April 12, 2016

Friday, May 11, 2012

Teaching Stanzas Part 2

Happy Poetry Friday!

I've been working on opposites poems with the Northfield third graders. Earlier, we did some warm ups and learned about stanzas (see the post here). Today, let's walk through the model poem.

First, we take a quick look at the poems. Since we're working on opposites, and opposites come in pairs, the third graders are expecting two parts, or stanzas.

Swift Things Are Beautiful
Swift things are beautiful:
Swallows and deer,
And lightning that falls
Bright-veined and clear,
Rivers and meteors, (5)
Wind in the wheat,
The strong-withered horse,
The runner's sure feet.
And slow things are beautiful:
The closing of day, (10)
The pause of the wave
That curves downward to spray,
The ember that crumbles,
The opening flower,
And the ox that moves on (15)
In the quiet of power.
When I was studying how to teach, our Methods professor encouraged us to write a list of  "hoped-for answers" to prepare for a poem discussion.

I ask the children to volunteer favorite lines, things that sound good to their ears, or part that feel confusing. Usually, they cover my "hoped-for answers" list and add new ideas.

Line 2: Children do find this line beautiful, thought not all know what a swallow is. I share that the bird is known for being an acrobatic flier. (And they frequent a nearby park.)

Lines 3-4: This section always comes up! I ask the students to look at the back of their hands or inside of their wrists. If we look at the veins there, we can see how they are shaped like lightning. What an amazing comparison the author is making.

Line 6: We talk about the idea that wind is invisible, it is the effect of wind moving that we can see. The wind can transform a field of grass into an undulating ocean.

Line 7: I  had to look up "withered" myself. Here, I have everyone give him or herself a pat on the back. The spot that we're patting, between the shoulder blades, would be our withers if we were horses.
Line 8: The idea is that "sure feet" communicates the smooth motion of an experienced runner. This line doesn't always come up, in which case I skip it.

Line 9: Later, I'll encourage the poets to use Coatsworth's strategy here. While this is not a refrain, the opening lines of each stanza are similar and introduce the topic.

Line 10: It's a thrill to have a nine-year-old boy or girl describe why s/he loves this line. This year, one of the boys described the image of the shifting shadows as the sun goes down. I sometimes offer Jane Kenyon's poem "Let Evening Come" as an extension for this line.

Line 11-12: For years, I've been talking with children about a crashing wave and how it pauses for a second or two as it crests. This year, Ms. Grim offered a new interpretation -- the tunnel of a wave that surfers ride.

Line 13: Often, we need to define ember. Most children are familiar with campfires or fireplace fires, so we can talk about the beautiful, glowing coals and how they slowly crumble to ash as the fire goes out.

Lines 15-16: We spend the most time on these two lines. I remind the students that a poet often puts the most important idea near the end of the poem, because it's the thought the reader is left with. We define "ox" if needed. I ask them what they think about the idea of something slow being powerful. Our culture usually equates power with speed -- race cars, rocket ships, the cheetah. Can a slow thing be powerful?

Before we read the poem one more time (to hear it as a whole after discussing its parts), I ask the children if they can find the overall theme. Yes, we are talking about fast and slow, but it is fast and slow things in nature that the poem focuses on. They get it!

This sounds like a lot when I write it up. But the children are so quick -- we usually cover all of these ideas in a fifteen minute discussion.

Before we move on to writing our own opposites poems, I'll usually read a few student samples from past years. Those who like to brainstorm can use a simple T-chart for this poem, listing three or more examples for each opposite.

Thanks again to Northfield's staff and families for sharing today's poems!
by Colin E.

Sweet things are very tasty!
Like bubble gum popping in my  mouth
And Popsicles melting on my hand and falling on the floor.
And caramel melting in my mouth and tasting oh, so sweet.

And sour things are tasty too!
Like Sweet Tarts that make me pucker just like sour lemonade.
And Sour Patch Kids that me me twitch
  and make me beg for more.
At last the Green Apples, which my brother really hates
but they just make me feel so happy and let me smile with glee.

This next student poem is challenging because of the subject matter. However, it ends on a note of hope that I find beautiful. (I had asked the student to think of something he might contrast with the tanks in stanza one.)

War & Peace

Wars are bad...
fighting with other people
people dying and families crying
long black and bloody days of war
tanks are destroying after
destroying other things

Peace is good...
non-fighting with other people
people that are free and nobody's dying
no black and bloody days with other people
hang-gliders are peacefully flying

Summer and Winter
by Emily H.

Summer is fun:
You swim at the pool
Slap a volleyball at the beach
Surfing on a bright green wave
My aunt Michelle's boathouse is so fun
While we wolf down ice cream before it melts

Winter is fun, too:
Having snowball fights
We're bundled up with hats and gloves
Sledding over crisp and clear snow
The snow angels are beautiful
Christmas brings us presents
While we sip warm hot chocolate
After we eat the cold snow.

Randy's poem tells a story.

Land & Water
by Randy S.

Let's take a splash.
Manatees swim freely through the waters of Crystal River.
Dolphins make a splash into the ocean blue.
Octopi bounce around in the Marina.
Look a jellyfish. Ouch, it stung me!
Hopefully that crab doesn't get influenced.
I should probably scream 'cause here comes a shark.

We're back on land.
Now I'm back on land, blue sky overhead.
Green grass swaying in the wind.
I have to get back home to tend to my cockapoo.
Squirrels flying through the trees as I walk up the driveway.
Boo-boo comes flying to the door.
I'm glad to be home.

Today's Poetry Friday post is wonderful Irene Latham -- stop by for more poetry links.


Robyn Hood Black said...

What a wonderful lesson! These third-graders have been lucky to have you, and I can tell from their poetry you've been lucky to be with them as well. Great work all around! Thanks for sharing.

Katya said...

My son's class did a similar exercise they call "and" poems. The title is two opposites. The first stanza is about one, the second stanza is about the other, the third stanza compared them or ties them together.

Tara said...

As Robyn said, these are lucky third graders! Thanks for sharing the process - it's deliberate, thoughtful teaching like this that makes poetry such a worthy endeavor in oiur class rooms all year, not just in the month of April.

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Robyn. This is one of my favorite schools. The third grade teachers are supporting and as enthusiastic about poetry as I am.

Katya -- that sounds like an interesting way of handling this concept. I like the idea of adding the third stanza (kind of like the inside of a Venn diagram.)

Tara -- schools that are new to poetry residencies are often surprised how well the workshops line up with Common Core Curriculum or 6+1 Writing Traits. Poetry does require thoughtful thinking, but it's also fun. THe kids enjoy being "poetry detectives" when we look for clues in the lines of a poem.

Tabatha said...

Top notch as always, Laura!

Author Amok said...

Aw, shucks, Tabatha. Just doing my job -- I happen to LOVE my job :-)

I'm Jet . . . said...

Very cool!


GatheringBooks said...

Boy, I sure wish you were my teacher back when I was younger, I would have gone in a different career trajectory altogether. These are beautiful poems, which means you've done a marvelous job! I have to agree with Tara and Robyn, these are lucky third graders indeed. :)

Mary Lee said...

Thanks for the peek into your (borrowed) classroom! Great lesson, with wonderful poems resulting!!

Carol said...

Thanks so much for this great lesson! I really appreciate how you broke it down line by line, with just enough analysis to help kids "get it" but not enough to kill it. I want to try this with my fourth graders when we do poetry Friday next week! And the third graders' poems are amazing! They really got it!

Ruth said...

This is a great post. It's fun to hear about how you go about approaching a poem with kids. I looked at a very similar idea with my seventh graders this week, using a Nancie Atwell lesson about "parallel stanzas."

Irene Latham said...

Wow, Laura, I want you to teach ME! I love your line by line breakdown. And the student results are wonderful. You make me want to WRITE. Thank you so much for sharing!

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Irene. This poem is rich with imagery, which the kids enjoy. I must thank poet Rosanne Singer again for sharing "Swift Things" with me, back when I was learning how to be a poet-in-the-schools.

laurasalas said...

Laura, what a fantastic lesson. First, I love Swift Things. Wow. Favorite poem from this PF roundup by a mile! Thank you for sharing it.

And thank you for sharing the way you use it. Very enlightening.

And the student poems! Love those green apples that the brother hates, the black and bloody days, the bright green wave, and Boo Boo flying to the door. So many fantastic specifics.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Other Laura! The "poem walk" was so popular, I'm going to post another one later this week.

We've been working hard on writing with descriptive detail. The kids just finished their final poems, related to food, and they are AMAZINGLY rich with imagery.