We are happy to celebrate National Poetry Month with Stenhouse’s resident poet and author, Shirley McPhillips. In this guest post, Shirl talks about finding connections between paintings and poems, about creating “art from art.” At the end of her post, be sure to look at her paintings and try your hand at writing a few lines inspired by the images. Share it in the comments section for a chance to win a copy of Shirley’s book, Poem Central.
A picture and a poem: An intimate connection
By Shirley McPhillips
I’m growing more and more to believe thatour fundamental task as human beings is to seek out connections—to exercise our imaginations.
—Katherine Paterson, The Spying Heart
It’s all about making connections, both in learning and in life. When objects and activities of the outside world meet an inner world of consciousness and imagination, there is a chance for new perspective, new possibility. In this exchange we develop a sense of self, an anticipation of finding new ideas.
Recently my friend Molly and I had the opportunity to set up an exhibit of our art work for a month in a local library: watercolor, acrylic, found-wood sculptures. Being poets as well, we wanted viewers to find connections between the visual and the word.
We mounted some of our original poems along with one or two established and student poems and placed them among the paintings. The content of poem and art may have suggested a direct alliance—e.g., “Birdhouse on the Old Outhouse” next to a watercolor of that scene. Or a loose connection like a sound poem next to the abstract “Rooster Ruckus.” Or a random juxtaposition with no obvious connection. Better, we thought, for reaching. Or head scratching.
Poems and art together on display
As an added opportunity to interact with the art work, we set up a “Poet’s Corner.” A place for viewers to invite the muse. To sit in a quiet place, contemplate what they were observing and reading and to compose a short poem of their own. They could write off things around them in their lives, or think off a mounted poem or work of art in the exhibit. If the muse was busy right then, folks could compose at home and put the poem in the book later.
It was important for us to make the “corner” writer-friendly:
-A framed invitation to write, with a quote from Seamus Heaney:
“Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / I’ll dig with it;
–a small bistro table;
-a Tibetan bench:
-a blue, glass pen holder for pencils (If any disappeared, we imagined they were greatly needed elsewhere, and just replaced them.);
-various types of Post-It notes and paper;
And most importantly, an elegant, flat-lying, “guest book” for poems and art with a photo of a George Bellows painting we mounted on front.
As the book opens, Jack’s hand-printed poem graces page one. He writes of a painting by Eli Rosenthal. His poem encourages those who come after, eliminating “first page shock.”
On Poetry Night, visitors browsed the exhibit, chatted with one another about the art, the poems (and the “nuance” of the Pinot Noir), then settled down for an evening of presentation. Presenters responded in various ways: Expressive readings, movement inspired by a painting or poem, a reading with shamanic drum interpretation, telling a memory connected with a painting, and so on.
At the end of the evening, a few folks who had contributed to the “Guest Book” read their poems and told about connections they had made which resulted in this work.
People who participated in “A Picture and a Poem: An Intimate Connection” said it best:
Ted: The painting of the birdhouse on the old outhouse cast me right back to my grandmother. Visiting her in the summer.. The weathered boards. Wasps’ nests inside! Her standing outside humming a tune so I wouldn’t be scared. A big hug afterwards. I haven’t felt that safe since.
Marley: “Ah sunflower weary of time.” Blake’s poem. We had to memorize it in high school. I went up to that painting first. Sunflowers are my favorite flowers. I wanted to think about why. Their faces. The connection to the sun. The casting off of so many seeds.
We invite you to look at Shirley’s paintings below. (Or choose an artwork you like.) What do you notice? What does that make you say? Ask? Remember? Pretend you are sitting or standing somewhere inside this painting. Look around. Write a short poem and leave it in the comments section or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have fun with it!
We are excited to announce the winner and honorable mentions of our Twitter Poetry contest. The challenge was to write a poem in 140 characters or less. Shirley McPhillips, poet and author of the recent book Poem Central, served as our judge.
And the winner is….
HER by Erika Zeccardi
leans against the maple,
bare branches outstretched.
Faint whispers of red river valley
dance across the yard
BROTHER LUCIEN EXPLAINS THE VOW OF SILENCE AT FONTENELLE ABBEY
Allowed to speak? Yes.
Of course. But always we must
have something to say.
Phoenix rises from ashes
Memories in flashes
Fall hard on ground
Voices call her
Daggers take her
A new day begins
Tomorrow’s mystery today?
Now needs full attention.
I can’t afford spending
today with tomorrow.
Congratulations to Erika, as well as to Chris, A.T., and Carol! Keep writing!
On this last day of March, we are excited to look forward to April and National Poetry Month. We are doing something fun this year — a Twitter poetry contest!
We have asked poet and author Shirley McPhillips to serve as judge for our contest and she enlisted her poet friend Drew Myron to help out. So, if you feel inspired, head over to Twitter and write a poem with 140 characters or less. Leave space for the hashtag #stenpoems so that Shirley can find and read your words. At the end of the month, we will pick one winner and three honorable mentions who will receive signed copies of Shirley’s latest book, Poem Central. The poems will also be published right here, on the Stenhouse blog. (If you are not on Twitter, you can send your poems to email@example.com with the subject line Twitter poem, or you can also leave your poems in the comments section of this blog post.)
Now, what is a Twitter poem? Shirley wrote this great post about Twitter poems — a great read before you begin to write your own. If you are a teacher, encourage your students to give it a try as well! And if you are a teacher who wants to incorporate more poetry into your classroom, here is a FREE download of poetry resources from trusted Stenhouse authors.
Up for the Count: Twitter Poems Shirley McPhillips
I have made this (letter) longer than usual because I have not had the leisure of making it shorter. Blaise Pascal, 1657
Seems like short is the new long. That’s the fun of a Twitter poem. It’s expected to be short. 140 characters or fewer (including the title, if it has one). We may ramble in the beginning, getting lists and lines down quickly. But then reality sets in. How to write something short that has the qualities of a good poem. Now that may take some leisure.
The 140-character limit has spawned waves of creativity as folks test their ability to do more with less. There’s the twaiku movement and Twitterature, a book containing major works of literature boiled down into a bouillon cube. And lest we think this is an activity for the obsessed techno-masses, four major prize-winning poets, two of them former laureates, published Twitter poems in the New York Times one year: Billy Collins, Claudia Rankine, Elizabeth Alexander and Robert Pinsky.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) sometimes sponsors a National Poetry Contest on Twitter. That’s where I met two Twitter poem contest finalists: Leslie Kenna and Liesl Dineen. Their stories about coming into the world of Twitter verse instruct and inspire.
Leslie’s “Short” Story
Leslie grew up in a New York City neighborhood that has an elevated train (the el) running through it. “For years,” she writes, “everything—eating, shopping, reading, sleeping, dental appointments, etc., was done to the beat of passing trains. I think all that shaking got into my bones.” Here is her Twitter poem:
In a waiting room under the el
each time a door closes
the collection of mysteries and tragedies
rattles and sways.
Leslie was strategic in her approach to writing “Bound.” A daydreamer and lover of words, she sat down in a comfy chair, stared out the window and remembered her relationship with books when she was a library-card-carrying New Yorker. After all, she would be submitting to a library contest. She would write about reading on the subway. Standing up. Sitting down. All jammed in, touching shoulders. An escape, making the commute go faster.
Once she had a topic in mind, she wrote down every word that came to mind—even repeating a few—looked over the list and circled words that jumped off the page for her…passengers, carry, one inch, bound, commute, straphangers, immobile, gripping, book, still room, sentence, subway, novel, plot, gripping, Delay, air oxygen, freeing nourishing filling feeding raising relaxing, excursions, expansive, colors ideas novelties trips chartreuse, amaranthine, ideas, thoughts, reach, nourish, deep within… She played around, rearranging words.
Then came crafting. “Staring up at the ceiling, reciting words over and over in my head, swapping verbs out, stepping back to gauge the effect.” Neglecting the poem for a while, “returning to it with fresh eyes and ears.” Reading it aloud for rhythm and sound. She also kept in mind that the NYPL was judging on originality, creativity and artistic qualities.
Overall, Leslie finds Twitter poems less intimidating than other forms. “No large blank sheet of paper staring at you.” Since it’s a new form, “you don’t have to be versed in 15th Century Twitter poetry to be taken seriously. You can put it out there.” If people like it, they let you know. Right away. “You can keep trying without feeling bad because no one sends you rejection letters. People can access your poems from a smart phone or computer and even contact you long after you write them.”
Liesl’s “Short” Story
One year Liesl and her husband splurged and bought lovely matching plates but never got around to matching silverware. Pondering the “mismatchedness” of things, she wondered about their future. As she thought about some serious life issues, the sorrow started to flow in. At that moment her husband came booming inside with the dogs, and the kitchen was suddenly full of noise and “this new, mismatched crazy, beautifully rhythmic, full life. John, the dogs, our family and my favorite spoon stirring in the cream of life.”
Our mismatched spoons
stir in the cream
in staccato beats to match
the clickety-clack of dogs in the kitchen.
As Liesl worked on this Twitter poem, “The mismatched spoons,” became “Our mismatched spoons.” Her ear caught the sound of the dogs and that came next. “The spoons weren’t sure what they were doing for a while.” She actually started with milk. She uses almond milk but this wouldn’t do. She was telling a story of chaos and fullness, so cream had to be there. “That word carries so much in our collective. The other words arranged themselves once that fell into place.”
Liesl takes herself to sites that nudge her to practice writing short. There she hones her skill of cutting and rearranging. Recently she worked on a #sixwordstory prompt from @WriterlyTweets. Someone meets a clown. She started with, “The girl fearlessly reached out for his nose,” the idea she wanted. Not short enough, and too dull. She changed “the girl” to “she.” “Fearlessly she reached” took her halfway to six words. Three words left to tell a story. Ah, action. She would beep his nose. A fearless girl might do that! The final six-word story: “Fearlessly she reached, beeping his nose.”
Some Tips From Writers of the Short Form
From our conversations online, Leslie, Liesl and I share some suggestions for you as you write your Twitter poems.
A Twitter poem is a little poem with a big thought. Like any poem, it is about one thing or theme. Stick to it. A small moment, a simple action, a sound, can carry a big story.
Ideas, lines, images, words, stories, come at us all the time. On the subway train, in the shower, on the treadmill, places inconvenient to writing them down at that moment. Keep a list someplace where you can revisit them and choose one when the time is right.
To be generative, to practice paring things down, create opportunities for yourself to write and/or submit lots of short poems. 5-word poems, 10-word poems. Write a Twitter-like poem every day. The more you write the better you get. Try: 14wordsforlove.com; #sixwordstory, prompts from @WriterlyTweets.
When brainstorming your topic, be generative. Words beget words.
Use words that capture an action and tell more of the story: “whispered” instead of “said;” “cream” instead of “milk” (as in Liesl’s poem).
Stay in the present tense to create immediacy and sometimes eliminate characters: stirs instead of stirred.
When trying to tighten or shorten the poem find one word to do the work of two or three. Instead of “the girl,” use “she.” Strip your lines of small words you don’t need: and, that, was, the.
Make your line endings (breaks) strong by using strong nouns and verbs.
Say your poems out loud. Hear them the way readers will, not just the way they sound inside your own head. When something snags or doesn’t sound “right,” change it.
Step away from your draft for a while. Come back to it with fresh eyes and ears. You might be surprised or enchanted. A “just right” word might slip into place. A glitch might relax.
With the right words in the right place, readers can fill in the “story.” Read this by Erel Pilo. Is there anyone who can’t imagine the story?
The title counts toward the 140 character limit. Decide if you need one. Leslie’s is integral to her poem. Liesl wants more characters in the body of her poem.
After the NYPL retweeted one of Leslie’s poems she was contacted by a beloved author with congratulatory messages. The beginning of a rich conversation. Months later, the author tweeted her the link to a poetry contest run by NASA. “Writing,” Leslie says, “doesn’t have to be a solitary affair. I can connect with people. Directly! In real time.”
“The real challenge,” Liesl says, “was going public with my voice.” Since then she’s started a blog and writes whole months of poems-a-day. “Entering contests is a great way to grow!”
On this last day of National Poetry Month, we are excited to bring you an in-depth conversation with poet and author Shirley McPhillips, whose latest book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers will be available in early June. In this video Shirley talks about her early experiences with language and music that provided the foundation for her love of poetry. She also discusses the joy sharing poetry can bring, and how poems can help us discover something new about ourselves and about the world.
On this last day of April we close our National Poetry Month celebration with a post on short poems by Rose Cappelli. We hope you enjoyed our poetry month posts by Rose and Lynne and that you had a chance to check out their latest book, Poetry Mentor Texts. You can preview the full book online for a limited time! And you still have time to download our free e-book on teaching poetry.
By Rose Cappelli
I enjoy writing poetry. In fact, sometimes it’s easier for me to write a short poem from an inspired image than it is to write a narrative. Maybe it’s because my first writing experience was a poem I created with the help of my father. I was six years old, and I wanted to enter a writing contest that was being held in our county. My father encouraged me to write about something I liked to do. At that time I had just started taking violin lessons, so that is what I chose to write about. When I got stuck, my dad made suggestions, and together (looking back, I think it was more of a shared effort) we wrote the following poem, which won in my age bracket:
I like to play my violin
It’s such a lot of fun.
And when my mommy listens in
She’s glad it’s not a drum.
Several years ago I remember a surprise snow at the beginning of April. Bulbs were beginning to push through the ground and the trees were budding, yet here it was—a snowy spring day. Outside the library at my school is a small tree. I remember being fascinated watching four robins (at least I think they were robins) as they flitted about this tree, dodging snowflakes. They seemed confused but undaunted in their quest for any food the tree had to offer. They held on to the swaying branches, tenacious and determined. On a scrap of paper I wrote these phrases: 4 robins, amidst the snow, confused, finding food (?), fat. Later, I wrote this poem:
Shake the snow from their feathers.
Confused by nature’s foolery,
They feast on fat berries
Enjoying a wintry repast.
All the Small Poems by Valerie Worth can be used as a mentor text to show students that they can write about everyday things. If you can, take them on nature walks or walks around the school building with their notebooks, jotting down words or phrases that can be used to describe the things they observe. Then ask them to think about using those observations in a poem or narrative. Focusing on the small things can help students write big. As E. B. White once wrote: “I discovered a long time ago that writing of the small things of the day, the trivial matters of the heart, the inconsequential but near things of this living, was the only kind of creative work which I could accomplish with any sincerity or grace.”
On this last full week of April, we continue our National Poetry Month celebration with some student poems inspired by Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and the classroom project centered around the book. We will have one more Poetry Month post next week and you still have time to download our free e-book about teaching poetry.
A Thousand Paper Cranes Inspire Writing
By Lynne R. Dorfman
When I was teaching third grade, my students read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. They were so moved that we searched for websites and more information about Sadako. We asked a fourth-grade class to join us, and we participated in a project with children around the world by sending a thousand paper cranes to Hiroshima for their Peace Day on August 6. The entire initiative for this project came from the students.
Because the students wrote daily in my classroom, conferred, and published frequently, I decided to offer other options to make the project come to life for them. Some of the students interviewed their grandparents or great-grandparents about World War II to gain their perspectives. We experimented with tanka, haiku, bio poems, and persona poems, so we could send our poems to Japan as well. Students wrote letters to family members to talk about what they were doing. We even created a scrolled banner that said, “Peace for the World: Let the Children Become the Peacemakers.” Ethan’s aunt helped us translate our motto into Japanese. Then Ethan carefully painted the letters on parchment paper for us. We displayed our work in the hallways, packaged our cranes with the banner and poetry, and mailed them to Japan. Later, we created a class book of memories with poems, letters, journal entries, and photographs. I still have that book and a newspaper clipping about our project.
Often I write with the children, and sometimes I publish my work alongside theirs in hallways and class books. My students have always viewed me as a member of the writing community. When we have conferences, they’re always writer to writer. They help me revise and see things differently. I am grateful for all the writers in my life. We help each other move forward and imagine the possibilities. A small sampling of our poetry is included here.
Peace for the World
By Lynne R. Dorfman
Blue ghosts linger above Hiroshima’s dome
While deeply scarred faces wander below.
White doves circle a lone statue—
Sadako, stretching outward to release
A crane that joins the flock of peace birds—
Thousands of origami cranes litter the ground.
Silent onlookers remember loved ones lost
As lanterns, fragile warm-yellow swans,
Glide across the cold, black waters.
Families place rice cakes on altars for spirits . . .
For the blue ghosts, for Oba Chan,
And now, for Sadako, too.
Atom bomb brings a mushroom-shaped cloud,
Brings sickness and snatches children
Oh, so slowly . . . oh, so slowly.
Hoping the gods would grant her wish, she labors.
Thick, swollen fingers make fold after fold,
More paper cranes for the hospital ceiling.
Her family waiting, watching, wondering
Who will be the next to join Oba Chan.
It should not be the children . . .
It must not be the children . . .
It will not be the children . . .
Struggling with clumsy fingers,
She makes one last crane.
All over the world
making paper cranes.
Young, brave, superstitious
Lover of good luck signs
Who feels frightened and guilty at the same time
Who need enough strength to fold a thousand paper cranes
Who fears death from the dreadful leukemia
Who gives her love and happiness to everyone
Who would like to see herself back on her feet and running
Granddaughter of Oba Chan
—Bio poem by Andrew B. , grade 3
Running, flying fast.
So many cranes to fly with . . .
Sadako still lives.
—Haiku by Alexis & Danielle, grade 3
Wanting to get on her feet again
And run, run, run.
Tangled up in pain,
She still dresses in the kimono
To please her mother.
They need no words.
They ache together.
—Andrew L., grade 3
Folding paper cranes
She bravely fights her illness . . .
Running in the wind.
We continue our Poetry Month celebration with a poem by Lynne Dorfman. She also shares how the poem came to life. Revisit our previous National Poetry Month posts and don’t forget to download our free e-book filled with dozens of tips on teaching poetry.
Poetry is everywhere you look. Last night I started reading The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and realized that one of her characters, Rocco, speaks in three short sentences or phrases that match the syllable count of haiku. Earlier that day I had downloaded an article, “Mastering Metaphor through Poetry” by Judith W Steinbergh, from Narrative magazine.
The rebirth of my garden and the woods behind my house speaks to me of poems waiting to be written, and I itch to open my new writer’s notebook and get it started with a poem. But today I do not write the garden or woodlands poem. Today I write about my Raggedy Ann doll and my biggest writing territory, my grandfather. He has always been the deep well I return to when I revisit my writer’s notebooks to find ideas I can explore and develop. Today, however, my notebooks do not provide the stimulus to write. As my gaze passes between Ga Ga’s photo (our name for him) and the little doll leaning against a portion of the silver frame, I know a poem is blooming in my mind’s garden. I grab the nearest pen and notebook, find an empty page, and begin to scribble furiously.
After some revision—deleting a few lines, changing the verb form, substituting for stronger nouns and verbs—I am ready to share with you.
By Lynne R. Dorfman
Raggedy Ann kept Grandpa company,
Traveling to work with him.
I stood on the curbside,
Jumping up and down . . .
Stretching to watch the old Dodge
Crawl-crawl-craaaaawl in turtle fashion
Down the friendly Emmaus street.
Grandpa waving Raggedy Ann out the window,
Grandma clutching my hand to keep me safe.
At twilight they would return,
Shining with stories about their day.
Minnie (that’s what I called her)
And Grandpa had deliciously delicious tales.
Allentown Plumbing and Heating Supply,
A bustling place filled with mostly men.
I was secretly greener-than-green with envy.
I wished I could have traded places.
I wished I could have been that doll.
I yearned for all her adventures,
The fun she had each day with Grandpa.
Now, every day, I see her nestled on my dresser,
My eyes lingering on the photo beside her.
The silvery hair and the too-much-time-in-the-sun face,
The hazel eyes that match my own and the high brow,
The strong hands that often held a rake or a saw,
The wisdom earned from being a stepfather and grandfather.
Wish I could trade that doll for Grandpa.
We continue our National Poetry Month celebration with a rap, written and performed by author Lynne Dorfman. Have you and your students written a rap, or other unconventional forms of poetry? Share it with us and win a free copy of Poetry Mentor Texts. Don’t forget to download our free e-book full of ideas for teaching poetry.
Columbus Day rap
By Lynne R. Dorfman
Last weekend I had a chance to see the movie Quartet. I was fascinated with Reggie, one of the aging musicians who lives at Beecham House. He regularly gives talks to teens about music, and my interest was piqued when one of the students explained rap and its similarities with opera. This scene is so powerful because it demonstrates the ability for different generations to bond and learn from one another.
The movie made me think about a rap I had written and performed as part of a presentation for my writing institute experience with the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. My workshop was all about poetry, and I wanted to experiment with some forms I was not familiar or comfortable with. The result is the “Columbus Day Rap” I have included here. My own fourth-grade class performed the poem onstage the next year at my elementary school on Columbus Day. Later that same year, we created a “Dinosaur Museum” and students wrote their own raps to perform (in colorful T-shirts, shorts, and shades!) for our evening presentation to parents.
One of my colleagues at the Upper Moreland Intermediate School writes and performs his own raps on various stages in the Philadelphia area. He has shared his poetry with me and has encouraged me to join him to perform poetry live. I just might do that!
Columbus Day Rap
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He traveled all through Europe,
Searchin’ the land,
Lookin’ for somebody
To lend him a hand.
He’d almost given up
When he finally reached Spain
Where the rain falls mainly on the plain.
He sought out Isabella and King Ferdinand.
He said, “Come on, Isabella,
Please lend me a hand.”
He said, “Come on!”
He said, “Come on!”
“The world is round, not flat.
Let me prove it to you.
All I need is some money,
Three ships and a crew.”
And after Columbus was
Finished with his pitch,
She said, “Sail away,
Columbus. Go and
Make me rich!”
She said, “Sail on!”
She said, “Sail on!”
The Nina, the Pinta, and
The Santa Marie…
Three ships all went a sailin’
Across the sea.|
The sailors got discouraged,
They wanted to turn back—
But Columbus was determined,
Now that’s a proven fact!
A new route to the East
He was tryin’ to find,
But the sailors were convinced
He was losing his mind.
He discovered America,
The land of the free,
Where people take great stock
He became a broken man,
And he died the same . . .
But people to this day
Still remember his name.
On the official starting day of National Poetry Month we start off our celebration with a post from Rose Cappelli, coauthor of Poetry Mentor Texts. She asks — and answers — the question: Why poetry? What is it about poetry that captures our mind, heart, and spirit? Why are you celebrating and sharing poetry this month?
After her mother died, Caroline Kennedy published The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In the foreword she states: “One of the greatest gifts my brother and I received from my mother was her love of literature and language.” Mrs. Onassis encouraged her children to read widely, and she often shared with them the books and poems she loved best. Caroline and John Kennedy were also encouraged by their mother to choose or write a favorite poem to give as holiday or birthday gifts for family members. What a wonderful tradition!
Poetry can help us share our thoughts, feelings, wishes, and dreams. With poetry, we can make things that seem small and insignificant into big ideas that help us make sense of the world. The perfect poem can help us express our emotions in the most eloquent of ways. One of my favorite poets is E. E. Cummings. I remember reading many of his poems in college and copying them onto small scraps of paper that I would eventually find tucked into books and notebooks, or perhaps in a pocket or purse. Most recently I included a copy of e.e. Cummings’s “i carry your heart with me” in the Valentine card I gave my husband. It was the perfect sentiment expressed in the perfect way, and I certainly couldn’t have said it any better than Cummings did.
Sharing poems with others is a special gift. A poem can provide comfort in difficult times when it is often hard to find the right words, or help a friend understand what you are feeling, or perhaps just bring out a smile or a laugh. Poetry can create memories passed on and shared through generations. The rhythms and rhymes of poems can help young children appreciate and develop a love of language that will serve them well throughout their schooling and beyond.
Caroline Kennedy put together two additional poetry collections: A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children and She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems. Over the years she has kept poems given to her and passed them on to others. “To me,” she writes, “that’s the gift of poetry—it shapes an endless conversation about the most important things in life.”
We continue our early National Poetry Month celebration with another Your Turn Lesson from Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, the authors of Poetry Mentor Texts on using strong verbs to create an image. Leave your short poem in the comments section for a chance to get a free copy of Poetry Mentor Texts!
White Wonderful Winter
Word choice is an important part of any kind of writing. Poets, especially, need to be conscious of the words they use as they create images with only a few words. In this lesson, writers are reminded of the power of strong verbs in writing. The scaffold provides a framework that ensures the success of all writers.
Hook:Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner is a wonderful source of verbs for this particular scaffolded poem. In the book, a young girl is cross-country skiing through the woods with her father, while under the snow is a secret world where animals eat, sleep, and hide. Students are fascinated by the activities of the animals, so it is a good idea to introduce this book as a read-aloud first before using it as a mentor text. Return to the book and ask students to listen for the verbs the author uses to describe the actions of the animals and the people. They can record them in their notebooks or on individual whiteboards.
Purpose: Writers, today I will show you how you can use strong verbs to create clear images for your reader. We will use this scaffold to create poems about winter:
White wonderful winter!
White wonderful winter!
Brainstorm: Together with the class, create a t-chart of verbs. On one side, list the verbs from the book that describe the actions of the animals and people. Students can brainstorm additional verbs for winter activities. For the other side, ask the class for verbs that could be used with snow. Your chart may look something like this:
Animals and People Snow
disappear glide scratch glistens
doze climb swoosh whispers
dodges snooze snore swirls
huddle snuggle scurry blows
cuddle listen build piles
ski leap cheer blankets
complain toboggan skate sparkles
Model: Use the scaffold to create a poem. Think aloud about the words you choose to use for the images you want to create. You can add other words, such as conjunctions or transition words, to help shape your poem. Here is an example from Rose’s notebook:
Snow blankets the earth while
Animals snooze peacefully underground
White wonderful winter!
Kids cheer joyfully and
Grown-ups cuddle by a cackling fire
White wonderful winter!
Shared/Guided Writing: Together with your students, create one or two poems. Discuss how the use of strong verbs helps create a more precise image. Students can also work in pairs or triads and share their thinking.
Independent Writing: Ask students to create their own winter poems using the scaffold. Some students may use the scaffold as a guide or adjust it slightly to meet their needs. Here is an example from a second grader:
A Winter Wonderland
Snow falls on the earth.
Of a warm spring!
White wonderful winter!
Kids ice-skate in an ice rink as
Grown-ups slurp hot cocoa.
White wonderful winter!
Reflection: Ask your students to reflect on how the writing worked for them:
Was creating the poem easy or hard? Why?
Did you revise your poem to use a stronger verb?
How did using a strong verb help you to create a clearer image in your writing?
Options: You can try this scaffold with other seasons or holidays, adjusting the phrases as needed—perhaps “Sizzling Sunny Summer” or “Thankfully Thankful Thanksgiving” or “Fabulous Festive Fall.” The book Outside, Inside by Carolyn Crimi compares and contrasts a thunderstorm brewing outside with what is happening inside a young girl’s house. It is also a good mentor text for strong verbs.