5 Ways to Get Kids Excited about Poetry (Part 3 of 3)

Even though this is the last installment of this series of posts, I doubt that this will be the last time I write about poetry because I absolutely love teaching it. Nothing creates a stronger fire in me than sharing my appreciation for this art form with kids.

In this post I will share a three activities that I experimented with this week. Some of them worked better than others, but all of them ask students to think about the world in a different way, experiment, and test their own limitations.

4. Imitating Structure and Form

In the past two weeks (since I wrote my last post) I asked students to imitate two different poems: And the Ghosts by Graham Foust and Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And The Ghosts

I ran across Foust’s poem searching for poems to share with my 8th grade students. It’s unique because it is a one-line poem with a title. I chose it because no matter the writing assignment–essay, story, or poem–they always ask the question “How long does it have to be?” Instead of giving the students a line minimum for each poem, this year I provided the following answer:

An poet is the paren of his work, so the poem is his child. Every parent does what is best for the child. (2)

  1. Take time to notice. 

    And the Ghosts

    they own everything

    Before asking the students to interpret the poem, I asked them what they noticed. Probably the most important observation they made was that the poem would not have much meaning without the title. I’ve been trying to reinforce the idea all year that the title of a work–a news article, a book, a poem, a short story, a painting–is the holy grail. It is the key to understanding the purpose and theme of a piece. This poem provides students with ann example of that truth.

  2. Look for meaning.

     After giving students time to observe the structure of the poem, I asked them to look for meaning. What does the poem mean when he states that the ghosts own everything? Some said that the ghosts symbolize the past, and your past controls controls you–it makes you who you are today. Some said that the ghosts were memories, and your memories are an integral part of your consciousness. Remember to give students time to contemplate the difficult questions. Don’t expect them to raise their hands immediately. Sometimes I find myself waiting a minute or more for students to raise their hands. When teachers give students time to think, they know the instructor is serious about the question and expects them to come up with the answer. Too often teachers give the students answers to the difficult questions if students don’t answer right away.

  3. Imitate. 

I gave students two choices. They could either:

Create a one-line poem with a title


Use Foust’s poem as the start of their own.

Paul Revere’s Ride

I am not a huge fan of Paul Revere’s Ride because of its historical inaccuracies, and–I’ll be honest–I don’t really understand its purpose. The poem, however, is a part of our school’s curriculum, and I am expected to teach it when the students are studying the Revolutionary War in social studies. I needed to get excited about teaching this poem to mask my indifference from my students, so I decided to create a parody. I had the students do the same. They could choose any subject matter for the poem, but I asked them to model the rhyme scheme (AABBA) and meter (four beats per line, a mix of iambs and anapests) of the poem’s first stanza:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-five:

Hardly a man is now alive,

Who remembers that famous day and year.

I’ve only completed two stanzas of my parody, but it was enough to use as a model for my students. I did not require them to write a full-length poem–I just wanted them to experiment with Longfellow’s form and style. Some of them decided that they wanted to turn their drafts into poems for their portfolios that they will submit on Wednesday. Here is the example I wrote for my students:

The Ballad of a Samson’s Ear

Listen, my cats, and you shall hear

Of the awful tale of a bitten ear,

One one Fall morning when dawn was nigh

I saw Loopy Lester, sleek and sly

Turn the corner like a buccaneer.

He said to me, “This is my domain!

From trespassing here you shall abstain!

Or I’ll claw your eyes and bite your tail,

And chase you to the nether vale,

Where snakes abound to slither and maim.”

After this lesson, I received the best compliment a teacher can get from a student: “Miss Raub, I never liked poetry before, but I think you are converting me.” Boom! That’s my reason for showing up every day.

5. Creative Prompts

Good questions will ask students to think about the world or themselves a little differently. With middle schoolers, I like to ask them questions that invite students to look inward. Here are my two favorites that I used this year:

  1. If you had the money and the influence to buy a digital screen in Times Square, what message would you share with the world?
  2. What are the five things that you know to be true? (Another nod to Sarah Kay–In her TED Talk, If I Should Have A Daughter, she mentions how she uses this prompt with her students. Her version asks students to write ten truths.)

For each of these questions, I, of course, created my own answers that I shared with the students. Sometimes I share before the students create their own; sometimes I share after. When I share depends on the class. If I find that the students are struggling with the concept, I may share my example in the beginning of the lesson. If students seem comfortable or ready to create without a model, I let them. In general, I find that students are much more creative if I let them experiment before sharing my models.

My digital screen: Listening > Speaking

Ten Things I Know To Be True:

  1. I am alive
  2. The world is small and colossal at the same time.
  3. I love my husband.
  4. Kids are fun.
  5. Birds are fascinating creatures.
  6. A leisurely breakfast is happiness.
  7. I can’t imagine a world without music or books.
  8. I love new learning.
  9. I know nearly nothing.
  10. I love my pets.

If you have ways that you’ve inspired students of any age to write and read more poetry, please let me know! I don’t know yet what the topic of my next blog post will be, but I do know that the end of the school year is drawing near. I hope you all finish the year robustly and vigorously. Stay enthusiastic to the very end–your students deserve it.


5 Ways to Get Kids Excited about Poetry (Part 2 of 3)

Last week I posted Part 1, which included two examples of poetry lessons that students love. This week, I am sharing two additional ideas that I hope you try in your classroom before the end of the year. Go for it! State testing is over, so now it’s time to play!

3. Love Letter Poems

I was honestly astonished at how much my students enjoyed this lesson. When a colleague of mine, JoAnn Welsko, first presented it to me. I thought, “OK. I’ll try this, but I think it’s kind of corny.” I can’t tell you how glad I am that I trusted JoAnn’s instincts. This type of poem is my all-time favorite out of all the different lessons and methods I’ve experimented with over the past 20 years. Believe me when I tell you that you, too, will be astounded–even the students who are reluctant writers had fun.

The first step is watching Sarah Kay’s performance of her poem, “The Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire.” I’m going to explain to you what she does, but trust me, you have to watch the video to understand the ingenuity of this idea.

Sarah Kay
Sarah Kay: “The Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire”

So Sarah chooses two completely unrelated inanimate objects. One, the toothbrush, becomes the narrator, and the tire, is the one to whom the narrator speaks. Her poem is clever, witty, and fun. What the students liked most about it is that the poem sounds like it could be from one human lover to another–it carries authenticity.

When I modeled Sarah’s poem, I chose two related objects because they were easier for me to conceptualize. I brainstormed a list of 14 pairs and ended up choosing the fourth idea on the list. The narrator: a raw egg. The object of the egg’s affection: the refrigerator.



Love Letter

My colleague, JoAnn Welsko, also wrote a love letter poem. I think hers is a better model because she chose to unrelated objects like Sarah did.

%22Love Letter%22

Even though my students loved this idea, some of them still had a difficult time getting started. Here is what we did together:

  1. For three minutes we brainstormed in our writer’s notebooks. We listed all the inanimate objects we could think of.
  2. We looked at our lists and chose the two objects we thought might work well together. Some students had difficulty choosing, so they asked their peers or me to help them with their choices. In this case, don’t be afraid to tell students what you think. They want assurance from you that they are on the right track. Some of them need your approval to feel comfortable about moving forward.
  3. We created T-charts in our writer’s notebooks, using the two inanimate objects as headings for each column.
  4. We made a list of adjectives to describe each item.
  5. We circled or highlighted the words that lovers would use and crossed out the ones that were not applicable. Here is an example:

Love Letter Poem T-Chart

With this little bit of prep, they were ready to go. I gave them 15-20 minutes to write a first draft, and then they each chose a classmate with whom they wanted to share. My students are currently in the middle of crafting their pieces, so I will share a student example next week. In a few days, I will also post Part 3 (the final installment) of “4 Ways to Get Kids Excited about Poetry.”

Happy writing!

Quote of the day:

“Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.”

–Francis Bacon

5 Ways to Get Kids Excited about Poetry (Part 1 of 3)

I love, love, LOVE teaching poetry more than I enjoy teaching anything else, so I thought I’d share four of my favorite lessons about writing poetry with middle school students. I’ve shared two in this post, and I’ll share the other two in my next post, which will be published in about a week. All the lessons can be easily adapted for any grade level.

1. The Found Poem

  1. The whole class creates a poem based on a text everyone has read. If you are not familiar with found poems, this video from the Teaching Channel is a good tutorial. (Click on the link in the caption below the image to watch the video.)


Found Poem
Teaching Channel

Here is the found poem one of my classes created using My Brother Sam Is Dead.20160422_104201

2. Then students create their own found poems using their favorite books as inspiration.

3. We share our creations with partners, and then volunteers share theirs with the entire class.

2. The Photo Poem

  1. Students to bring to class a photograph or picture that they like–one that means something to them. Here is the picture that I used as inspiration.

Talking with Ghosts

First, I project my photo on the interactive whiteboard and let them react. Inevitably, a few of them say something like, “Hey! That’s you!” Then I ask them how they know it’s me. They respond, of course, by saying, “It looks like you” or “You both have short hair.”

After they share their immediate observations, I ask them to look at the picture more closely, looking for evidence that I am the one in the photo. Once they begin looking more closely (some classes need more prompting than others), they realize that the picture looks old. They also notice the clothing the women are wearing–it’s not from an era in which I was alive. Then they may notice the “28” on my grandmother’s sweater.  When they realize the 28 stands for 1928, the year my grandmother graduated high school, they can then draw some logical conclusions. Ahhhh….So who might be in the picture? My grandmother. Here is the poem I wrote as a model for my students:

Talking with Ghots

2. Some of my students need no interventions or prompting and start writing immediately after they read my poem. Other students have difficulty knowing how to begin, so we use a T-chart to gather ideas. (You can access the T-chart here.) I provide some students with copies of a T-chart that I created using Worksheets.com, but other students prefer to create one in their writer’s notebooks like this student did.

3. In the right-hand column students list the details in the picture–their observations. For example, they may list the colors they see, the objects, any shadows, the setting, the people and their expressions, the action that is obvious or assumed. In the right-hand column students list the emotions they feel looking at the picture and the emotions that may be expressed by people or animals in the picture. Once they’ve completed both columns, I tell them to begin combining the words from both columns to create a description of the picture. I remind them to pretend that the person reading the poem has never seen the picture, so it is their job to pain a vivid image with words.

Here is an example of a T-chart that one of my students created in his writer’s notebook:



Yes, it’s messy–but writing is a messy process. Here is what this student created in about 30 minutes of class time. It’s one of the best spontaneous poems I’ve ever read from an 8th grade student. I included a typed, readable version below the image.


Photo Poem

Below is the image he used as inspiration for his piece. I hope he reads it during 8th grade poetry tea at the end of May!

Picture shared by Katy Wischow

Tomorrow my students and I will begin writing some imitation poetry, using Gary Soto’s poem “Oranges” as a model, and later in the week students will write love poems with a fun and playful twist. I will post Part 2 of this topic in the next week!

DIY Literacy Video Series – Episode Four

If you aren’t following these ladies yet, you should! Every week they share innovative and immediately applicable tools for teaching kids literacy and writing.


Welcome to the fourth episode of our DIY Literacy video series. People have been sending in their #DIYLiteracy teaching tools this week – check some out!

KEEP YOUR DIY TOOLS COMING! As you make your own DIY teaching tools,please share them by…

  1. Using the hashtag #DIYLiteracy when you post them on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
  2. Upload your teaching tool to our DIY Literacy Google Drive Folder for others to see OR
  3. You can also email the photo of your teaching tool here kateandmaggie2@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to post them for you.

Here is a list of our social media sites so we can stay connected:

Each week we tackle a new problem that you sent in. Then, we match that problem with a teaching tool that can help. We are returning to a popular tool this week based on the problem…

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Establishing a New Tradition: Root of the Day

1 Apology

My bad–(mostly to Angela Stockman, a loyal and tolerant supporter and encourager since I started this blog)–for being off the grid for so long. My husband and I took a mini-vacation for a few days for a friend’s son’s wedding, and then the drudgery of PSSA testing began. My blog post, however, is not about state testing because we’ve all heard enough about it, and we’ve all formed our own opinions, including me. Mine can be summed up in one word: Ugh.

Now on to the real purpose of the post.

2 The Literacy Cookbook

Have your read Sarah Tantillo’s The Literacy Cookbook? If you haven’t, you must order it right now from Amazon. I have found many immediately useful strategies in this book to help students become better readers. I am going to share a one of them with you today and a few more over the course of the next month.

Tantillo begins the book explaining that the Achievement Gap is actually a “literacy gap.” “Students who struggle to comprehend also struggle to perform in every academic area: they fail to absorb information, fail to solve problems, and fail to express ideas effectively.” In other words, if students are unable to comprehend what they read, they will not be successful in any subject–not math, not social studies, not science, or English/language arts (Tantillo 7).

I know I am probably preaching to the choir here, but all subject teachers should be skilled at teaching reading and writing. All teachers need to be trained in teaching literacy skills. This postulation is not yet part of the culture in my district. I know that most ELA teachers hold the belief that reading and writing need to be taught across the curriculum, but many other core teachers do not hold the same understanding.

“Root of the Day” is a tradition I am going to integrate into my classroom next year. If you are not using this strategy, maybe you would like to give it a try. I would like to hear about your successes and failures. Please share!

3 Root of the week

Many ELA curricula may use vocabulary texts to teach students a large volume of words. Other schools may use a “Word of the Day” to increase vocabulary usage and understanding, but both of these strategies have a major flaw: the chosen words are random, maybe even irrelevant to the other material being studied, and they also have no association with each other.

Tantillo suggests teaching a “Root of the Week instead. She writes in her book, “Think of it this way: if you learn a word, you only learn one word. If you learn a root, you could be learning a dozen words that use the same root” (14-15). My brain popped when I read about this strategy for the first time. Why didn’t I think of this? I’ve been teaching vocabulary, roots, suffixes, and prefixes for years, but I never thought to simply teach a root a week all year long. If students can recognize roots, they can figure out the meanings of words on their own. Tantillo recommends repeating the target root “five times in five different words throughout the week.” That way when the students see the root in an unfamiliar words, they can infer its meaning (15).

Here are my favorite websites about root words. The last two come from The Literacy Cookbook:

Each page contains roots with their meanings and words containing those roots. You can quickly glance at each card or root, or you can read about each root in detail by clicking on “Read More.”

I use this site if I know exactly which root I am looking for, but I think it is a little less useful than the “Word Root of the Day Archive” because it is not as easy to browse. It set up for people who know which root they are looking for. The interface of the “Word Root of the Day Archive” is a little bit more versatile because you can browse all the roots or search for a specific one. I also think the archive is much more visually appealing than the dictionary.

Learn That Word

I like this site least of all because you need an account to sign up, and sometimes I have difficulty getting the site to work properly in Google Chrome. It does, however, as you can see below, provide some additional resources that the others sites don’t. For instance, you can search for roots, idioms, synonyms, antonyms, or rhyming words.

Screenshot 2016-04-24 10.18.20

4 Final Comments

What I like most about teaching “Root of the Week” is that it doesn’t just teach kids roots and vocabulary. It also teaches them how to inference. Many students have difficulty with extended reasoning, and teaching them to utilize this skill in a concrete and repetitive way will increase their comprehension, writing, and speaking skills. I hope you give this strategy a try. Maybe you even have time to try this a few times before the school year comes to an end. I will write a post at the beginning of next year to inform you of my successes and struggles.


A Forward-Looking Reflection

Since I began teaching middle school two years ago, I’ve had to adjust to a building where teachers and students have little access to technology. The transition has been difficult. Moving from a school where I had fairly liberal access to a school where I have almost none is like slowing down to 35 miles per hour after you’d just been driving 70. You want to move faster–it seems viable and safe–but you don’t because the speed limit or traffic patterns don’t allow it.

While teaching at the high school, I learned to integrate seamlessly into my lessons.

Now I feel impaired, like I am teaching everyday without a thumb or an arm.

If I feel like that, imagine how my students must feel. They use computers–phones, laptops, e-readers, tablets, and video game consoles–nearly every minute that they aren’t in school. During school hours, kids are forced to power down. No more real world, kids!

But I am excited for next year because my team will have access to Chromebooks. I’m as anxious for the opportunity to use working computers in the classroom again as I would be for an upcoming vacation. And the best part: Blogging.

Three years ago I was looking for a more engaging way to teach the Transcendentalism unit to my sophomores. (See the list of resources at the bottom of the post.) My unit objective was for them to apply their understanding of the movement and create a blog that illustrates its influence on contemporary society. I also required the students to solicit an expert in the field to provide them with feedback about their blogs. (You can read the posts I wrote about the experience on the site Becoming Conscious.)

The process of creating authentic pieces of writing that showed they had something to say involved a great deal of research on the part of the student. And guess what? They did the research without complaint. In fact, I would argue that they did it enthusiastically. They also supported their ideas with research and proofread their posts carefully. Why? Because they knew that their audience was more than just their teacher. Their audience could be the world. The pressure to perform, to sound like an expert, was real and motivating.

The project was an overall success with the students. Many of them had never blogged before. Many of them created Twitter accounts so that they could connect with professors and authors. There were so many layers of learning occurring every day during the course of that project. The experience allowed me to connect with the students on a different level because I was reading and conferencing with them about their writing. I saw their complexities more keenly and developed a unique bond with them.

I am looking forward to having similar experiences next year with 8th graders.



We All Have the Power: Life-Changing Moments

When I returned to school as a graduate student in 2003, I was scared. The students around me were younger than I. They were smarter than I. They were better writers than I. And they had read more than I. I had no business being in their company.

That is how I felt sitting in Dr. Peter Beidler’s Medieval Comedy course in Drown Hall at Lehigh University. If you know Pete, he is one of the least intimidating people you will ever meet. I was not intimidated by him, but I was intimidated by the other students. I thought they had so much more to offer than I. They were younger. They were smarter. They were writers. was a high school English teacher.

After two classes, I thought about quitting. Grad school wasn’t for me, and I was OK with that. I would finish Pete’s course, and then I would go back to doing what I was good at: teaching literature and grammar to high school students.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Dr. Peter Beidler would change my life.

If you’ve never watched Drew Dudley’s TED Talk entitle Everyday Leadership, you should. In it he mentions “lollipop moments,” life-changing moments. Lollipop moments are those interactions that have changed us for the better–transformative moments where someone’s actions or words steered us down a different path or made us think differently about ourselves–the moments that have helped us be brave.

At the close of my second class with Pete, he asked me to meet with him for a few moments in his office. I instantly started to sweat (He probably saw the little droplets form on my upper lip.) and all of my shortcomings zoomed through my brain.

“He’s going to tell me that he knows I was scouring the Internet for good ideas to look smart in class discussions.”

“He’s going to tell me that Lehigh is not the school for me.”

“He’s going to tell me that I can’t handle grad school while working full-time.”

“He hasn’t read anything I wrote yet, but I’m sure he’s going to tell me that my skills are not up to snuff.”

I was never more wrong about anything in my life.

When I reached Pete’s office, he said, “I enjoy having you in class. You have a more experienced perspective. I think the other students can learn from you.”

What???? This guy is crazy. He’ll soon find out that I’m a fraud. Right?

In his talk, Drew Dudley quotes Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” How true. I expected Pete to tell me that I was incompetent or incapable. I did not expect him to tell me the opposite. Why? I had never thought of myself as auspicious. I was familiar with, maybe even comfortable with, failure. But I was not comfortable with happiness, self-acceptance, or success. Whatever success I had achieved must be fortuitous, the result of good luck.

At first, I thought that maybe he sensed my reticence about grad school and offered encouragement because he felt obligated, out of sympathy, to help the struggling student. He didn’t really mean that I had influence.

My first of many visits to Pete’s office is one of my greatest “lollipop moments.” In the end, his words, the few minutes he took to speak with me, were enough to propel me through grad school while working full-time as a teacher. I became more outspoken in class discussions. I was still nervous about sharing my writing with others, but I overcame the feeling of shame that accompanies thoughts like “I’m not good enough.” I began to believe I WAS good enough. I graduated from Lehigh University with a Masters degree in English in May of 2006. It is the one accomplishment of which I am most proud.

In his TED Talk, Drew Dudley points out that we often don’t tell tell the leaders in our lives the transformative power that they had. We keep it to ourselves, but we shouldn’t. We should tell people about these “lollipop moments.” I have shown Pete my gratefulness for his guidance; however, I haven’t ever clearly expressed to him how that moment changed my life. I will now.