KIDS WRITING POETRY
I have thought long and hard about children writing poetry and have explored this topic for many years in loads of creative arts and writing classes and workshops around the USA with both teachers and kids. Here is what I think is a simple and fun way to get started.
LESSON PLAN 1 FOR KIDS WRITING POETRY
|IDEA BANK 1
OBJECT: VISUAL FLUENCY
It seems tough at first – writing a poem – and getting started is the tricky part. A good idea is to create a poetry culture in your class/school. Read poems together. Put some on walls. Make music and drawings with some. Make a poetry tree. Hang up favorites. These activities create a natural transition towards getting kids of all ages writing their own.
There are a number of interesting and wonderful poetry anthologies for young readers out there as well as books for teaching kids to write poetry, and also a few fantastic poetry websites. If you want any recommendations, just email me.
I have created a few beginning exercises which build a structure so that kids can start creating their own mental pictures and begin finding their own voices. This is important. We are aiming always for concrete visions. I remember my poetry teacher at Washington University, Donald Finkle, saying over and over: “make it concrete … make it specific … cut out the fluff words.”
Special Note: make a ‘keep off’ sign for a selection of lazy words that don’t contribute much to describing things – words like beautiful, nice, cute, awesome, cool, bad, wow, etc. Later we can find ways to use them, too.
Each student makes a list of all the things s/he can remember from her/his home. This can take 5 minutes, with the class writing without stopping. I use this technique a lot to encourage writing fluency.
NEXT have each student find a hole in space to say a word out loud and individually. At first this may be chaotic, but classes quickly get there and exercises like this encourage both a secure sense of self and a collegiate atmosphere. Depending on age, these things can then be written down on the board or on paper.
Special note: this exercise can be done with all kinds of other environments, depending on age. For instance, in the garden, in the woods, outdoors at night, on the beach, under the ocean, up in space, in another time.
Together with the class, make a long list of descriptive words including:
SIZE WORDS: e.g. big, small, tiny, thin, enormous, long, short.
COLOR WORDS: e.g. red, blue, orange, yellow. Later you can have a day of fun with lists of great words for colors like azure, marine blue, sea green, poppy red….
SPACIAL WORDS: e.g. high, low, fat, skinny, crooked, straight, curvy.
TEXTURAL WORDS: e.g. soft, hard, scratchy, velvety, sharp, smooth, gentle, sticky.
MOVING WORDS: e.g. wiggly, slow, fast, whizzing, whirring, running, hopping, jumping, strolling.
SOUND WORDS: e.g. loud, noisy, banging, quiet, whizzing, ringing, tapping. This is a good moment to introduce alliterative sound words that sound like what they really are … buzzing, whirring, whooshing.
SMELL WORDS: e.g. sweet, sour, disgusting, moldy, perfumed.
APPEARANCE WORDS: e.g. shiny, dirty, grungy, smudgy, clean, neat.
This can be an ongoing class list that can be added to every day as new descriptive words are found – a good way to spin your poetry thread through other curriculum areas.
Ask the class to write 3 descriptive things about each object with a color always included. This is a good moment for students to start their own favorite word notebooks, which can lead to favorite phrase notebooks, etc. Now use three of those words in a phrase to describe something in your home.
The bed is blue, big, bouncy
The bouncy, big, blue, bed
The dog is orange, quiet, and hopping
The velvet purple jumping plate
Eat a wiggly pink breakfast
NOW FOR THE FINALE
Line 1 Descriptive:
My wiggly soft yellow shoe
Line 2 Action:
Ate a huge shiny breakfast
Line 3 Action using the prompt ‘and then’:
And there you have it. Not really a poem as such. But totally fun for kids. They are now on a great course for developing a fluid stream of mental imagery, appreciating language, and developing simple word patterns. Of course, there are a million and one variations to this theme which you can play with, based on the age range of the class, their particular interests and your own predilections. So remember, have fun and follow the path less taken.
Stay tuned if you like this. Idea Bank 2 will deal with strengthening the imagination.
ON ANOTHER NOTE:
THE WAY I LOOK AT IT….
I like to read poetry. And I like to write it.
One reason is because I think in pictures. A lot of people do. It’s MAGIC.
It’s dreaming when you’re awake. But with poetry you can figure out how all these unrelated pictures can come together and become an exciting concept that you express with words; words that don’t necessarily follow a normal logical order.
It’s something totally surprising and totally YOURS.
Not to mention electrifying. It’s like pulling a white rabbit out of a hat. Only the hat is your head and the white rabbit is this poem that’s been waiting inside you anxious to jump out.
Another reason I like to write poetry is because sometimes when I see something, it makes such an impression on me – a WOW moment – that I want to remember it forever.
For example. One day I look out of our kitchen window and see the neighbour’s cats playing in the snowy garden. That night I can’t help it. I think about those two cats over and over. It makes me smile. Suddenly the first few lines of the poem jump into my head:
People have many ways of creating poetry.
MY MAGICAL POETRY MIX
First I take all kinds of pictures from my mind that don’t seem to go together. Sometimes I don’t even think very hard because the pictures just pop, spin, fly, slide, bounce, and roll into my brain for some reason.
Suddenly this strange group of images are somersaulting around in my head. And nothing makes any logical sense.
And PRESTO it becomes totally another way of seeing things – my own private way.
NEXT I keep saying the image words and phrases in my head over and over and re-arranging them on paper or on screen, like furniture in the living room, until I like how they all work and sound together. Here it’s super important to learn to trust what you like.
THE WORDS BEGIN TO GET MORE LIKE A POEM
The words take on their own rhythm.
SOMETIMES the words can rhyme and that is fun. Sometimes they don’t. It depends on what I feel like doing with the words and ideas that day. Or rather what the words and ideas feel like doing with me that day.
AFTER combining the pictures, the words, and the sounds in an order that I choose, the poems turn out to have a particular meaning. This meaning reflects how I am feeling at any one time. So my poems can be funny, or sad, or unsettling, or lovey, or worried, or silly, or frightened, or bittersweet, or happy. Or a host of other things as well. And sometimes really not even that obvious to me at first.
FINALLY here is the key thing in my magical Zaro poetry world. When I am writing, I know deep down I have something I really want to say. But believe it or not, I don’t always know what it is. So I keep on writing and finally, if I am lucky and the stars are with me, I arrive at exactly what I mean to say.
And there is kind of epiphany! An AHA moment. The moment when the poem flies across the plate like a home run and makes sense. And that is the most exciting thing.
To have figured out a little bit of what is going on inside me.
That’s why I like poetry so much – it is a wonderful puzzle to work out and the results are totally unexpected and totally strange and always and forever MAGICAL.
Please contact me if you have any questions at zazakidsbooks.com