PLANNING AN ARTS AND LITERACY DAY I have frequently been invited to schools where the author visit is part of a larger arts and literacy or young authors celebration. Throughout the day, the students move from session to session, each taking place in a different location - a classroom, the gymnasium, the library... Here are some ideas that might help you design your building's own arts day.
THEMED ANTHOLOGIES Here's an activity which encourages reading, penmanship, and researching (with a healthy chunk of art thrown in) while exposing students to any number of poets and poetry styles. Have the students collect poems for their own anthologies. Allow the students to choose their own themes, to gather a set number of poems that fit that theme, and to copy and illustrate each into a nicely bound collection. Depending on student ability, those themes could be fairly broad (i.e. weather, animals, clothes) or more specific (rain, mice, shoes). Make sure to raid the library shelves first (Dewey Decimal #811) and have plenty of good poetry books on hand.
POETRY BREAK This activity makes for a fun respite from the regular work day. Make a good sized picket sign with the words "Poetry Break" written in bold, colorful letters. (Glitter looks fantastic on these signs, and we all know how much your custodian loves glitter!) At any time during the day - when you feel like your students could use a short break - pick up the sign, announce "Poetry break!" and walk to the designated poetry recitation spot with the sign and a poem in hand. This might be a poem the students have already heard or maybe a piece which is new to them. When finished, the students respond with the traditional beat poetry applause - finger snaps! A few days into this activity (and this can be used throughout the year), hand the poetry break over as a student responsibility.
GROUP RECITATION Where do you pause? Where is the beat? IS there a beat? Copying and displaying a poem on butcher paper or poster board large enough for the entire class to see clearly and reciting as a class several times throughout the week is a good way for students to learn to feel meter. Use the poem as a transition throughout the school day or as a way of getting full class attention by beginning the recitation on your own and allowing the students to join in. It makes for a great "ticket out the door" when the class is in line and waiting to go to music or recess or lunch or... Introduce a new poem every week or so.
LYRIC REWRITE One writing activity which can be less intimidating than poetry writing from scratch is to allow the students to rewrite lyrics to familiar songs. Brainstorm as a class a long list of popular, traditional songs (Baa Baa Black Sheep, Bear Went Over the Mountain, Eensy Weensy Spider, I've Been Working on the Railroad, Home on the Range, I'm a Little Teapot, London Bridge, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Oh Susanna, Old MacDonald, On Top of Old Smoky, Over the River and Through the Woods, Rock-a-Bye Baby, She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain' Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star). Students can rewrite as a small group or independently. Some will want to sing their new creations to the class.
WRITING FUN WITH TURKEY ON THE RUN Often a good story poem offers opportunities for students to add their own stanzas. Have your students create a new verse for "Turkey on the Run," the turkey dinner misadventure found in my book of cowboy poetry for kids, Tall Tales of the Wild West (And a Few Short Ones). During school visits, Bruce Lansky and I have each had students expand on the story with some wacky results. Here's a verse written by a group of third graders as guided by Lansky during a recent school visit.
Next I grabbed a female turkey decoy, pretty as a rose; And I dressed her really nicely, and she made a pretty pose. She attracted the male turkey with her pretty little toes. When I tried to shoot the turkey--hit the decoy on the nose.
You may wish to begin with a brainstorming prewrite, creating a list of possible "turkey escapes." Notice that the above third graders' verse came out as an AAAA rhyme pattern. An AABB rhyme pattern may be easier for many students to create. Dig in!
FOLDABLE MINI BOOKS make a wonderful tool for students to present shorter poems. Here are directions for turning a standard 8 1/2 x 11 (or larger) sheet of white paper into a blank mini book. Have your students copy their poems onto the pages of their own book and illustrate. (pdf format) If your students would benefit from manuscript lines to keep their words in place, first build your own blank book, draw in the lines on the pages, unfold your book, and run copies for the kids.
BULLETIN BOARDS AND CLASSROOM DOORS Share a favorite poem by decorating the outside of your classroom door or a bulletin board. To get you started, here are several photos which I've collected during author visits.
Fourth grade teacher Jim Warnke of Elk Plain School of Choice near Tacoma created this wonderful poster. As he reads aloud to his students, Jim points out tools the author is using so students can see a real life application of the tool. They discuss how the tools help make the book a great book to read, and he encourages students to experiment with those tools in their own writing.
The poems above and to the right were created by students in Anchorage, AK using the lesson plan found above. (See "Celebrate Your Favorite Season")
Author studies are very popular. Here the students have created a bulletin board of poets. The jackets open up to show a biographical outline of the poet. (I'm the one right down the middle with the black hat)
Letter C Here the students supported the poem by finding a fancy way of designing the letters C, K, and S. I like the way the teacher bowed the illustrations outward to give the bullentin board extra dimension.
The students created the book covers and pencils and other odds and ends which helped to present this poem "I'll Teach My Dog to Read."
Why Dju I Dju Zha Shings I Dju - Notice the empty glue bottles! The dialog balloons are sharing lines from the poem.
What an amazing display for "Watermelon Bird!" Guaranteed to stop students in their tracks and take a minute to read and enjoy.
Poetry Resource Links: Giggle Poetry - A very fun and funny site for fans of humorous children's poetry. Poetry4Kids - Poem-filled web site of children's poet Kenn Nesbitt, author of "My Hippo Has the Hiccups," "The Aliens Have Landed," "When the Teacher Isn't Looking" and many other books and poetry collections. PoetryTeachers.com - A tremendous web site developed by Meadowbrook Press. Lesson plans galore! Rhymes and Reasons: Librarians & Teachers Using Poetry to Foster Literacy - From Linworth Publishing, by Jane Heitman, here's one of my favorite resources for poetry activities. Poetry: Powerful Thoughts in Tiny Packages - From Heinemann Publishing, by Lucy Calkins and Stephanie Parsons, here's another terrific resource for painlessly introducing poetry into the classroom.
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