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"The Place My Words Are Looking For"
Poetry Project

"The Place My Words Are Looking For" Poetry Project   

This lesson plan was written by Lisa Kihn, elementary teacher of Language Arts, Reading and Math at Nevin Platt Middle School in Boulder, (CO), and a former Teachers Network web mentor.

Suggested Daily Lessons

Day One

Students write in a journal their response to this sentence stem: 

Poetry is…

Share with the class. Save this piece of writing because students will revisit this throughout this unit.
Put several of your favorite poems on overhead transparencies. Read them aloud and share your love of poetry with the class. (I choose several Shel Silverstein and Jack Perlutsky, as well as childhood favorites and poems about school). This works best if you, as the teacher, can find poems that really speak to you and that you truly enjoy. Share with the class.

HOMEWORK: Hand out poetry survey  and ask them to interview a family member (some students like to take more than one). Ask students to bring in a favorite poem or poetry book from home to share with the class.

Day Two  

Poetry Search

Have numerous resources in the class that students can use to search for poems that they would like to include in a collection. This works best if you have lots of resource books. Have students' share with the class favorite poems that they have found. They love this! They should either think about or write down why they chose the poems they did. What about it did they like? How does the poem speak to them? What does the poem remind them of? Etc.

Teach that poets use words to paint pictures in our minds.

HOMEWORK: Challenge students to write a poem painting pictures with words. They may want to copy a style of a poem that they found during their poetry search.

Day Three 

Poetry Search

Throughout this unit you may challenge students to find a specific poem during the poetry search time. Some ideas include the following: find a poem that represents them, describes their mood today, describes their hobbies, their favorite food, the outdoors, a specific situation they may be in, fits a main character in a book, etc. Be creative in your requests. Always allow students to share their poems each day. It may be one they have written or have found.

Teach a catalog poem. Write one with the class. Start with a one word subject…for example SNOW. Have the class brainstorm all the words and phrases that come to mind. Use all their senses. List all the words underneath the topic word. Then rearrange the words. You may want to categorize the descriptions, arrange the words so that it is rhythmic or has a beat, etc. The purpose is to emphasize with them how to paint pictures with words and how poetry differs from prose. You may try having students work in pairs to write another catalog poem. They may brainstorm all the words and phrases and then cut the words out and rearrange them in creative and unusual ways to form a poem.

Talk about poetic license - the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning; using words in unusual and creative ways to paint interesting pictures in the reader's mind. Explain how this is different from prose. You may even have students choose a subject and find a poem and a piece of prose about the subject and compare the two.

HOMEWORK: Write a catalog poem.

Day Four

Have students add to their definition of poetry in their journals.

Read selected poems from Gary Soto's Fire In My Hands. Show how Soto uses anecdotes before each of his poems.

Hand out poetry final requirements

Students will be poetry searching everyday to find poems to add to their collection. They can copy them down on paper or use a copy machine.

HOMEWORK: Write a poem that mimics a style or form you found interesting or intriguing.

Day Five

Read a poem aloud that you find interesting or have students read their own poems. 
Ask these questions: 

  1. What captured your curiosity?

  2. What is the strongest part of the image?

  3. What words are most important to you?

  4. Can you group or cluster these words?

  5. What words go together best? (quick check)

  6. What music would you put to it?

  7. How would you illustrate it?

  8. How would you pantomime or dance it?

Poetry comes from the heart and soul.

Find a poem that uses sounds like onomatopoeia and alliteration in creative ways (I use Robert Frost). Explain these concepts.

Brainstorm with the class how sounds create images. For example: Choppy sounds use b, p, d. Soft sounds use s, f, etc. 

Ask questions like; What words sound pretty? What sounds like galoshes going through mud? etc.

Have students search for and share poems that have interesting sounds.

HOMEWORK: Write a poem focusing on the sounds of the words.

Day Six

Teach form

Teach that poets select words very carefully. Part of the message is in the form. Everything a poet puts in a poem (punctuation, capitalization, etc.) is important and planned. I use ee cummings and Shel Silverstein poems to teach how poets do not need to follow a standard format. Poets place words on the paper for effect. Words may actually form a picture. Many poets choose to repeat certain words and place these words on the paper in a specific location to create an image. Use The Cabbages are Chasing the Rabbits, by Arnold Adoff for a good example of this.
Have students search for and share poems that have interesting sounds.

HOMEWORK: Write a poem focusing on form.

Day Seven

Students should share any poems they have written or found.

In small groups students should discuss a poem that has a unique form. They may answer these questions: 

  1. How does the form affect the way the poem is read?

  2. Analyze why the poet placed words where he/she did? (Why was that form used?)

  3. Dig into the poet's head. What did the poet have to know or research to write an effective poem? Why did the poet choose the words he/she did?

  4. How does the form help the poet get the image across since only a few words are used?

***Students should discuss and workshop their own poems with a small group using these questions.

Day Eight

Continue to work with form. 

Students may want to rewrite some of their poems with form in mind, or they may want to write new poems. Students should choose one of their poems and experiment with different forms. Which works best to get the message across? They may get feedback from other students. Another idea is to have students write words describing images and then cut them out and paste them into an interesting form.

Continue with poetry searching and sharing.

Day Nine

Students should go back to their Poetry is… definition and add to it. Discuss in class.

Challenge students to find a very favorite poem (they may already have one). Tell them that this will be a special poem because they will "keep it in their pocket" to always have at their fingertips. Encourage all students to have a copy of this poem with them for the rest of the week. Give all students a chance to present this poem to the class. You may want to have students memorize it.
Continue to work on final project. Students should be writing and searching for poems for their final book of poetry. Continue to encourage students to be aware of image and form. Remind them that for the final project they are to pick only three poems for each section and that they should write meaningful anecdotes. Use examples from Gary Soto and your own to model good examples for the students.

Day Ten

Students should be working on their final project: writing and finding poems and workshopping with other students to get feedback.

Day Eleven

Continue to allow students to work independently and provide feedback, always keeping image and form in mind.

Remember students should be writing and searching for poems all the time. Eventually they will put only their three best poems from their entire collection into each part of the book.

Day Twelve

Continue working on the final project. Always conference with students that are having specific problems. The next few days students will work independently putting together their final project. Show them the final draft rubrics  often so that they remember to include all parts.

Day Thirteen

Rough draft due.

Provide students with white paper or art supplies in order to do their illustrations.

You may give a quiz with these questions:

  1. What is alliteration?

  2. Give an example of alliteration.

  3. What is onomatopoeia?

  4. Give an example of onomatopoeia.

  5. What is an anecdote?

  6. How many anecdotes are to be put into your poetry book?

  7. What is important about image in the poems you write?

  8. What is important about form in the poems you write?

  9. Who is your favorite poet? Why?

  10. What is poetic license?

Day Fourteen

Work on final draft.

Day Fifteen 

Continue to work on final draft.

Day Sixteen 

Final draft due.

Have students take out their Poetry is… one last time. Add to it if necessary. Share how their thoughts about poetry have changed throughout this unit.

Give all students a chance to share their projects. I usually ask students to share just one poem and anecdote from each section in front of the class. I give them an opportunity to practice first.

I often have a poetry party. Students bring food and dress up to present their poems. 

We celebrate poetry!


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