April 12, 2016

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Portrait Poems Part 3

Last week, we looked at writing portrait poems with elementary schoolers.Part one of the lesson is here, where I introduce the concept of starting with "what I see" in a picture or newspaper photo, then adding "what I imagine" to extend the poem.

Part two of the lesson is here. It includes a model pairing of painting and poem by artist Shonto Begay.

Picasso is a great choice for the
portrait poem workshop. The image
invites storytelling.
In some schools, the art teacher will provide fine art portraits for the kids to choose from. I'll share some art-response portraits from fifth grade students tomorrow.

At Northfield Elementary, we like to display the portrait poems with their images. This means the children are asked to bring in newspaper or magazine clippings. Two rules: it has to be an image of a person, it should not be someone you know. We can bend this rule for celebrities. I don't like the students to write in response to photos of themselves or family. (See part one of the lesson for my reasoning.)

I recommend having extra photos. Newspaper clippings work best, because they often have a story built into the image. In finding good photos, look for expression in the face or body language, a person in action, or an interesting setting or "props" within the image.

When the students are ready to write, some like to use a T-chart for brainstorming: "I see" or "Facts" listed on one side, "I can't see" or "Imagination" on the other.

Kyle's portrait is also a narrative poem. I think he was inspired by our conversation about Shonto Begay's painting, "Down Highway 163." This poet has a natural sense of rhythm.

Run Away Slave
by Kyle S.

I've been working so hard
all day and night
but now I get to run
away from my king's sight.
I've been running through forests.
I've been running through fields.
I've been swimming through rivers.
Ouch, there's an eel.
And now I'm in a cave
with rocks and a boulder.
Oh NO! A dead end.
I must roll the rocks over.
Yay! Look, there's an exit
behind all of these rocks.
Out in the sun
and away from the locks.
Oh NO! It's my king
with the guards on his wing.
Now, the chase is on.


With a poet this advanced (even in third grade!) I feel comfortable making a comment on the eel line: "Does this funny line fit the tone of your poem?" Kyle will think that over when we revise.

Two students had the same photo -- a magazine ad showing a girl with a jar of fireflies. The class got to hear both poems. It was fascinating to see what different responses each poet came up with. Here is one (I added line breaks):

As She Sits
by Katie T.

As she sits on the stone fence,
her face gleams with light.
She held a jar
with rocks and plants plus light.
What is that glow in the jar?
Then fireflies shot out.
Her face lit up.
She watched them fly free.
In the darkness an owl hoots,
but she still watched.
The lid was in her hand.
A firefly landed on the lid.
The gold color shined bright
from the light.
The dark doesn't scare her.
The class talked about the owl -- an addition from Katie's imagination. There was no owl in the starting image.

Abby wrote in response to a post card I brought. It's a photo from a series of famous women. This one was of a statue of Sacagawea in Portland.

I See a Woman
by Abby Y.

I see a woman
reaching out
feeling her furry dress
with a stray coat
that's very gray.
The wind blowing
through her thick hair
with a baby on her back
standing there like she
is a frozen statue
not happy.

I read somewhere that Sacagawea is the subject of more U.S. statues than any other single person.
We'll look at some fifth grade portraits in response to fine art tomorrow.

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