Friday, March 1, 2013

Comparing Poems

Classroom ready materials for comparing poems and other texts can be found here: Comparing Texts and Comparing Texts 2

As the last part of our quick unit on figurative language and poetry, the students and I spent the last week looking at how to compare poems and write paragraphs to share our comparisons.

Whew. It's a difficult process for students. On the one hand, students often spontaneous make comparisons as we move through poems--"That one reminds of me of..." or "This is just like..." However, to write successful comparison paragraphs, students need to learn how to do more thoughtful, thorough comparisons.

Using a chart
A chart is essential for helping students to compare poems. Sometimes people try to use Venn diagrams for this purpose. Venn diagrams are great for set theory and fun visual gags...but terrible for planning writing! A chart sets up the important criteria for what is to be compared. Because testing season is coming up, I told students that they won't be able to use a prepared chart for our state tests, but that they can make their own comparison charts.

It's interesting to watch students use the chart. When I model this for struggling readers, I work with one poem at a time. This kind of careful reading and analysis takes a lot of concentration, and struggling readers often have trouble with the attentional shifts needed to go back and forth between texts. On the other hand, strong readers often prefer to work in the opposite way. They thrive on the extra challenge of going back and forth between texts and often create strong insights, seeing differences in the ways that the author developed the topics.

Do we have to fill out the whole thing? That's the beauty of it--I tell students that we only need to fill in 4 or 5 blocks. We look for the criteria that are the most interesting for the poems that we have. Interestingly, kids always like to fill in the block for figurative language and sound devices!

Scaffolded response frame
A scaffolded response frame is useful for students who are still learning compare and contrast structure. Let's face it--this describes just about every elementary school writer! A nice middle level of scaffolding is to project the scaffolded response, but have students write their own responses.

Is it formulaic? Yup. Does it lead to scripted, formulaic writing? Some of the responses on the last assessment were the best that I've seen. Helping students with the topic sentence and the transitions freed up some processing space for them to do some deeper thinking about the texts. Kids used quotation marks to show where they were quoting from poems, using specific details, coming up with similarities that I hadn't considered. These are good things!

Choosing Poems
This is the hardest part. It's tempting to stick with poems that have the same topic. But even poems with the same topic don't always make the best comparisons. Last week I chose two hawk poems. The whole lesson fell kind of flat--besides the same topic, the poems didn't really have anything interesting or compelling enough about them to spend a great deal of time talking about.

Two poems that worked very well were "Hello, Moon!" by Patricia Hubbell (found in Hey, You!: Poems to Skyscrapers, Mosquitoes, and Other Fun Things) and "The Moon's the North Wind's Cooky" by Vachel Lindsay. These poems both explored the changes in the moon in an interesting way, with lots of differences in the use of figurative language and structure to talk about.

Comparing poems was an interesting and rigorous way to end our study of poetry...but I do think that we are all ready to go on to text structure next week!

News and Notes
Last week I overhauled the Cause and Effect for Teaching Text Structure packet and added some new texts. Could someone please let me know if they have had success with the download?

I'm working on changes to the Figurative Language pack, with some new poems, assessments, and activities to add.

I added vocabulary quizzes to the Spring Reading Homework packet. I have added weekly vocabulary quizzes to my classroom this year and I really like the results.


  1. I bought and used the Cause/Effect packet last year. So I re-downloaded the new one. It downloaded just fine, but I wasn't sure what texts were new. Is it the Painted Turtle text? BTW, I had really good success with this packet last year (3rd graders). This year I have many more struggling readers, so I'll be curious how they do this this. I plan to teach it in a few weeks. I just started figurative language (also using your unit).

  2. The Painted Turtle text is the new one! It's a good one for third grade, so hopefully your readers will do well for it. Thanks for the comment--I went back through the teaching guide and marked the new things so that they are easier to see. Good luck with figurative language! I'll try to finish the updates to that by the end of next weekend. :)