutes for our group poem. I read them Elaine Magliaro’s Things to Do If You Are a Pencil plus a student poem, and then we wrote our own, inspired by an image of something. Here are the three group poems we did that night. (I apologize for the quality of photos. I need to figure out how to edit photos well on my new phone!) I was indeed warmed up by the kids’ creativity, as always.

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Things To Do if You Are a Ship

Wear striped cloth
     and wooden shoes
Dance in swerves to the
     music of the waves
Hope for sailors to steer you
Fly across the water

wpid-2016-01-30-12.17.44.jpg.jpg

Things To Do if You Are Frost

Wear white crystals
Sneak onto a window
Whisper a cold secret
Attack the wind, Kyler’s arm, and the window
Dream about snow

Stewartville Things to do if 1

Things To Do if You Are a Firework

Wear straight clothes
     that make up a tutu
Shout out loud, “Happy Birthday!“
Whisper when you whistle up
     into the air
Wish to explode!

5 Responses

  1. I admire your efforts. Writing with a group can be so tricky. Who to call on? What ideas to use? I seem to hurt someone’s feelings every time. Would love to watch you in action.

    1. Oh, no! That can be so hard. I’m usually just encouraging creativity, thinking outside the box, going wild with words, etc., AND I emphasize that this is 1) a first draft; 2) a group poem written by individuals, so it’s not necessarily going to hang together too well. So, there’s not much of my having to choose one idea over another. Sometimes, I put up a picture and ask, “What does it make you think of?” I take three suggestions and write them down. Then I say, “Now, we could write a fantastic poem using ANY one of these, but we only have time to do one. So we’ll vote. But I hope you’ll use the other idea later!” I share how many of my poems are epic fails. I share that some of them will feel like they had a better line than the person I called on. I share that sometimes the weird lines, the ones that seem out of place, are actually the ones that stick with me later. Sometimes the weirdest lines have a kernel of creativity in them that I go back and fluff up and transform and it makes the entire poem amazing.

      And then, when I get suggestions that don’t really cover the approach we’re trying to do, I try to expand on them rather than not use them. For ex, one student (and these were some very young kids in some groups) said the firecracker wore straight lines. Well, straight lines didn’t really compare it to clothes, like we were aiming for in that line. But I just smiled, pointed out how straight and spiky the lines were in the photo, and wrote it down. Then I asked for a volunteer to expand that line with even more detail. “What kind of clothing do those straight lines remind you of?” Someone said, “They look like a tutu!” Bingo! Sometimes, if it’s an older kid purposely trying to get a laugh, I’ll just laugh, say, “OK, I said no wrong answers, didn’t I?” and write down the line. Or even joke about how that kid is as good as I am at writing off-the-wall lines. I have to gauge the situation, because I sure don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

      I’m guessing you already use all these tactics yourself! I’m just saying them in case anything new resonates or sparks an idea for something you could try. It’s definitely harder when you’re trying to write a class poem with very specific constraints or to meet certain standards. I have it pretty easy in my group poems:>) And choosing between different students’ offerings? Yikes. Even knowing who to call on is tough–you’re right.

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