Quick Tip Tuesday: Poetry in nature

This week’s Quick Tip comes from Herbert Broda’s 2007 book Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning: Using the Outdoors as an Instructional Tool, K-8. The book just received the Environmental Education Council of Ohio’s Publication Award. The award was presented to Herb at the organization’s annual meeting and is given to a publication that has made a significant contribution to the public understanding of an environmental issue.

The outdoors can serve as both venue and content as students use spoken, written, and visual language. Because the outdoors pulls at the senses, the schoolyard can provide fantastic raw material for description!

The outdoors can provide great inspiration for writing poetry. Because the outdoors stimulates thinking in so many directions, students don’t have a problem fi nding substance for poetry writing. A very effective introduction to poetry is the “See What I Found” formula poem. This is one of those activities that has been around for many years, but I have no idea who may have “invented” it. Although this may not fit a technical description of poetry, it certainly emphasizes the aesthetic qualities of language and coaxes the use of descriptive words. The structure of this five-line poem is very simple:

First line: See what I found?
Second line: (name of object)
Third line: (adjectives and/or descriptive phrase)
Fourth line: (tell where you found it)
Fifth line: (make a comment or question about it)

See what I found?
A butterfly
Flitting and glowing in the sunlight.
It’s resting on a flower.
I wonder how long it will stay?

There are many ways to do this poetry activity. Sometimes I will have students find an object in nature that is no larger than a thumbnail. They bring the object to the outdoor teaching area and write the “See What I Found” poem. They always, then, return the natural items back to the original locations.

Another variation is to have kids take their clipboards or lapboards and find something interesting without removing it from its setting. This can be another one of those activities that can focus on either the macro or micro aspects of the schoolyard. You can have students find a special spot and then write about something no more than 3 feet away from them. Or you can have them sit on the grass and write about something they see in the distance. I really like this option since it does not disturb the environment, and makes it possible to utilize an animal or large object in the poem. It’s also great to see kids enjoying the outdoors, observing and writing.

The previously described Tale of the Tape activity (Chapter 4), in which students generate a listing of adjectives and descriptive phrases for a natural object, makes a wonderful precursor to the “See What I Found” poem. One teacher includes Tale of the Tape as an introduction to the use of the thesaurus.

The schoolyard can provide a magnificent setting for many traditional language arts activities. For example, Pam Tempest takes advantage of the Florida sunshine by frequently taking her students outside for reading. Sometimes she reads a story aloud to students outside and other times the schoolyard is used for sustained silent reading. Sometimes Pam has a small group of students who borrow a quilt and sit outside of her classroom windows on the lawn and read.

An Ohio teacher achieves a change of pace and place by taking students outside to write poetry on the sidewalk with colorful chalk. The novel setting and unconventional writing tools spur the creative juices, with nature often providing a creative writing prompt.

Since the outdoors is so conducive to reading or writing, it is well worth the effort to create an outdoor seating area. As a bonus, an outdoor courtyard or other type of outdoor seating area can also serve as a location for performance. Language arts standards emphasize that students should be able to use spoken, written, and visual language to communicate for different purposes. In the outdoors, those purposes might include describing evidence of an environmental problem found on the school site and then researching the problem, gathering data, and proposing solutions. Or it might include describing one’s own feelings and responses to the outdoors.

Add comment April 26th, 2011

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