Powerlifting Poetry

I presented at a Young Authors Conference all last week, and I thought I’d share a brief version of my lesson plan with you.

First, here’s a less-than-1-minute slideshow:

The theme of the conference all week was “Writing with Muscle,” and my session was?“Poetry Powerlifters.” We worked mainly on getting rid of extra words, filler words, boring words–and sometimes good words, too, when there are just too many of them! We hit a few other techniques when time allowed, but cutting poems to their essence was really the core of this lesson.

As usual, I had the kids write fast and furious and encouraged everyone to keep expectations low so that we could just play with words, try new things, and keep the pressure low.

Here’s a brief outline of what I did:

  • Have the kids write a poem rough drafts, inspired by a projected image.?Free verse only–as much as they can write in three minutes.
  • Repeat with a second picture/rough draft. (I let them vote between two images for this one.)
  • Share that bigger is not always stronger. Summarize this excerpt from Forbes magazine:

“If you’re searching for the world’s strongest creature, don’t think elephants or whales–look instead to beetles. The average rhinoceros beetle can lift about 850 times its body weight. To equal the power of this 6‑inch bug, 350-pound Ryan Kennelly–who holds the world bench-press record of 1,075 pounds–would need to max out at 300,000 pounds. That’s the equivalent to lifting 80 Toyota Camrys. Show images of both Ryan Kennelly and a rhinoceros beetle.”

  • Discuss that for small to be strong, every single word has to carry its weight, do a lot of work.
  • Share Bob Raczka’s “What Is Poetry?” poem and point out how he wrote each line by removing words from the line above.
  • Give a handout with a list of filler words to try to get rid of, a Wordle of active verbs (one of the techniques we talked about for muscular writing), and samples of 15 Words or Less poems, haiku, and cinquain, all forms we played with and tried.
  • Share my own rough draft based on the same image on the board, with each word written on an index card. Invite students up one at a time to either remove words or to build a revised poem by moving the words they want to keep to another area of the board. We?took the first drafts and revised them into the three forms above (not every form for every poem–I just kind of rotated them).
  • Give the kids another 3 minutes to revise their own rough draft into the same form.
  • Invite volunteers to share.
  • Repeat the whole process with their second rough draft.

I’m always so amazed by what these enthusiastic writers come up with. I wish I could have taken some pictures of the kids themselves, but of course I couldn’t. And it was such a whirlwind, I didn’t even get pictures of their work, except one group revision. Next time!

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this excellent lesson with us, Laura! I was reading unBEElievables by Douglas Florian with a child yesterday and I noticed how every word was carrying its weight.

  2. Thanks for sharing this excellent lesson with us, Laura! I was reading unBEElievables by Douglas Florian with a child yesterday and I noticed how every word was carrying its weight.

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