THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY
April 12, 2016

Monday, May 13, 2013

I See the Stars at Night: A Lesson in Opposites


How do we get our bearings in a poem? Is the action set in the day or night? Is the emotion happy or sad? Are the people or animals in the poem working or resting?

One way to organize our thoughts in a poem−and to help readers find their way−is to use stanzas.

At Northfield, the third graders know that stanzas in a poem operate much like paragraphs in regular writing.

“Stanza” is the Italian word for “room.” (Read about the word's origins here.) 

I ask students to imagine that I am welcoming them into my house. We talk about what they would see in the front hall, the kitchen, even the bathroom (that gets a few giggles). 


So why would poetry borrow that word stanza? Because, one of the students will share, reading a poem with several stanzas is like walking into the different rooms of a house.

Since the third graders know we are doing opposites poems today, they quickly figure out exactly how many stanzas our poems will have.

Next, we brainstorm pairs of opposites on the blackboard. Some favorite topics for this poem are: delicious and disgusting, summer and winter, home and school, old and young, real and imaginary animals, night and day, hot and cold, busy and lazy, fast and slow.

Fast and slow is the topic of the model poem I use on opposites day. The poem and the guts of this lesson were shared with me by poet-in-the-schools Rosanne Singer. She was my mentor poet.

(Artists coming into the MD State Arts Council school residency program student teach. We accompany an artist on one residency, observing first and picking up classes throughout the week.)

Swift Things Are Beautiful

Swift things are beautiful:
Swallows and deer,
And lightning that falls
Bright-veined and clear,
Rivers and meteors,
Wind in the wheat,
The strong-withered horse,
The runner’s sure feet.

And slow things are beautiful:
The closing of day,
The pause of the wave
That curves downward to spray,
The ember that crumbles,
The opening flower,
And the ox that moves on
In the quiet of power.

by Elizabeth Coatsworth, author of The Cat Who Went to Heaven, 1931 Newbery winner.

The Cat Who Went to Heaven
At Goodreads.

Students love to pick out their favorite lines in this poem. We look at our hands and say, “Veins really do look like lightning!”

We pat ourselves on the back between the shoulders because that’s where our withers would be if we were horses.

One year, I had a class that was particularly taken with the line "The closing of day." I brought their teacher the Jane Kenyon poem "Let Evening Come" so they might further explore the idea of light and shadows settling at dusk.

Embers often need some explanation, but enough children have been camping or have fireplaces at home that they recognize the glowing coals, once they are described.


Someone always brings up the wonderful last two lines.

Because our culture equates power with speed, the slow, powerful ox creates a great discussion. The students often bring up other slow, powerful animals: tortoises that live over 100 years, elephants. This year, one boy mentioned that glaciers are slow and powerful. I'd never thought of that before. The class added the concept of slow, powerful water, using the Grand Canyon as an example of a gradual but powerful change to a landscape.

Thanks again to the Northfield community for giving me permission to share the third graders' wonderful poems.

I love the way Emma uses description in her poem so that we can guess which animals she's talking about even though she doesn't name them.

Emma B.

It Is OK to Be Big

It is OK to be big
If you have a long trunk,
Or a long body to keep you swimming,
Maybe a long neck to reach high,
A big body to keep babies safe.
It is okay to be big!

It is okay to be small
If you have a shell to keep you safe,
Or a small squeak for your mom,
Maybe you can hide really well.
If you fly very high you are safe.
It is OK to be small!

"A big body to keep babies safe." From Kangroos.Org
Evan's poem reminds me of "Let Evening Come." He shows the busyness of day, contrasted with the slowing down, peaceful feeling of night.

Evan M.

Day is so fun:
Go outside and run,
Go play rugby in the grass,
Go to the park with friends,
Put up a lemonade stand,
Hear the birds chirp,
Go inside at the end of the day.

I see the stars at night:
After a long day
In the sun, after a day
With my friends,
Go inside and eat
Dinner with my family,
And then go to bed, read a good book
Then say goodnight
To the world in your bed. 


I loved the conclusion of Andrew's poem. The inside fun stanza includes things my family enjoys doing together.

Andrew P.

Outside, Inside

Playing outside is fun:
Like climbing the stairs
Of the tree house,
Spinning in circles
On the tire swing,
And climbing to the
Tippy top of
The trees.

Inside is fun also:
Rolling the dice in
Board games like Sorry,
Dancing around in
Charades,
And watching a movie on
Family movie night.

I hope your Mother's Day was both fun and peaceful, everyone. I'll post more third grade opposites poems tomorrow.

Free printable vintage Mother's Day Cards!

3 comments:

Tabatha said...

These turned out so well! Great details and concrete images.

Irene Latham said...

What a great job the students have done with the opposites theme! And I do so love the ox at the end of that poem. It's unexpected, which is exactly what the poem needed. Thank you, Laura!

Linda at teacherdance said...

A wonderful exercise and poems that came from it, Laura. They are truly capturing the time they "know" right now. I've used 'inside/outside" quite a lot in prompt lessons and the students always wrote beautifully with that. Thank you for the opposites lesson.