From Poetry to Informational Texts, Finding Common Ground

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SWBAT: identify ways writers of poetry and informational texts use common rhetorical techniques, such as figurative language, allusion, imagery.

Big Idea

Students realize the relationship between imaginative literature and informational texts when they see the common elements of the writers' craft.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

This lesson is part of the unit bridging poetry and informational texts. I teach the lesson early in the unit because my goal is to get students thinking about how poems and informational texts have common ground and to consider how they can incorporate poetic techniques, such as metaphor, simile, allusion into their writing. 

In the lesson,

  • I first use a line tossing activity that includes lines from poems and essays. 
  • I ask students to discuss whether the lines come from a poem or from an essay. 
  • I ask students to complete a free-write based on a writing prompt from the award-winning novelist Laurie Halse Anderson with the goal that they will begin to infuse their writing w/ the tools poets use. 

Poetry or Essay: Line Tossing Activity

25 minutes

To the Teacher:

Will students know whether or not a "line" comes from a poem or from an essay when given those lines out of context of their original text? This activity will answer that question.

First, choose lines from poems and from essays. It doesn't matter whether or not the teacher will use these later. The point is to show students the "poetry" of nonfiction and the "information" of poetry. 

I like to use two documents: On the first I type the lines I'll use. On the second, I type the line and identify the source. Students don't see this information. It's only for me. Be sure to number the lines, keep them in order, and prepare enough for each student in the class. 

Next, I print the first document and cut the lines out individually. These I then paste onto note cards. Now I'm ready for the activity. 

Create an open area in the room so kids have room to move around. 

The Activity:

As students enter the room, give each one a notecard. 

Tell students they'll be sharing their lines w/ one another and deducing whether or not the line is from a poem or an essay. 

Do an example for the students by 1. Reading the line and asking them to vote. If you have a clicker system or if the kids have smart phones, these can add a tech element to the activity. I need to go old school and use a show of hands. 2. Ask the students why they chose as they did. 

Next, have students read their lines to themselves and move around the room so you can quietly model pronunciation of words, etc. 

Invite students to move (mill) around the room and share their lines with one another. The teacher should be doing this too. 

After sharing the line with a few classmates, have students trade cards. This allows them to experience more texts. 

When you notice things quieting down, have students return to their desks. 

You're now ready for the discussion. 


Follow-Up Discussion

25 minutes

When the hum of voices begins to diminish, that's my cue that it's time to move on to the next part of the lesson. I like to end w/ students still talking rather than wait for the to become silent. The talking is my signal that they have not lost interest. 

I asked for a volunteer students to read their cards. Several students raised their hands, which is always a good thing. When I get no volunteers, I pick a student to choose what I call "a volunteer." That way students can't accuse me of picking on them or singling them out. Students will generally pick their own friends! That's cool because it helps me get a sense of their relationships. 

As students shared, I asked, "Do you think the line is from a poem or an essay?" I heard many voices, so I asked for a show of hands. 

The students guessed correctly about 50% of the time and were often surprised when they guessed incorrectly. I didn't keep score. The point I was making is much larger than a tally sheet. It's this: Superb essay (informational texts) utilize many of the literary techniques we find in imaginative literature (poetry, prose, creative nonfiction, etc.). Conversely, imaginative literature responds to issues in the news, from history, etc. In fact, we can find many truths in poetry and prose and other forms of imaginative literature. Tim O'Brien often speaks about the ways imaginative texts speak truths more effectively than nonfiction. We should be careful about reductivism that diminishes reading to either/or propositions. 

We continued until all students had shared their lines.

Next, I asked students if they were surprised by some of the lines. Most were. I asked, "How do you usually think about poetry and essays?" 

One student responded, "Poems are to entertain us and for fun. Essays are to teach us something." 

Next I asked, "Where do you usually see the essays you read." After rephrasing the question to make it clearer, students told me they read essays in textbooks. My goal will be to show them a much richer trove of essays in popular magazines, social commentary, etc. 

For students to want to read post-school, they need to know where to go for interesting reading material. 

Write w/ Laurie Halse Anderson

15 minutes

The poem/nonfiction activity took longer than I had planned, so we had only 15 minutes for the end of the period writing. 

Rather than giving students a prompt that seemed like an assignment from a teacher, I decided to take the opportunity to have students write with Laurie Halse Anderson, who began her sixth annual write for 15 minutes a day for a month activity. 

Although Laurie is on day three, I began w/ the post for day 1, which is in the resource section. 

I showed students LHA's blog, which has some cool writing cartoons, and gave a brief overview of the plan: Write 10 minutes every day. I chose 10 rather than 15 minutes to be consistent w/ my quick-write plan and to accommodate for the difference between an adult audience and a YA audience. 

Next, I copied LHA's prompts into a Word doc so I could increase the size for easier viewing. 

I gave students the choice of the nonfiction prompt and the creative writing prompt and have included two student examples in the resource section. I reminded students that creative writing includes research and information and that essays utilize the tools of poets, so the writing prompt offers an excellent opportunity for students to practice what we've been discussing. 

Student Response

Student Response Prompt 2

This activity took us to the end of the period, so I'll need to offer a time to share at a later date.