Thursday, May 2, 2013

Poetry Explorations in 5th Grade English

Last week my students and I launched our exploration of poetry, and the unit came as a welcome change of pace after a month of diligently writing historical fiction. Some of the poetry activities we've enjoyed:


Poetry Share
Our poetry unit began with a homework assignment: Bring in a poem you love. The assignment was simple and my students seemed to appreciate the freedom it afforded. After several confirmations that the task was as straightforward as it seemed ("Can it be a poem I wrote?" "Can it be a poem someone else wrote?""Can it be kind of short?" "Kind of long?") my classes brought in an impressively wide array of poems. Over several class periods students read their poems aloud, and while we had the usual suspects like Prelustky, Silverstein, and Carrol, I was also pleasantly surprised to see a handful of students had chosen relatively obscure works by Dickinson and Shelley. One brought in lyrics to a Simon and Garfunkel song, completely unaware that they were lyrics at all. We immediately crowded around my desk to watch a clip of the duo performing I Am a Rock. A few students chose poems they had written in 4th Grade, personal favorites they were excited to reminisce over. It was great fun to see each student explain why they chose a particular poem, and to watch them introduce those works to their classmates.


Slam Poetry
Inspired by a tweet from Bryant Palmer, I decided to share a collection of spoken word poems. My students are fairly well-versed in written poetry, but I knew slam poetry would be vibrant, surprising, a good way to catch their attention. Bryant's 5th Graders had voted Somewhere There is a Poem by Gina Loring their favorite, and mine watched the below clip with wonder and amazement: You mean poetry can look and sound like this?



After a quick bit of crowd-sourcing from my excellent Twitter PLN, librarians-extraordinaire Linda Lindsay and Charity Harbeck led me to several online poetry resources. Among Linda's top picks was Adam Gottlieb's Poet Breathe Now. In the clip, Gottlieb introduces himself as a 17 year old poet, and my students enjoyed the juxtaposition of Gottlieb's performance alongside Loring's. 


My class reflected on the two clips, and immediately understood that slam poetry was about music, rhythm, words as songs. Their observations about slam poetry -- somewhat aggressive, like a marathon ("I felt like I held my breath while he was talking. He spoke so quickly!"), or a sermon -- deeply impressed me. My students recognized these poets as performers, noting their confidence, their skill in utilizing not only words but facial expressions and body language. They laughed and smiled and left the classroom buzzing. 


Building on the excitement of this first foray into poetry via YouTube, I showed several additional clips curated by the lovely Linda Lindsay (I guess my alliteration poster is paying off for all of us in Room 404). For those teachers looking for a few unconventional poetry lessons, I highly recommend:

Found Poetry
One Boy Told Me by Naomi Shihab Nye: A completely charming poem composed of phrases uttered by the poet's young son. This poem was a lovely lesson on the concept of finding poetry in everyday life, of how beautiful a few simple lines can sound when combined just so. After watching the video, I gave my students excerpts from Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek. We read the each story once, and then on the second reading I asked them to highlight some of the most descriptive words in the passage. They reorganized these highlighted phrases to compose unique poems. I am also interested in using this great resource from readwritethink.org, which includes the text of classic speeches and an online 'word mover' that allows students to virtually rearrange the texts into their own poems.

Haiku
My current group of students had worked on haiku writing last year, so after a quick refresher on the "rules," they were ready to write. We brainstormed words, feelings, places and experiences that reminded them of summer vacation, and they wrote between three and five haiku on these topics. It was interesting to see how many students chose to write 'serial' haiku about a single theme, and to watch them help one another as they counted syllables. I love writing haiku with students because of the math involved, the way the words get broken down into numbers, and because the restrictions the form imposes are so different from how the kids usually think of poetry. 

Classics
Everyone has fond childhood memories of Shel Silverstein, but few have had the experience of hearing him perform his own work. This is a great clip of Silverstein reading Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too. Hearing a poem they've read on paper countless times brought to life is always a special experience for kids. (Full disclosure: I myself got a few goosebumps when I heard Shel Silverstein's voice).

We also listened to The Raven by Poe, as read by James Earl Jones. As one student said upon hearing the poets' name, "Oh hey! I've heard of this guy!"

Finally, a few other poems on YouTube that I found to be excellent classroom resources:

My Parents Sent Me to the Store - Kenn Nesbitt
Calico Pie - Edward Lear (this is a rendition sung by Natalie Merchant)
Brother - Mary Anne Hoberman
The Tropics in New York - Claude McKay
Daffodils - William Wordsworth 


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