Reading and Exploring Outside the Classroom

Texas teensmeetShelley's -Skylark-

Winters in Texas often resemble spring in other parts of the country. These beautiful winter days offer great opportunities to take learning outside. Every year I wait for the temperature to reach a comfortable range and out we go to experience the natural world the Romantic poets extol in their poetry.  The following lesson is easily replicated with a different poem, but I turn to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To a Skylark.” … KEEP READING

Poetry Props: Strategies for Student Understanding

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TP-CASTT, SOAPStone, and DIDLS have been long-time methods of teaching students how to unpack and understand poetry. These have their place in the classroom and offer students a structured approach to poetry. In the past few years, however, class discussions and the teaching of poetry has become more organic and student-driven. With that in mind, here are some simple activities to use in the classroom when teaching poetry: … KEEP READING

The Poetry Service Project

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Let’s party, English teachers! This is our month. Let’s break out the form and meter and read the night away! But before this gets any verse (couldn’t resist), here’s how my AP students and I celebrated National Poetry Month.

Earlier in the semester I received an email from a teacher asking if I’d like to do some classroom collaboration. She happens to be one outstanding educator and the mother of one of my very talented students, and I was thrilled to begin thinking about what she’d proposed. KEEP READING

It’s Poetry to Me

It's Poetry to Me-Using Post-it Notes toOpen the Dicussion of a Poem1

Understanding poetry can be such a daunting task for so many students — and so many teachers. As AP Literature teachers, we have the ultimate of challenges in equipping students for poetry analysis on a high-stakes examination. One of my most successful classes (like so many) was inspired by an AP conference I attended at Wake Forest University. It’s a simple concept that allows students to exercise the freedom of poetry. I often use this lesson sporadically with several different poems to remove some of the anxiety of poetry and allow students to take ownership of the poems. KEEP READING

Ten Commandments for Teaching Poetry

The Ten Commandments of Teaching Poetry (1)
  1. Teach strategies for understanding. The goal is to help students learn to read and enjoy poetry on their own, so allow the poem to be a vehicle for teaching strategies to unlock meaning and understanding. Sadly poems are too often taught as information to be memorized for an assessment. Teach the skill, not the text; allow students to use their skills to make meaning of the poem.
  2. Expose students to a variety of poems. Just as some people prefer jazz over big band or hip hop over country, poetry preferences exist. While I prefer the Romantics, teaching only Wordsworth and Byron is a disservice to my students. They should be reading Sandra Cisneros, Billy Collins, Langston Hughes, and e.e. cummings. Offering a variety will help students find poems they find comfortable and give them the chance to consider other styles. 
  3. Give students choice. Research proves that choice reading of texts increases student engagement and motivation. Allow students to bring in poems that they like to share with the class. The poems may be silly, sad, or profound. This will not only give students a chance to research and find poems but give teachers insight into their students.
  4. Questions are okay. Students are often afraid of poetry because they don’t understand it. Understanding poems typically requires multiple readings and extended time for reflection. Teachers need to help students be okay with walking away from a poem with questions. I tell my students to lean into what they understanding and dwell on that; further insight will come over time and with subsequent reading.
  5. Shift is everything. Coaching students to identify the shift is the single most important thing that will help with understanding poetry. The meaning of a poem ordinarily follows the shift thus giving students a built-in signal for unlocking the meaning. 
  6. Read for enjoyment. Somewhere along the way in teachers got the idea that everything text presented in class had to be dissected, analyzed, and taught for assessment; this is simply a disservice to our students. When I listen to music, I sing along, dance, and often comment on songs but rarely identify figurative language in the lyrics and how the syncopation adds to the melody; I listen to enjoy. The same is true for poetry: we need offer opportunities for our students to enjoy poetry. Poetry Fridays by Jori Krulder unpacks what reading poetry for enjoyment in the classroom looks like.
  7. Make poetry relevant. Good poetry is timeless but sometimes meanings get lost in generational gaps and archaic language. Modeling text-to-self connections gets students in the habit of thinking how a poem can relate to them. I often pair “The World is too Much with Us” with “Touchscreen” or “The Chambered Nautilus”  with Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite and have students figure out how the modern clips connect to the older poems.
  8. Punctuation matters. When given a poem to read, students will pause at the end of each line and ignore punctuation. Not only does this make for awkward reading especially if a poem doesn’t rhyme, but students have a more difficult understanding a poem read without considering punctuation. When my students are having trouble simply reading a poem, we take it sentence by sentence often reading like prose to build skill and confidence.

  9. Structure, form, and type matter. A basic framework of structure, form, and types of poetry help students understand meaning, and while students may not be able to clearly identify types and forms of poetry, they will be able to tell whether it is formal or informal, structured or unstructured which adds to meaning. Teaching students to use structure, form, and type as clues to unlock meaning moves them from memorizing terms for assessment to understanding poetry.

  10. Have fun! Be creative with teaching and reading poetry. Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 21st or help your students write slam poetry with Ted Ed’s “Become a Slam Poet in Five Steps” lesson. Have your students share poetry via Google Hangout or Skype with another class or devote a day to studying song lyrics as poetry. The options are limitless!

 

10 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month (+2)

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  1. Read a poem a day with your students. Whether it is reading for pleasure or reading for analysis – share poetry with your students.
  2. Checkout the website: Words Unlocked for poetry teaching resources and a poetry contest.
  3. Celebrate National Poem in Your Pocket Day April 21, 2016Poem in Your Pocket Day
  4. Read Billy Collins’s poem “On Poetry”.
  5. Discover unknown poets at websites like: Verse Daily,and encourage students to submit poetry of their own.
  6. Have students share original poetry or the poems of others by placing copies of the poem around the school or campus.
  7. Explore Cell Poems and have poems delivered to your cell phone – encourage students to do the same.
  8. Tweet lines from your favorite poem or poems throughout the month of April, or follow #NPM16 or #nationalpoetrymonth on Twitter.
  9. Encourage students, with teacher approval, to read a poem to a class other than English. Can they find poems written about other disciplines?
  10. “Chalk the Walk” by having students use sidewalk chalk to write entire poems or just favorite verses on the sidewalks leading to your school or on your school steps. Create a graffiti wall in your classroom where students can use chalk or markers to write lines of poetry or entire poems on the pieces of paper that line the walls of your room.

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Amplifying Our Conversations–Transforming Our Understanding

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There is nothing more rewarding than hearing the collective groan from my students as the end-of-class bell interrupts an engaging, authentic conversation about a text. What is even more thrilling is when students have become so involved in a discussion that they (with little interruption from me), begin to construct a powerful understanding of a text. … KEEP READING

Begin the Year with Poetry

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For most of my career, I’ve saved poetry for the end of the year in my English classes. I did this for a couple of reasons. First of all, I LOVE poetry, and I tend to motivate myself by saving the best for last. Also, a poetry unit can be expanded or contracted to fit that awkward few weeks I often get left with in May – not enough time to start a novel, but way too long to just sit around watching movies. But, if I’m being honest with myself, my biggest reason for holding off on poetry was avoidance of the reactions of many of my students. When first confronted with poetry, the general consensus of my classes – at least the most vocal of them – is not an exclamation of joy. Introvert that I am, it is enough of a challenge getting to know a whole new crop of fresh young faces without additionally embarking on a journey as personal as poetry. However, I realized last year that the personal nature of poetry is exactly what makes it perfectly suited for the beginning of the year. … KEEP READING

3 Reasons for Poetry Fridays

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Every Friday, we start my English class by playing around with a poem.

The study of poetry in English class is often devoted to seriously pursuing theme, searching for literary devices, and supporting ideas with textual evidence: all worthy endeavors, but not conducive to experiencing the enjoyment so many of us get from reading a poem that truly touches us. This is equivalent to being forced to write an essay on every single book you read for fun; it misses the point of why we read in the first place. I want my students to have the opportunity to enjoy poetry the way I do.

Here are three reasons Poetry Fridays can change the way your students feel about poetry: … KEEP READING

Literary CSI

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Do we each have literary DNA? Is our writing style unique?

Vassar College professor, Don Foster, whose book, Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous, argues that no two people use language in precisely the same way, our identities are encoded in our own language, a kind of literary DNA. Combining traditional scholarship with modern technology, Foster has discovered how to unlock that code and, in the process, has invented an entire field of investigation–literary forensics–by which it becomes possible to catch anonymous authors as they ultimately betray their identities with their own words.

I first heard about Foster’s book through Lawrence Scanlon at an AP workshop a few summers back. An activity that can promote close-reading skills, Scanlon suggested, was to have students become literary detectives by investigating multiple poems with the poet’s name removed to determine who wrote what.KEEP READING