Friday, June 12, 2015

Poetry Friday - Poetry for Young People Series and Student Responses

     I did a poetry activity at the end of the year with my fifth graders that involved them reading a poetry anthology, choosing a mentor poem, responding to it, and creating their own similar one.  The poetry anthologies they could choose from included many from the Poetry for Young People series.  It is an excellent series.  The end of the year is quite challenging for me as a "special" teacher (I teach gifted ELA) because kids are often pulled from my class for lots of end-of-year goings-on.  I have to choose projects that are largely independent and can be done whenever they come to class and finished up at home or in other classes when they don't.

Product Details  Product Details  Product Details  Product Details  Product Details  Product Details 
Product Details  Product Details  Product Details
While they were reading anthologies, I was teaching mini-lessons on figurative language and poetry terms.  We were also reading The Crossover aloud, which I've raved about on this blog.  What an opportunity to point out a myriad of poetry techniques - including the pure joy of the sound of poetry and language.  As a culminating activity at the end of the unit, students chose a poem to recreate exactly (one of the issues I've noticed in my classroom is that young poets don't always notice where line breaks are and will tend to write poetry that looks like prose), respond to the poem in 250 words or more (my students are used to the magic 250 word requirement because of Slice of Life blog posts), and then write their own poem using some/all of the mentor poem's techniques/ideas/structure.
Here is one of my student's work:

As I was evaluating this, I noticed that she did an excellent job understanding the irony of segregating the merry-go-round and how the merry-go-round demonstrates/symbolizes the folly of trying to say some people are superior to others.  She also uses effective persuasive review language and understands dialect and circular structures.  A little constructive criticism - she was a little too general with her illustrator's response and needed to provide more specific examples to explain her opinions.  I enjoyed her own poem.  I liked that she chose a children's amusement ride like the merry-go-round.  She also tried out the idea of a child's frustration at being unequal or "not enough," even though her own topic was less serious.  I love how she used quotation marks just for "Mister's" response.  She understands line breaks and "voice." I wish I had included a requirement to explain their own poem and how her choices reflected the mentor poet's.  Next time!  Your thoughts?  I'd love to hear what you might have conferred with her about or how you would tweak this activity.
Now, head on over to Jama's Alphabet Soup for the Poetry Roundup!


  1. I thought this student did an excellent job with this assignment! She did a great job of echoing Hughes's poem with her own, effectively getting the point across and cleverly adding a response from the Mister. :)

  2. If her poem had been signed by Langston Hughes I would not have been surprised. She matched his style well.

  3. I agree with Jama - she responded to the poem very specifically, and her own poem was lovely and heartfelt.

  4. Wow! Great activity with fabulous outcomes!

  5. I love the Poetry for Young People series. I'm passing your post along to my teacher friends in 6th grade. It always amazes me that students can enjoy all kinds of poetry when they are exposed to it. I love the way they chose a favorite poem, wrote a response, and created their own poem. Great reflection and ideas for "next time" - the mark of a teacher who is always learning.

  6. We have a few of these books at my school, Holly, and to be really honest, I've never used them very well. I love this assignment! I didn't know the Merry Go Round poem, but will definitely be using it next year, in our fifth grade unit on Civil Rights. And I love the roller coaster poem! She really "gets" Langston Hughes' voice!

  7. Love this post, Holly! I love reading and writing and responding to poetry with students - you can't really do one without the other, can you? Your student samples show amazing depth of understanding of not only the techniques but the meaning. Clearly they have an amazing teacher!
    Thanks for sharing this!

  8. Your student did an excellent job. Have you ever used TPCAST for analyzing poetry? I did for our poetry unit and was amazed at how they were able to do it. I want to tweak it somewhat for next year. I also had them write a poem in the style of a poet. Again, great stuff. I have a number of these books in my classroom, too. This lesson is exemplary.