Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From Notes to Poems

This week I have drawn on mini-lessons from Lucy Calkins and Stephanie Parson's Poetry: Powerful Thought in Tiny Packages, which is part of Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum. I brought in some items from nature (rocks, shells, seed pods, leaves, feathers) for the students to use as they practiced looking with a poet's eye and seeing things in new ways. Each would choose an item and consider it, then write notes about it. Some went on to form poems from their notes, while others focused just on the notes to start with.

Today I brought in a vase of tulips for us all to consider. The students worked with their writing partners to make notes as they looked at the tulips with their poets' eyes. Then we shared the words we came up with and formed them into two poems in a shared writing exercise. After that each student worked to take notes from earlier in the week and form them into a poem. Here are our shared poems:

Vase of Tulips

gentle pink
rich green
reaching up, up
to the sky
like an upbrella!

Vase of Tulips

It looks like a lilypad with dragonflies
green swimming in water
pink petal wings lifting
up, up

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Choosing a Strong Ending

One mini-lesson that I have done is on finding a strong ending for a poem. For this lesson I used two poems I wrote as a shared writing with my language group four years ago. Both are about spiders, and they use many of the same words. As a group we came up with words and phrases that came to our minds when we thought about spiders. Then I recorded as we put together a poem using those words and phrases. One poem ends with the phrase "Long legs weaving, A beautiful web!" We agreed that was a strong ending for the poem which we titled Cool Spider. Then I took some of the words from the end of that poem and put it at the beginning of a second poem. Drawing from the same brainstormed words and phrases, we completed the second poem. It ended with "A little bit scary." I asked if we could find a stronger way to end the poems. One student suggested, "I think I'll go now!" The others liked this ending, so the new poem became Scary Spider. Two poems, similar words, yet they leave the reader with very different feelings. Here they are:

Cool Spider
Big fuzzy spider
Creepy and crawly
A little bit scary.
But what is it doing?
Long legs weaving
A beautiful web!

Scary Spider
Big fuzzy spider
Long legs weaving
A beautiful web
But creepy and crawly
A little bit scary.
I think I’ll go now!


We have been working on writing poetry for a little over a week. Of course we have been reading poetry all year, but now the focus is on writing poems. For the past eight years I have been drawing a lot on Regie Routman's book, Kids' Poems: Teaching First Graders to Love Writing Poetry. I love her emphasis on reading and talking about poetry by children. Other children become the mentors for my group. About half the space in this book is taken up with poetry by first graders. She includes the original drafts which include invented spelling and any reworking the author did on paper. She also has the final typed-up and illustrated version.

Since I began using this book, I have collected poetry from my own students to use with my groups. I also have the anthologies that each year's group puts together. For the anthology each student can choose one poem she/he has written and I get to choose one. Some of the students that I taught last year have discovered the anthologies I have put out and are enjoying finding their poems from last year. Students also get excited when they find a poem that an older sibling wrote in past years.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Mystery is Solved

Today several of the students had solved the mystery of who's in the box. They wrote "Is it a rabbit?" for their questions yesterday, and they got the answer, "Yes!"

So we opened the box and met Mimi the rabbit. She reminds us a little of Knuffle Bunny. Now students will take turns taking Fred and Mimi home for a night. Fred and Mimi have a backpack that they "ride" in along with a journal for students to record their adventures with Fred and Mimi and a digital camera so that they can take pictures of Fred and Mimi at their houses. Later we will make a slide show with the pictures and the students' writings.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Who's in the Box?

My language group has been trying to solve a mystery. Last week a box appeared on the bench where we gather each day. On it was a velvet frog with a word balloon above it. The frog introduced himself as Fred and invited the children to submit yes/no questions about who was in the box. They excitedly wrote questions. The next day "Fred" had answered their questions, giving them clues. More questions, then answers followed. The students are working hard to think of good yes/no questions that will give them helpful information. We know now that it is a stuffed animal, and the animal is a mammal. They also know that the first letter in the kind of animal it is, is the same as the first letter in one of their names, but not a letter that is close to the beginning of the alphabet. The students are close to figuring out who is in the box.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Writing Workshop conferences are times when I sit down one on one with students to talk about their writing. Sometimes it is a check in: "What are you working on today?" Sometimes I have something I want to focus on, a goal or question for the student, a skill to emphasize. Sometimes the student requests the conference. Some of my favorite conferences are when a student is excited to read me has just been finished.

I had one of those today. Levi wanted to read me a story he had just finished. In his story it is the main character's birthday and he has to go visit his cousins. He likes to visit them, but not on his birthday. As Levi read, he would stop to share where he got his ideas or why he made certain choices. He told me that he started the book after we read Cynthia Rylant's book, The Relatives Came. When he described the car as going "Vroom," he told me he was inspired by the book we read, Night in the Country by Cynthia Rylant, which explores night sounds in the country. He is thinking so intentionally about his writing! Levi smiled at me as he read, and I could tell he is proud of his efforts. I asked his permission to share with the group some of what he did, and he nodded with a grin. "Writers, let me share with you some things Levi did in his new book…"