Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Poetry UNITS, And the Value of talking to other Teachers. . .

Today I was on LinkedIn.

I had the good fortune of falling into a group - teachers anonymous of something silly like that. One of the benefits of helping other people is that it really benefits you MORE, almost all of the time. You feel good about yourself, you feel inspired. It feels good to do good. And then there's the fact that you read about all these other fascinating ideas teachers have for poetry units.

The found poem is always fun. The acrostic? - why not... One professor suggested giving each student half a line, and having that student meet up with his or her "other half" in order to discern the line's meaning. Still another teacher suggested drawing the impression or meaning the poem has for them. A final one I read thought a variation on the "cut up" poem would be fun. Instead of cutting up the entire poem, just cut out certain phrases. Students can fill in what they believe would work provided they can justify it.

I've always thought the Exquisite Corpse works well, whether you are doing it for the short story or for the poem. Most people don't call it the "Exquisite Corpse" because it sounds eerie and odd, but most of us have done it before. If you use rows, and have five students in each row, each has a sheet of paper. The entire class begins their versions of a story, OR a POEM.
      When they have gotten a stanza or a few good lines down, each person passes it back (well, except for the poor people in the back who must run very fast up to the front. Now, everyone quickly reads the first stanza, and continue the poem, until it is time to pass back again. When each person has the honor of getting back his or her paper, let everyone read, and then finish their own poem. This round will take the longest.  Everyone may share out loud afterwards.

If you want a longer more far-reaching and skills-based poetry unit....

An idea I have had much success with is using the Romantic Poets. This is nothing I am currently working on for the PerfettoWritingRoom. If and when I do, it will be a full unit. Whether you do one poem from each: Shelley, Wordsworth, Blake, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, use the poems of the Romantic poets that are available in your text, choose your favorite or have the students choose their own, it can be very successful, and will have a different slant.

Once the poems are chosen, create a prompt for each poem. Assignments can vary and can be: personal reflection, close reading, summarizing the poem but moving on to a related writing topic, or a targeted writing activity geared towards studying the poems' literary devices, structure, pacing, symbolism, tropes, or other goal you may have. Ideally, you may want to do a variety of each of these, not just summaries, or reflections, etc. I always got permission to take the student out of school for one or two periods, to sit outside and read poetry as the Romantics would have done. This was Grade 11, and they appreciated it and as a result were reasonably well behaved!

The Unit grade is based on a major test that includes all of the poetry and information covered, all of the writings done in the "Poetry-prompt journal," as well as one-two poems they must write that use the style and the subject matter of the Romantic poets. Lastly, there is a small art component: some students take pictures of nature, other draw, sculpt, do computer renderings or animation. For those who "swear" they are completely dull at art, an extra poem or two may be submitted.

Outside of the unit itself, there is a major poetry analysis paper in the works; this is not included in the unit grade, but shows that the students have a very well-rounded activity and lesson load during the spring. I feel it is very holistic, or "whole-istic."

I hope you think this is a useful approach to teaching, not just "a few poems" but the style and structure of poetry, and background of the poets, all the while giving the students some time to slow down and soak up some sun, time to reflect and write as the Romantics themselves would, before quizzing, testing, and writing an analytical paper and some poems of their own. Who knew you could be so industrious in March?

I hope you enjoyed my idea for the Romantics teaching unit. So in the spirit of talking to our teachers and yes, our writers too, any other ideas for great poetry units? I'm all ears. Stop by and drop me a line, or visit my store, posted on the side bar of my main page.

Friday, October 25, 2013

When Can One Writing Activity Be Used 900 Times?? Well (if you Really Push Your Limits)

Yes, Yes, this is ONE page. A mere single page. On the left are positive attribute adjectives, and on the right are potentially negative attribute nouns, or at the very least nouns that are frustratingly ill-fitted (on purpose, I assure you) to the words on the left!

The ENTIRE activity is SIX pages. A writer, teacher, lecturer, professor or coach, can do SO MUCH with an exercise like this!!

I have used this activity for years, and writer always always love it, not to say they don't sometimes HATE it first....but they are allowed to choose again. The light bulb always goes on.

Whether you give one page to each row or aisle, or cut them into squares and have one "noun" bag and one "adjective" bag and let the writers choose until they have a suitable pair that makes them suitably excited and inspired, it almost always leads to something bizarre, outrageous, beautiful or at least beyond what a writer felt he or she was capable of writing before attempting such an extreme assignment.

I have named this the "Extreme Perspective" Writing Activity. In total, there are up to 900 possible adjective-noun matches. Here are the directions, knowing FULL well that if you wanted, you could all just shut off the computer and make it on your own. While I am admittedly selling it (yes, the amazingly high price, if I recall properly of $5.00 bucks?), the idea, work, effort, directions and embedded freebie alone (which you'll never really know about unless you buy it, so ha) is more than worth it....

Back to the Directions -

While you have chosen a bizarre, odd, or unlikely adjective-noun scenario, write a scene in which the pairing you have chosen not only is feasible, but is downright believable and likely given your setting, atmosphere, narrator, or all three. In short, what scenario can you create in which the unlikely pairing you have makes perfect sense?

Just a few of the 900 pairings could be

Brilliant Industrialization
Fascinating Agony
Glorious Destruction

As you can already guess, such pairings have the potential to PUSH writers into lesser traveled genre or historical eras, can force writers to make less safe writing topics, choose more interesting narrators or unreliable ones, and in general make writing choices and decisions far away from what they normally would. The fact that a writer can go back every week and choose a new possibility is exciting, lending itself to portfolio or even story collection possibilities.

See the link to my store at Teachers Pay teachers at the top of this post. Happy writing, and happy teaching.

The Joy of a Great Writing Prompt . . .

What I think I've been struggling with most lately is how to create not merely a good writing exercise - the ones that are open-ended but also hold the potential of a intriguing exercise or the promise of  STORY  - BUT, a writing exercise that can do ALL of that for multiple writing levels, for an ENTIRE CLASS, and even more so, with a theme to (sort of, kind of) hold it all together. How could something with a theme still be open-ended and be diverse and varied?


I had been collecting photos for a while, and the ideas of doors hit me. What a metaphor. Writing itself is a door, or a doorway to the imagination, to discourse, to another reality, and a gateway between writer and reader (some critics would of course vehemently disagree on this final bit).

However you look at it, the idea of doors, door ways, halls, passages, or gates was intriguing to me. When I compiled twenty-two I realized the incredible diversity among them. Fantastical 'doorways to nowhere,' renderings of somewhat funny or potentially frightening 'choose which door' scenarios, comforting photos of a flower adorned gate or cottage on a cliff, a collection of cars (well they all have doors, don't they?), and even the yawning mouth of a cave come together in an unlikely and tantalizing collection. In short, these picture prompts ask many questions, but just some of them can be:

Where does this door lead?
What is on the other side?
What is outside the range of the picture's edge?
Why is your character here?

Before I knew what had happened two weeks had gone by. I had created an introduction with directions for use, and a two page hand out on setting, with a nod to atmosphere and showing vs. telling. I realized that each of these prompts could be a scene in itself, or taken to it full extent, a story rich in detail. The goal, at least as I envision it, is to write in a moment-to-moment fashion, as if the narrator is exploring the space, so the reader feels as if he or she is there. This is invaluable practice for a writer for is starting out.

"DOOR WAYS To SETTING" is just that, a way to explore space, place, the five senses ( or as many of them as are practical ) AND, to approach character. In time, any of these prompts can be stories; events can occur that are not pictured in the renderings. It is of course, about the writer, and never really about the prompt. The prompt is just a door to the imagination, right?

For ANY teacher, professor, lecturer, or writer interested in using or purchasing this 29 page prompt activity with notes, overview and directions, or for other items (and yes, all are reasonably priced; a few are free) by all means please visit my store at

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