Formats for 2015 Poetry Project

Pre-project lesson
Heart Mapping

Week #1: Life Poems

Week #2: My Favorite Letter Poems

Week #3: If Poems

Week #4: Because Poems

Week #5-6: Stop and Start Poems

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

We are off and running! I loved this quote, because that's how I feel about poetry. It's a new way of looking at what was always there.

Poetry is about emotion. It's what the writer felt when he wrote, and what the reader is feeling as he reads. They are not always the same, and that's alright, but a poem that doesn't evoke some response in the reader is not effective. We don't write to produce an effect. If we feel it, as the author, there will be an effect on the reader. We want to get deeper than the "I like my ______." feelings. See if this activity helps students do that.

This is a modification of Georgia Heard's notes in the .pdf file for which I sent the url. At some point between now and when you do the first format, it might be helpful to have your students make heart maps. The younger children will make less complete ones, and use pictures more than writing. Older students can be very detailed. I've attached a copy of the cover of her book, which I recommend. It gives an idea of one kind of heart map.

I suggest having a heart shape divided into 5 sections for the younger students. I think a graphic organizer might be more effective for older students, or let them draw it out in their own way. As always, model for them what you want by doing it yourself, in front of them. If we want children to share their hearts and innermost feelings, we must be willing to do the same.

If you provide an organizer, I suggest using heart shapes somehow in the map to remind students of the main idea of the activity. This NCREL site has some organizer examples. I could see using the Network Tree with a heart in the middle. A lot of our feelings do network from one area to another.

Jack Gantos did a similar thing in a workshop I attended. He called it a neighborhood map and used it to write Heads or Tails, and the following books about Jack, based on his childhood. Marissa Moss uses a diary, in fact tells the entire story through the diary with drawings, sayings, etc., in her Amelia books. This could be the bridge from the poetry unit into prose.

Here are some ideas from Georgia to get students going.

Heart Mapping


    To discover what things are important to you
    To discover you inner poet's voice


Think about the things and people that are important to you. Use the following questions to help you uncover what is in your heart. Then begin your own heart map. Add your own important ideas and thoughts not covered by the questions.

Use the questions as a guide, not an absolute. This can be an ongoing process, added to whenever a new idea occurs to you. As we grow, we change, and so does the heart. (Remind them they aren't writing these stories right now, just making quick notes or pictures to help them remember later.)

    What has really affected your heart?
    What people have been important to you?
    What are some experiences or central events that you will never forget?
    What happy or sad memories do you have?
    What secrets have you kept in your heart?
    What small things or objects are important to you - a tree in your backyard, a trophy, a stuffed animal ?

Ask yourself:

    Should some things be outside of the heart and some inside of it?
    Do you want to draw more than one heart - good and bad; happy and sad; secret and open - and include different things inside each heart?
    What's at the center of your heart?
    What's outside around the edges?
    Do different colors represent different emotions, events, relationships?

I think these questions *might* come before the others, but this is the order in which Georgia put them - feel first then organize? Rough draft answers to the questions and add your own - then make the map?

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Life Poems

This is a format I found on Marci McGowan's site originally. I think it's a great starter format, because I don't foresee even the youngest writers having too much trouble with it.


Line 1: a color (or similar adjective)
Line 2:  a noun (something that color)
Line 3: a verb (something the noun might do)
Line 4: Life is .... adjective (describing word)
Life Poem

Bull Frogs
Life is amazing!

~Marci McGowan

It would be good to have a reminder discussion of nouns and verbs the day before beginning this format, or to use whatever terminology your students understand. You might possibly have several of these from some students - it's sort of like eating Lay's potato chips. Here are some other examples. You can see that older students will probably want to use phrases instead of one word. That is perfectly fine. Remember to help children find the BEST word, not just a good one, if they can reach a little further.

In a way, these are like haiku. A quick few brushstrokes of words, and then you see a whole picture emerge.

Night Sounds

Life is noisy!
~Susan Nixon, 2010

My Feet

Dancing Shoes
Tapping the beat
Life is rhythmic!
~Susan Nixon, 2010

An Ending

Playing taps
Life is sad.
~Susan Nixon, 2010

Some from students in 2010:

Light orange
Setting down
Life is...beautiful

Gizem - 1st grade, 2010

Sees something new
Life is curious.

Gabriel - 4th grade, 2010

Aqua Blue
Waves in the ocean
Dolphins swimming over corals
Life is freedom

Camila G. - 5th grade, 2010

Brushing Meadows

Delicate green grass
In the meadows
The breeze blowing the tall green grass
Life is delicate

By Davis - 2nd grade, 2010

Water slides
Zooming down
Life is on the move.

- Max - 3rd grade, 2010

In the examples from the children, you can see that most forgot a title, and the ending punctuation. Please remind your students of those two things. Poetry does have conventions!

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Favorite Letter Poems
The rules are:
  • The first line has to state the favorite letter.
  • The first word of each line has to start with the favorite letter.
  • The last line must tell why the poet likes that letter.
  • The poem must make sense.
  • The lines must each be a complete sentence, capitalized and punctuated.
Please encourage the use of adjectives by older students to make lines more interesting. I think every student can be successful with this, but it's a little trickier than it seems at first! I advise you to think out yours before your lesson. Here is one by Rachel, the student who invented the format:

My Favorite Letter
by Rachel L.

L is my favorite letter.
Lynx is a cat.
Leach is a bug.
Leonardo's is a place.
Lil is a name.
I like L because it is the first letter of my last name.

Here's one of mine:

My Favorite Letter
by Susan

S is my favorite letter.
Swimming is a wonderful sport.
Sinatra was a famous singer my mother liked.
Spiders have eight creepy legs.
Snakes are the scariest thing ever!
Silver is the color of a full moon.
Silence is golden.
Serendipity is a happy chance.
I like S because it is sinuous.

March, 2015

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Please have children note the capitalization and punctuation of the poem. Poetry has its own conventions. You might want to make a half-page print out for students that looks like this:

I think ____________________________________.

Because ___________________________________.

Because ___________________________________.

Because ___________________________________.

I don't know,
But I think it's so.

Younger students might write just one, older students might write several stanzas. If students want to leave out the word because, that is alright, as long as they have 3 supporting reasons for each speculation. Actually, if you've had discussions of supporting ideas in paragraphs, it's much the same thing.

Before talking about the poem, ask students to discuss what they think it means to speculate. Speculation is a large part of imagination and any kind of writing. My Mac dictionary defines it as "to form a theory or conjecture about a subject without firm evidence." It's the wondering, the what-iffing, the I-thinking. If students are not in the habit of speculating, start herding them in that direction. =) It's not only what fuels writing, but science and many other endeavors in life, too.

After a discussion about the meaning of speculation, have students practice a little. You might offer some questions if they have trouble getting started. You could try anything from practical: What will we need to live on the moon? to totally nonsense: What would happen if we all grew an extra ear on top of our heads?

Then share these examples with students, or write and share your own.

I think there is a cardinal nest in the tree outside my window.
Because I see a bright red bird flying into the waist-high bushes every day.
Because it's the spring greening month of April.
Because I hear the songs of birds echoing through the day and the night.
I don't know,
But I think it's so.

Susan Nixon 4-9-2007

I think there are mice on the Earth's moon.
Because when I look up, I see round holes that look nibbled.
Because mice do nibble holes in all kinds of things.
Because I heard the moon is made of green cheese.
I don't know,
But I think it's so.

Susan Nixon 4-9-2007

I think I will continue to travel the United States for years to come.
I have always loved seeing new things, meeting new people.
I enjoy finding out what's out there, beyond the horizon.
I have friends all over the United States.
I don't know,
But I think it's so.

I think I will see all 50 states evenutally.
I visited 38 the first year I was travelling the country.
I've been in all but 6 of our states.
5 of the six I haven't seen are easily visited by vehicle.
I don't know,
But I think it's so.

I think I can keep living in a 30 foot home for years and years.
I have everything I need inside my 5th wheel.
I keep dropping things off at my best friend's house.
I have storage rooms in two different states.
I don't know,
But I think it's so.

I think I have become a traveling land turtle.
I travel from place to place, so slowly, with long stops in between moves.
I don't really have a particular destination in mind.
I carry my house with me, on the back of my truck.
I don't know,
But I think it's so!

Susan Nixon

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If Poems

This week I have a new format for you. By happy coincidence, Mother's Day in Wales is earlier than it is here. A friend sent me a charming poem his 8-year-old nephew had done at school for his mother, and right away I thought it would be great to combine a poetry week with a Mother's Day project you could use! Later, it could be used again for Father's Day, so I'm going to say your children can write to either parent for our week. Or it could just be about a general topic and we can call it an IF poem. Does that give enough options?

Here's an example of what it might look like as an If Poem:


If Tennessee were a color,
It would definitely be green.
It would be as happy and cheerful as a bee
Roaming the flowers for a bit of nectar.

If Tennessee were a vehicle,
It would be a semi-truck,
Zooming from place to place,
Constantly busy and noisy.

If Tennessee were a computer,
It would be a MacBook Pro,
Showing news stories
Of all the wonderful children who live here.

If Tennessee were a piece of furniture,
It would be a Danish Modern sofa,
Warm wood frame covered
With soft butter-yellow cushions.

Susan Nixon
April 2, 2015

If you wanted to make a frame for younger students, it might look like this, and this will give a better idea how the format goes. It's a little more free than some we do.

If my mom were a color,
She would be ___________.
She would act ___________.
(Something she would do).

If my mom were a vehicle,
She would be __________.
(How would she act
As that vehicle?)

If my mom were a computer,
She would be __________.
(What would show
On the computer?)

If my mom were a piece of furniture,
She would be ___________.
(What would she look like? or
What would happen with her?)

With permission, here's is Matthew's poem (with his understanding of British spelling and grammar):

If my mum was a colour
She would be all the colours of the rainbow,
As happy and as cheerful as a cat drinking
A hot chocolate and wearing pajamas!

If my mum was anything
She would be a book,
because she loves reading books.

If my mum was on the computer
She would be on Microsoft Word
Typing out surprises for the family.

If my mum was some furniture
She would be a nice cuddily sofa
So we could snuggle together
And watch TV.

March, 2015

I know this is a little more nebulous than we usually have, but I thought we could give it a try and you and your students will make it what you want it to be. =) The youngest children could write just one or two verses, if you choose, and older ones could add other things like an animal, a city, whatever comes to their minds. It's actually easier with a person than a place!

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

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Stop and Start Poems

From the teacher, Corbett Harrison:

"I created this writer's notebook poetry lesson, thinking Start & Stop Poems could be another form of language students might learn to collect. After students create the two notebook pages suggested, they can be encouraged to further collect start & stop poems about any topics that occur to them in the future, and they can be encouraged to transform their ideas into longer pieces of writing about topics they explored with poetry."

You can use this with science or history or language - a book the class is reading, anything! Basically, you're looking for a poem that has the same beginning and ending line, but lots of things are in between. You may notice that our previous format with main ideas and details was sort of a preparation for this format. It must make sense, not just be a random collection of things, which is why the notebook is a great place to make notes about ideas students have during the week. I think a few examples will help more than anything I can say to get across the ideas. These are actual samples from student notebooks, at the bottom of this section.

There may be several pages of notes, but they need to keep two notebook pages, something like this, for finished poems from the ideas they've had. If you don't use writer's notebooks, maybe you can staple some pages together for temporary ones? I always used them and found them so helpful for keeping track of student progress as the year progressed!

Bear in mind that these are sophisticated examples from students who've done this for a while. Following the photos, I have a couple of poems I've done, and they are my first attempts at this one. I've added punctuation, which students seem to leave out a lot. YOU are really doing a great job of getting many of them to think about the punctuation of poetry! This is a good one for word choice, using unusual verbs and adjectives and even adverbs. You will notice that many of them start with a preposition, too. The when and where are important. There's a lot to think about here, which is why we are taking two weeks for this final poetry format of the year.

After dark,
Things can be scary.
There are scurrying sounds I don't recognize,
And things I see out of the corner of my eye.
Animals rustle in the leaves of the backyard,
Looking for food and whatever looks interesting.
I wonder what's interesting to anyone
After dark.

Susan Nixon

Twilight comes,
Creeping across the wall of my bedroom,
Bringing shadows into the darkened room.
Is that a looming monster?
Or only the wizened winter branches of the willow tree?
Light swells to a crescendo and the world becomes clear.
A day of learning stretches my brain out of shape,
And I face off against my friends in a game of soccer after school.
My family clusters together for dinner as the blazing light
Begins to dim.
In the warmth of home and love,
Twilight comes.

Susan Nixon

Now what about the younger children? Yours have shown they have good, creative brains! I think they can do a shorter, simpler version. Same rule for starting and stopping with the same words. Kindergarten, first, maybe give them several starts and stops from which to choose? Let them brainstorm some things that fit within that frame of time? Let them talk with others, discuss possibilities? I know that has the potential to get out of hand, but it is the end of the year, and they can probably stay on task if it's only a short time, I think. I have every confidence in your students and in you!

Possible starts/stops which occurred to me, and you are not bound by these in any way, are:

Outside the window
Inside my desk
In our classroom
In my back yard
On the playground
At the library
Up in the tree
When I do math
A long time ago
The rock I found

Etc. I'm sure you can think of even better ones!

To view pictures larger, this works for me. Right click picture. Click View Image. When image comes up, there should be a plus sign on it. Click on the image again and it will enlarge to full size.


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