Say the word poem to students, and they might respond w/ moans and groans. Even a parent with whom I recently had a conference regarding her special services student moaned when I told her the first unit of the trimester would be on poetry. These negative reactions to poetry mean teachers need to work doubly hard to engage students in the study or spoken music--poetry.
A survey course on British literature brims with poetry, beginning w/ the Epic of Beowulf and continuing through The Canterbury Tales and into the postmodern verse of Derek Walcott and beyond.
How, then, do we get students "into" poetry. I began the unit this year with "Where I'm From" poems.
Today is Day 1 of a two week unit on the study of poetry from the British Romantics, Victorians, and Moderns. In today's lesson students
Use the Prezi, advancing to the first frame. This frame introduces students to the "Alliterate Your Name" activity in a Name Alliteration Wordle. Since students have already studied alliteration (Beowulf unit), they see the activity as fairly easy and many offer to share their alliterations before being prompted to do so. We hear the volunteers first and then go around the room so all have a chance to speak. Some of the students alliterated their names as follows:
Only a couple of students needed prompting but only because their names had vowel sounds at the beginning, and they struggled only because they had been taught repeatedly that alliteration applies to consonant sounds at the beginning of words. In its strictest sense, this is true, but it isn't a hard and fast rule for discussing alliteration.
Continuing to use the Prezi, I introduce students to George Ella Lyon's poem "Where I'm From: ""Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon Then, we read the poem. Typically, students respond to the first reading of the poem with "oohs" and "that's neat" comments.
Play the video so that student get a sense of place evoked in the poem.
Now it's the students' turn to compose "Where I'm From" poems. Their task is to complete a "copy change" using the model of Lyon's poem. In a copy change students use key lines from the origional and change other lines to change the meaning. For example, the Lyon "Where I'm From" poem is specifically about the author, but in their poems students will compose poems about themselves.
The template will assist students in the composition of their poems; however, the template is only a guide for students. I tell students to use it if they need it but that I will not read their poems against the template. I am a Poem Template guides students, so I show this via the Prezi and not as a handout that suggests filling in blanks.
Read through the template and tell students that the blanks are followed by descriptions of what Lyon does in his poem. I tell students they may deviate from the form but that they should work for variety so that readers get a sense of who the student really is as a total person.
Once students have a chance to finish their poems, it's fun to share. I ask for volunteers, and we take time to hear the following "Where I'm From" poem:
I am from...
I am from lead pencils
from notebooks and coffee
I am from the two-story
The homey feeling
I am from the cocoa bean
The apple orchard
Whose long gone limbs I remember
As if they were my own.
I am from music and from brown eyes
from father and son
I'm from late night and early mornings
and from rolls of the dice.
I'm from honor and honesty
and diamonds on the floor
I'm from wargames
I'm from Helena and Germany
Chickens and pasta
From war stories
On the wall.
I'm from me.
After hearing the marvelous poem above, we applaud because we celebrate the brave students who share. Then we have more sharing.
Students hand in their "Where I'm From" poems at the end of the period. Thus ends a successful first day of the British Poetry Unit.