A middle school lesson on writing odes.
I sent Keats’ “Ode on Grecian Urn” ahead for Janene Sharbaugh at Bonnie Branch Middle to discuss with students.Since the language is so dense in Keats’ ode, I also sent an online image of a Grecian Urn, so kids would know what Keats was describing.
Ms. Sharbaugh admitted that the kids struggled with Keats, but some fell in love with the imagery of people frozen in time, forever chasing after a kiss, always young.
We started the lesson talking about Keats’ elevated language. “But what if we used that same language for everyday objects?” I asked. Pablo Neruda’s “Odes to Simple Things” include odes to a tomato, his socks, and laziness.
Now we are ready to talk about Gary Soto's modern "Ode to Pablo's Tennis Shoes." The students noticed that the character of Pablo isn’t described directly in Soto’s poem. We get our information about him through his beaten-up, grass-stained shoes.
He wants to be Like his shoes, A little dirty From the road… For me, these conjure mythological American heroes – the cowboy, “Easy Rider” traveling cross country by motorcycle.
The class liked that Soto doesn’t judge Pablo for not being studious. He’d rather run through his days in those almost-magical sneakers because "his eyes sting...from long words in books." It’s as if Pablo can’t be a rambunctious, active kid without those shoes to get him through the day.
On the board, we brainstormed for an imagined ode to the floor. It gets stepped on all day. We band and stomp, but it never complains. It holds up the walls. It’s versatile – carpet, wood, linoleum.
Lots of hands were going up – a signal that the students had the idea and were ready to write. We did a short reading at the end of the period.
One of my favorite responses was an ode to a spoon, which tasted food alongside the poet, then enjoyed a cleansing shower in the dishwasher. Another was “Ode to an Exit Sign” (talk about an overlooked object). One of the lines described the sign, “Guiding us to freedom.”
Writers will appreciate one boy’s “Ode to a Pencil.” He called his pencil, “Wand of the mind.”
It’s exciting for me – and the classroom teacher – when kids get the idea like this. I can’t wait to see their finished odes.
Writing Exercise: Paying Attention with Everyday Odes
Recommended for: advanced elementary through adult
Choose an object that you would normally overlook or take for granted. Take a few moments to brainstorm what role that object plays in your life.
Could you live without it?
What does it do for you?
What makes it wonderful?
Describe your object in an ode.
Poetry Craft Alert! If you’re working on “Ode to Pablo’s Tennis Shoes” with elementary and middle schoolers, here’s a craft idea. It was recommended by my friend, super-crafter Amy Vittori (check out her blog!)
Materials: pre-cut card stock in the shape of a sneaker, whatever crafts bits and pieces you have.
Give every child a sneaker. Like Pablo in the poem, these shoes are a way for kids to describe themselves. Have kids decorate their shoes with clues about things and activities they like.
A child who has a dog might add dog hair (pieces of yarn) to his sneaker. A girl whose basketball team color is purple might have purple laces or her jersey number. Kids who love being outside can add green crayon for grass stains, like Pablo.
I haven’t tried this craft. If you use this idea in your classroom or home/school, let me know how it goes. I'd love to see some pix.