Composing Copy Change Poetry Using "In My Next Life" by Mark Perlberg

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SWBAT imitate the style of "In My Next Life" by Mark Perlberg by using copy change techniques.

Big Idea

Copy change assists students in controlling syntax and discovering their writing voice.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

I include this lesson both as a poetry lesson and as a writing lesson in preparation for the summative essay students will write.  The big idea I'm working with in the unit is that there is much common ground between poetry and informational texts. 

I include the lesson here in the unit Because He Hears a Different Drummer: Various Approaches for Comparing Genres and Analyzing Texts because it addresses how modeling a writer's style can lead to close reading of a text. 

The lesson is very portable in that it can be taught as a free-writing exercise, within a writing or literature unit, or as part of a poetry unit, and it addresses many ideas in the CCSS, as I discuss in the following video: 

Warm Up: "My Next 30 Years" by Tim McGraw

5 minutes

Get students ready for reading and writing "In My Next Life" by playing Tim McGraw's "In My Next Thirty Years." I like this YouTube version because it shows the lyrics. 

 Although the song suggests growing older is something we should plan for, it also works with the poem "In My Next Life" which also asks students to think about the choices they will make. Additionally, many of my students are big fans of country music. That said, it isn't necessary to the lessons success. There are, I'm sure, other songs about life choices that would also work well. 

Introducing the Writing Model

10 minutes

To introduce the copy change technique to students, I do the following:

First, tell students that there is a modern poem that uses the same theme as Tim McGraw's song. Ask students if they can identify the point of the song. Someone will probably say, "It's about how to live as you grow older."

Pass out copies of "In My Next Life." The poem is archived on The Writer's Almanac.In My Next Life.docx Read the poem to the class. Read slowly in an interpretive manner. Pause at punctuation marks. Choose words to emphasize, words that will enhance your reading of the poem.

Poetry is best when interpreted rather than read. Students learn how to read poetry by listening to the teacher interpret.  Ask, "What similarities do you see in the poem and in the song?

Allow time for a short discussion. If students have difficulty discussing the poem, try putting them side-by-side (the lyrics) and asking for comparisons. 

Discuss the Poem's Structure and Techniques

10 minutes

After reading, generate discussion by asking students a series of questions. It might be helpful to have the poem projected on a screen, even though students have their own copies. Some possible questions for discussion are in the document In My Next Life.docx

The emphasis here isn't on poetic technique but on the student as reader. Even though the questions are reader response and literal, they give students an opportunity to talk about the poem in nonthreatening ways. This is important in a first-time copy-change experience. 

During the discussion, I put a row of numbers on the board, which I show in the image resources. Teacher Notes Lineage for "In My Next Life" I also noted where sentences within the poem end during the discussion, as well as where the first line is repeated. 

Additionally, I discussed with students the author's use of the first line as integral to the poem's text. Finally, I made a list of poetic devices for students to consider using as they wrote and which the author of "In My Next Life" uses. 

This discussion prompted some students to mention the use of prepositional phrases. 



Take Time to Write and Share

30 minutes

Invite students to write without worrying about technique. They may want to know, "Does it have to be 16 lines?" and other questions that limit their writing voices rather than making space for them. 

I respond this way: "Don't worry about number of lines or anything else. Just begin with "In my next life" and go from there. There are no right or wrong answers."

Typically, I write as students write, but this time I walked around the room and offered encouragement to those "stuck." 

I offered some ideas about my own life:

"In my next life I'll be a beauty queen.

I'll strut my stuff on the runway during fashion week.

In my next life, I'll teach Miley Cyrus to twerk."

That last line offered some levity and the room filled w/ laughter and a request: "Show us." I didn't. 

After our writing time ended, I invited students to share with the class.

I had no takers.

However, students were willing to show me their copy-change poems. I used this as an opportunity to encourage rather than critique. I told students who deviated from the idea of writing about their next life by saying, "I like your take on the poem." or "I like that you felt free to write about the life you have." 

It isn't necessary to tell students they didn't use prepositional phrases or  have the right number of lines. A teacher learns much about students' knowledge of grammar and syntax by reading their copy changes. Student Copy Change "In My Next Life" and Student Example (2) "In My Next Life" show examples of some students' work.