To activate prior knowledge and get the students thinking creatively about language, they engage in a free verse writing activity about an object that they are to describe it in a surprising or unexpected way unrelated to its actual purpose. One tip I offer is to not spend too much time agonizing over what item to choose, “Just look at your desk, around the room, or perhaps there’s something small in a pocket or pencil bag.” As an example, I pull paper clips and a pen from my pocket.
During the writing process, students have the opportunity to share with neighbors. In this way, struggling writers are helped by their peers. Along the way, I ask students who feel good about what they have to share lines with the class and if someone is feeling stuck he can ask the class for suggestions. After a few minutes more of quiet writing time, volunteers are ready to share their finished products with the class.
This lesson follows one titled Maroo of the Winter Caves: Poetry Connection here.
The primary focus of the previous day’s lesson involved analyzing a poem titled “Where I’m From” by identifying the speaker and noting the author’s effective use of descriptive devices (figurative language and imagery). Students follow along as I read the poem aloud again today. They readily identify that poem reveals a great deal about its speaker because the author has creatively linked together a great deal of information about the person’s life. I ask if they know enough about the main character in Maroo of the Winter Caves by Ann Turnbull to take on the task of writing in her voice and they eagerly accept the challenge. To ease into the task, we decide to write stanza one together and then break into partner groups to write the others. Ahead of time I created a graphic organizer with space for brainstorming ideas and drafting each stanza so we can get right to business. Two examples for stanza one include:
I am from the frigid winter caves of the Ice Age,
And a loving, caring family
From a hunter-gatherer tribe
Brave, strong and nomadic following the deer.
I am from the nomadic clans of the Ice Age
And the frozen White Mountains,
From the sparkle of the grey-green sea
The bobbing of the seal people on this endless water fountain.
For thoughts on adapting this activity click here.
Small student groups work together to write one of the remaining six stanzas. To maintain engagement and keep each student involved with the task, I find that groups of two or three are best. More than that and there are bound to be personality conflicts and/or students that stand back and allow others to complete the task. Mixed ability groups work best as the stronger writers inherently become role models for others and keep their peers on task. Depending on class size you may end up creating more than one class poem, which is what happened to me with 28-30 students in each group I teach. Color-coding the graphic organizers is a great way to manage this. Students that receive yellow copies work on a stanza for one poem and students that receive a blue graphic organizer work on stanzas for another poem.
During the writing process, remind students to be picky about the words they choose by using only the most descriptive, such as replacing ‘cold’ with ‘frigid’ and ‘frozen’ in the two samples of the first stanza. Another downfall is that they often end up writing in sentences. Funny how when you want them to they don’t and when they do not have to they do! Another challenge for this assignment is that the students do not take advantage of the most powerful resource: the book. I find myself reminding them over and over to check the text when stuck or to confirm information. While reading the novel, we spent a good amount of time noting the author's use of descriptive language and just the day before we found evidence of figurative language in the text. Now it is time to put that knowledge to good use. Here is a sample of what one group wrote.
To gather information about the day’s lesson from the class as a whole and from individual students, they complete an exit ticket that asks: What are three things your group’s poem reveal about the speaker? What are two things that are going well with this poetry writing activity? What is one question or problem that you have with this poetry writing activity? This first question let's me know if students can explicitly identify information in their poem that is directly connected to Maroo, a young girl who's bravery ultimately saves her family. The next two questions get the students thinking about and analyzing their own learning experience. Their responses will help me plan future lessons.
The third question generates the most interesting responses. Over and over, I read something like, “We need more lines to write all the details.” I’d say it’s a sign of success if students are looking to continue writing!