This blog really is for you! It’s good for our brains to operate in a different modality from time to time, and I’m sure our students will be appreciative of the change in pace.
I hope you’ll allow me to divert from the “8 Things to Look For” list for a moment, because it is April, and spring is in the air, and I’m feeling creative! April is, after all, National Poetry Month. So let’s wax poetic and get our creative juices flowing and have some fun!
Wait! Don’t tune out yet, you teachers of math and science and other logical, sequential, “non-artsy” types! This blog really is for you!
I know, for some, the mere mention of poetry makes their stomachs clench and their mouths go dry. I apologize to you on behalf of every English teacher who ever forced poetry on you and made the experience of it painful and stressful. Poetry should be experienced with joy! It should be freeing! After all, breaking the rules of grammar, syntax, punctuation, and capitalization when writing poetry is approved and encouraged. Just look at the works of E.E. Cummings, whose middle name may as well have been “Eccentric” for his strange ways of using and arranging words and punctuation. Take a look at his poem [2 Little Whos].
2 little whos
(he and she)
under are this
(all realms of where
and when beyond)
now and here
(far from a grown
ful world of known)
who and who
(2 little ams
and over them this
aflame with dreams
And Cummings isn’t the only famous poet who played with the rules of convention. Here is the brief and simple “Between Walls” by William Carlos Williams:
the back wings
will grow lie
in which shine
pieces of a green
It might have been written by an elementary school student still making sense of print concepts and complete sentences. Kind of takes the pressure off! Whether you are an adult who fears making a grammar mistake or you have students who struggle with language conventions, poetry can give you permission to express yourself without being distracted by having to follow all the rules.
Yes, poetry can be formal and follow strict rules of structure, such as haiku or cinquain. Those forms have their charms, and for the writer with an ear for rhythm and metrics, it may be fun to try to conform words into a strict pattern without losing power and flourish. In fact, metrics and patterns in poetic forms may appeal to our student mathematicians. Lewis Carroll applied the rules of symmetry and logic in his poem Square Stanza, which can be read both across and down.
You could challenge your young mathematicians to write an equational poem, using mathematics symbols to express relationships.
Blue + yellow = A sunny day
Friends ➗ fighting = Sadness
(Credit to: me!)
It’s good practice with math symbols, and demonstrates how math is a language and equations are like sentences.
There are also plenty of poetic forms that make writing poetry easy for the unpracticed. Try an acrostic poem. Here’s one that seeks to define what a poem does, using the word “poem” as the structure:
(Credit to: me again!)
It’s super easy, especially if you don’t require that the end product actually makes a complete thought. As long as the words evoke images or emotions that relate to each other, and to the main word, the message will come across as complete. This is a great activity to do with vocabulary terms in a science, math, or social studies class. See if the students can take a word from their content and create a poem that conveys its meaning. For example,
Science includes things like…
(Credit to Cathcart Science 7th Grade.)
There are some more great examples on Poetry Soup.
I also love found poetry as an entry point for the reluctant poet. It’s perfect to use with reading from content area texts, too! While reading an assigned or chosen text, students will need to identify key phrases that they feel are most important to understanding the main idea of the text. They write these key phrases on strips of paper, then arrange them as they wish – not necessarily in the order they were read – to convey an overall understanding. Here’s an example from a geography lesson. The students read the text “Baikal: Russia’s Sacred Sea” by Don Belt (1992).
Baikal is Special (unsigned)
Suddenly, his memory turned a corner and he wondered aloud
Barely a year had passed since Stalin’s death, and the dictators hand still lay heavy on the land
Ordinary citizen banded together to fight it
Baikal was special
Been living on a ship that brought Cold Warriors and industrial handiwork to these shores
He was astonished to find himself talking freely with an American
Man does not have enough feelings to respond to this wonder
Baikal is a living museum of aquatic plants and animals, incredibly rich in life at all depths
A breathtaking region rarely seen by foreigners
A natural laboratory for the study of evolution
Call it the Pearl of Siberia and the Sacred Sea
Baikal is special
(Credit to: Ellen J. Foster (2012): Finding Geography Using Found Poetry, The Geography Teacher, 9:1, 26-29)
Instructions for setting up a found poetry assignment in History/Social Studies classes abound on the internet. Here are a few.
However you decide to play with poetry, I encourage you to jump into the celebration of poetry this month, or at least before spring is over. It’s good for our brains to operate in a different modality from time to time, and I’m sure our students will be appreciative of the change in pace. You could consider using poetry as a way for students to access learning in your content area during testing, when they desperately need a brain break! And I hope you will find – or write – a poem to keep in your pocket and share generously on April 26, Poem in Your Pocket Day! Plenty of poems are available to download and print from the poets.org website! Or find an English teacher friend – I’m sure they have verses to share! (You can ask: me!)