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.

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