Sunday, August 2, 2009

Planning and Poetry

As July turns to August, I make a transition in my thinking. The upcoming school year slowly morphs from a vague idea into a specific reality. I have to go from the sun-soaked brainstorming of early summer--"Next year I'll do this, and this, and this!"--into the practical realities of what will and will not work with my students.

For me, the hardest day to plan is the very first day. I don't know the students, and they don't know me. In four weeks, we will be a cohesive community, with our own jokes and culture and ways to spend time. But it's a challenge to get to that good place.

This year, I'm going to tweak a Responsive Classrooms idea. I've had great luck with having students decorate the labels for different places in the room--the art supplies, the different closets, the pencil sharpener, the library, the dictionaries, and so forth. This gives students something meaningful to do right from the moment they walk into the room. I'm going to take this one step forward by moving from decorating the labels into decorating posters of poems that we'll be sharing this year.

Although I don't specifically tell them to do so, they always decorate the labels to go along with the text. The library sign has books, the pencil sharpener sign has pencils, and so forth. This will be a great way to jump into decorating the poems. "Just as the sign for the library has a picture of books, we can decorate these poems with pictures that go along with what they are about." Then, students will work in small groups to read the poems and decorate them. The poems that I've chosen are kid-friendly, with lots of specific imagery. (Bobbi Katz's Once Around the Sun has a poem for every month. Pieces, by Anna Grossnickle Hines, has poems for different seasons, illustrated by photographs of beautiful quilts.)

One poetry thought led to another. My mailbox has been filled with Back to School catalogs lately. Why not put those to good use by having students create found poems? To create a found poem, students just choose and arrange words from various sources in a new way. It works well to have a variety of words cut out ahead of time--a perfect task for a student who will be volunteering in my room right before school begins. After we talk about what a found poem is and I share an example, students choose their color of paper, and select and arrange the words. A back to school/autumn theme will work perfectly.

Found poems can be funny and thoughtful. What makes them so much fun to do is that every kid can create an interesting product, and the word selection often leads to unexpected combinations. Sharing the poems will be a low-stress, funny way to get to know everyone and see what they can do.

So, that's the first day partially planned. Now, just 179 to go...

Here is a lesson on using found poems from ReadWriteThink.


  1. The concept of " found poems" makes me want to be able to teach English! I wonder how I can incorporate this in my middle school SS class? I could probably use this as a choice on a tiered project or tic tac toe chart, and have the students write a found poem from a particular perspective???

    I am also hesitant about the first day back. Last year worked out so well and our classroom culture just fell into place and I don't know if that comes about naturally or...? I guess since it's only my 2nd year I don't have a lot to compare it to!

  2. Sarah, found poems are so much fun. I've used words from catalogs (LL Bean and Lands End both use great descriptive adjectives!) but there is no reason why you can't use this for social studies.

    Try using words from a paragraph of a textbook. Or, use a primary source. What kind of found poem can you make using the words from the preamble to the Constitution?

    P.S. Thanks for commenting! You're the best.