Perfect for: Elementary Schoolers
Many poets-in-the-schools do a version of this lesson, in which we compare animals to emotions. The poems I get are powerful, sometimes frightening because the emotions are so raw. That’s a good thing. Children can be reluctant or even unable to write about what they're feeling. When we ask them to focus their writing on animals, it allows children to step away from their emotions and look at them objectively.
Prompt: “When I feel ______, I am like a _____.”
I ask that all poems begin with this line. The rest of the poem can list a variety of things: how does the animal behave in ways that fit your feeling; is there anything about the animal’s looks or body that matches well with your feeling; when you feel this way, how are you and the animal similar? We brainstorm by listing emotions on the board.
Over the years, my students have stepped beyond the typical happy/sad feelings. They’ve written poems about feeling brave, triumphant, lonely, lazy, anxious. I choose one for the topic of our group poem.
For some children, it’s helpful to match a color to the emotion before we pick an animal. In one of my Norwood classes (Ms. Kerner or Ms. Lurz – sorry I didn’t keep track!), we chose “Mad” for the feeling and brainstormed red, gray and black for the colors. Then we thought of an animal for each color. We ended up with a mad red crab, a mad gray elephant, and a mad black wolf. Here is the class poem:
When I am mad, I am like a gray elephant.
I stomp on the ground.
I want to smoosh the person who made me mad.
I want to hit the person with my trunk and throw them.
I’d yell with my trunk.
I read a few more samples from past students, and the poets are ready to write. For a recent book of animal poems, check out Laura Salas’ “A Fuzzy-Fast Blur: Poems about Pets.” She blogged about it recently at: http://laurasalas.livejournal.com/107169.html
This workshop is useful for adult fiction writers, too. Susan Gray of GottaWrite Girl came to my summer SCBWI workshop on using animal totems to build character. She wrote about it for her 10/8/08 post. Children’s author Sarah Maury Swan was at the same workshop. She wrote a nice article about it. Adding an animal to a story she was working on helped Sarah add depth to the protagonist’s experiences. You can read Sarah’s article in our regional SCBWI newsletter, click on Fall 2008.
Happy writing, everyone! Being a full-time writer and arts educator is one of the things I'm most thankful for.