Cornerstone "Where I'm From" Responding in Writing
Lesson 5 of 8
Objective: Students will be able to produce writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. This is done by analyzing a poet's use of language, generating ideas for an original poem, and revising details to include figurative language and poetic devices.
Sometimes content area writing has different expectations. Science, for example, has specific requirements when referring to species names. They're italicized and the first word is capitalized. Today's paragraph introduces students to that convention.
We're still focusing on proper nouns. I think we're going to be focusing on proper nouns for the rest of my life.
Subject/verb agreement is another focus. In the third sentence (The bees of one species build/builds their nests), the verb needs to agree with the subject. The subject is 'the bees'. 'Of one species' is a prepositional phrase that gives more information about the subject. So therefore, 'the bees build' is correct.
The day before we left off on writing about how George Ella Lyon used language in her poem--repetition, imagery, onomatopoeia, simile, and metaphor. Today we're working on integrating our knowledge of how the author used poetry to get ready to write our own "Where I'm From" poems. The students are taking what they learned from the poet and applying it to their own narrative poem.
It's easy for teachers to say, "Here's the model poem. Now write your own. Use imagery, just like the author did." However, generating ideas is often way more difficult than that for students. Even with a graphic organizer designed to get thoughts flowing, it's difficult.
I know what I want students to include in their poems. I'd like elements of
- family heirlooms
- family traditions
- important family members
- important events and places
- important smells from life
- important sights from life
- important foods from life
- and more
But how do you get the students to come up with those ideas? Sure, you model it. But sometimes that's not enough. This year I'm trying something new, something I'm calling Backwards Brainstorming. We're taking the ideas that appear in Lyon's poem, isolating the important key ideas, and putting that down in the actual brainstorming sheet.
I reminded students that George Ella Lyon based this poem on a line from Jo Carson: "I want to know when you get to be from a place." She might have done this same sort of activity after she was inspired by those words. She might have asked herself, "From a place? Where am I from? What are the important parts?" She might not have had a formal graphic organizer like in school, but she may have jotted ideas down in her writing notebook. She might have done the brainstorming in her head.
Jasmine commented that she didn't think that poets did that. She thought it just came out of someone, from the heart straight to the paper. That's part of it, sure. But those thoughts are very often literal, telling details, rather than the showing that is so important in both poetry and prose.
Here's what we came up with. This was first hour's rendition of the activity that was done on Friday. Fourth hour did it on Monday due to the delayed start schedule.
Once we've completed the Backwards Brainstorming, I asked students to think about what they would include in a poem about where they're from.
- What are the most important things about the place you grew up in?
- Who are the important people in your family?
- What are the foods that are important to your family?
- What are the heirlooms that are important? (Students do need to have the word heirloom defined.)
- What are the special events that people always talk about?
I asked them to complete a quickwrite on those questions. We shared out, and then we started plugging those details into the brainstorming graphic organizer to make sure they're getting a blend of the best ideas.
I modeled my thinking about my own brainstorming, but encouraged students to write down things they remembered as I was talking.
Writers don't write in a vacuum. We're constantly inspired by the words of others. Remember that Lyon herself was inspired by Jo Carson's words "I want to know when you get to be from a place." Therefore, it's important for me to be honest and share my own writing as well as asking students to share their own writing with each other.
Showing, Not Telling
I'm asking them to use imagery, just like Lyon did. She used imagery by showing, not telling.
Consider the lines "I'm from He restoreth my soul/with a cottonball lamb/and ten verses I can say myself." Her original idea might have been that she went to church a lot as a young child. But that's telling. She's showing you by using words that came out of people's mouths ("He restoreth my soul" might be a song or something a pastor said.) She's showing you by creating an image of a common arts and crafts project--making a lamb out of cottonballs. She's showing you that she memorized Bible verses by saying "ten verses I can say myself." She's showing the pride she feels in that accomplishment.
Consider the line "I'm from perk up and pipe down." Both of my classes discussed this line in depth. It seems to be contradictory. "Perk up" means to be cheerful, and not wallow in sadness. But "pipe down" seems to say, yes, be in a good mood, but be quiet while you do it. Perhaps her original ideas was being told to be in a good mood or to always be quiet. Rather than saying "I'm from 'be quiet!", she says she's from "pipe down."
Consider the lines "I am from these moments/snapped before I budded/leaf-fall from the family tree." She's comparing herself to a tree though a metaphor. She's created the image that she's not just a part of this family, she's a part of the family history, the family tree.
Now let's apply that to the students' own writing. From the details that you brainstormed, what can you turn into a simile? What can you turn into alliteration? You don't want to use flowery language for the sake of flowery language, however. As the writer, you need to make deliberate, focused decisions to create a certain mood.