Poems, right from the start

Shirley McPhillips

Shirley McPhillips

In her book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers, author and poet Shirley McPhillips shows how teachers can include poetry in the daily life of the classroom and in the lives of students. Dozens of poems throughout the book can be used as mentor texts as they serve to instruct and inspire. In her latest guest post, Shirl helps us consider the importance of getting poems out into the classroom airwaves on day one, to lay a foundation for engagement and growth throughout the year.

Poems, right from the start
By Shirley McPhillips

I became a poet because of poetry’s great mystery and partly because of a second-grade teacher I had who believed poetry was at the center of the universe.
—Naomi Shihab Nye
Here’s a story:

One steamy first day of school in eighth grade, the students, still barefoot on the beaches of their minds, sat in muted reverie. The teacher, Miss Eloise, smiled, said hello, then bravely picked up her faded blue copy of Emily Dickinson. She looked at the students for a time, to let some seriousness sink in, then “introduced” herself.

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Miss Eloise said hearing a poem once was never enough for her. She wondered if anyone else would like to read it to the class. She waited. Daryl’s hand went up. That got everybody’s attention. He tried to use the same expression as Miss Eloise, to the amusement of all. She smiled appreciatively and thanked Daryl for his “spirited” rendition.

That was it! No rules and regulations. Just hanging a poem in the air. This was my new class. My new teacher! A rare and strange feeling (as Dickinson said herself) came over me, as if the top of my head were taken off. I didn’t understand that poem really, nor some poems we read later, but I felt their power. And the power of a teacher who believed in words to instruct and inspire. Believed is us. Had faith that when we became friendly enough with poems, we would make connections. We would find out how they might work, on paper and in our lives.

I no longer recall what happened next that first day so long ago. I do recall we didn’t dissect the poem, or try to figure out what we thought it “meant.” I remember at the end of class Miss Eloise gave each of us a small packet of poems, as a welcome to the new year. Perhaps we might find one we liked, she said. If not, we needn’t worry. There were plenty of poems in the world for everyone. We would find what we wanted, what we needed. And leave the rest for others.

The waters parted.

Of course, as the year went on, no matter what other subject matter presented itself, there were always poems. We were building up a friendship with them. We opened up to talk about them, to consider our own connections. To consider our own questions, not just answer Miss Eloise’s. We collected poems in folders and began to write our own. That was the beginning of my discovery, with poet Mary Oliver, that poems can be a “life cherishing force.” That understanding has lasted to this day. Ever growing.


Poems are short. It doesn’t take much time to read a poem and think about it. And that’s what our students who hope to live with poems, who hope to write poems, need to do. Day one / week one, we can get poems out into the airwaves, pin them up against the light. Give them a chance to circulate with pleasure. It works best if the habit of poetry is embedded in our experiences from day to day, where we live. Not just on special occasions.

To build up a friendship with poems that will be the foundation for going deeper over time, we need some foundational beliefs about what might support students in this goal. Once we say, “Yes, that sounds like something important for readers and writers of poems,” the next question becomes, “So what can we arrange that will give this a chance of happening?” Considering the first question, here’s my short list for now. You might want to revise and add to it.

Students need opportunities to:

•read and listen to some poems without an expectation to “do” anything.

Just breathe them in and out. Not to “analyze.” Just hear the sounds. Feel the rhythms. Experience. Get a “taste.” Crack open the door of fear to let a little light come in. Realize one can be moved by words without always knowing why. Just like we can be moved by music without knowing why. A little mystery is good. Not everything has an answer, in poems and in life.

•read poems more than once, the more often the better

Revisit poems they’re attracted to for different reasons. To be allowed time to “request” poems to listen to and read together again. To revisit and share poems they’ve collected, or that have been charted, or tagged.

•choose their own poems to enjoy, explore, talk with others about
(in addition to those the teacher will want to introduce them to).

Collecting poems, sharing with each other, reading poems consistently across time, students build up their own personal taste, an identity with poems and poets.

•write out lines and poems they like

For sounds of language, for image, for memories they evoke, because of an intimate connection. Writing (or typing) out a poem helps you know it more closely. You are doing exactly what the poet did, and what you can do any time you want.

•listen to and read different types of poems, by different authors, to broaden the field and welcome challenges.

Becoming more familiar with different ways poems can look and sound, we become more comfortable with tasting something new. Like a traveler who happily anticipates trying new cuisine instead of turning up her nose because it’s “different.” If we feel we have to do something “serious” with every poem we read, we won’t read enough of them to get a sense of what they can be, of finding those that stick with us.

•give voice by reading poems aloud, individually and in chorus with others.

To catch the sounds and tune the ear. To bring poems inside. And out again. Poetry is a “bodily art” says poet Robert Pinsky. Reading aloud, we can begin to intuit a feel for craft. Craft is partly what directs us how to read a poem.

•excuse themselves from the company of those who would beat a poem “with a hose to find out what it really means” (Collins 2001, 16).

“Meaning” is made at the point where a reader connects with the “voice”—some inner verbal music— of a poem. An immense intimacy is felt. An exchange takes place in which something new is created. This is a personal relationship. Mysterious and miraculous. We do want to get closer to some poems as we go, especially as writers learning craft. Also, to take pleasure in the challenges of the poem, in what the writer has done to delight or move us.

•respond naturally and openly to poems

To begin, simply “say something.” Or, “What do you notice?” “What does this make you think?” Noticing and thinking. Two actions we want to become habits. They can last all year, carry over to other endeavors, the responses and interactions becoming deeper and more extended. A good way for teachers to observe, listen, get to know the students: What is she noticing? What is she thinking based on that observation? From that information, notice how the ability to observe and think deepens with consistency, experience and the work of the community. This is a foundation for those who will be writing poems.


In the beginning of the year (and always) I choose to read poems aloud that I delight in, that move me in some way, that show extraordinary craft. I also hope these poems will help set a tone of openness and thoughtfulness; will help build “community think.” At the same time, I want to encourage a curiosity for the limitless ways poems can be. We will revisit these poems along the way. Some of the specifics I list here may be helpful in choosing many other poems for read aloud and discussion. You’ll find your own.

A very few examples. Key:—perhaps older students, •perhaps younger students, **perhaps both

“Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell Luscious words, wonderful metaphor, September experience

“Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon
Anaphora (repetition of first lines), tapping into memories, things that represent a life, springboard for sharing appreciation of life’s moments, great as a model for exploring one’s own life

“Unfolding Bud” by Naoshi Koriyama
Amazing metaphor for unfolding of a poem, for reading again and again

“The Truth About Why I Love Potatoes” by Mekeel McBride
Different perspectives of ordinary object, touch of humor, human condition we can relate to, conversational tone, comparison to a poem

“Deformed Finger” by Hal Sirowitz From the author’s collection of advice from his mother, funny stream-of -consciousness, identifiable, poems from the ordinary made extraordinary

** Stone Bench in an Empty Park selected by Paul Janeczko
Anthology of haiku that shows poets looking carefully at what’s around them in the city.
Intriguing images, like taking a walk and looking around.

** “Teased” from Secrets of a Smaller Brother Richard Margolis
Short, sensitive poem, few words with deep underlying emotion. Collection of typical sibling situations. Oldie but goody.

“Dear Apples” by Takayo Noda
Speaker talks to apple, sensuous language, detail, no rhyme (the young need that too)

“Skyscrapers” by Rachael Field
A list of all questions. Could extend to notice, ask questions of objects, standard rhyme

“A Lazy Thought” by Eve Merriam
Strong noisy verbs, questions inside, internal rhyme not the usual, good for choral reading, provocative ending

“Beginning on Paper” by Ruth Krauss
Jazzy rhythm, list in syncopation, repeated phrase, great images, surprise ending, nice human touch, good for choral reading. Note: Can find poem in this wonderful anthology:

And so it goes…

Shirl is Poet Laureate for Choice Literacy online. Read some of her poems and reflections at ChoiceLiteracy.

7 comments August 24th, 2016

Writing poems around a theme

Poet and author Shirley McPhillips is back today with a post on how to harvest students’ interest around a specific topic so that it opens up writing possibilities. For more tips on poetry in the classroom, head over to the Stenhouse website to preview Shirley’s book Poem Central.

All I Want to Write About is ——: Poems Around a Theme
By Shirley McPhillips

poem-centralWhat to do about Jerome. “All he wants to do is write about dogs.” Mandy’s a head-scratcher. “She draws stars and spaceships all over everything.” Lawrence is exasperating sometimes. “He’s been scribbling for two months with one topic to show for it. Basketball.”

I read somewhere that writers have only one or two seminal themes in their lives. That everything they write comes out of those. I have no data but I think that’s probably true for many writers. The ideas, situations, experiences, beliefs that infuse and fuel what we think, what we do.

So why not share this notion with Jerome and Mandy and Lawrence? That it’s okay, even grand, to pull different types of writing out of the same writing well. Get them making a collection around a theme. Many poets do.

I’ve given Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs to so many friends for one dog reason or another over the past couple of years. For these folks, one dog poem is not enough. It’s about that special human-canine relationship. It’s also sharing what that relationship reveals about the meaning of our own lives. If I could locate Jerome, I’d put a copy of Dog Songs in the mail.

A few years ago, Tess Gallagher wrote a serious, playful, sassy book called Portable Kisses. “There are as many nuances and inflections for kisses as there are lips to kiss,” she said.

Swirl by Swirl, Joyce Sidman’s nonfiction poems celebrate the elegance and usefulness of spiral shapes in the natural world and across galaxies. Mandy could have used this for inspiration.

Lawrence’s passion for basketball might have been greatly validated as a force for writing if he could have read the 2015 Newbery Medal Winner: The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. In this coming-of-age novel in verse, we come to know something of the lives of two brothers, both on and off the court. Also, imagine Lawrence being inspired by another sports enthusiast, poet and anthologist Paul B. Janeczko. That Sweet Diamond, a collection of his own baseball poems, shows all the magic, grace and grit of the game from “Prayer for the Umpires” to “How to Spit.”

As we’ve said, collecting around a theme of one’s own poems is an instructive and rewarding project. So is making an anthology around a theme of other poets’ work.* Imagine Jerome getting to read lots of dog poems by other poets. And him, as editor, deciding what poems he would include in this collection. Why this poem? Why would I put these poems together in a collection? Do they fit together in some way? Do I want a variety of style? Length? Tone? In what order will I arrange them? What’s a good poem to begin? To end? What title will reflect this collection as a whole?

Recently, I was asked to submit a poem to a future anthology called Amore: Love Poems being edited by Johnny M. Tucker, Jr. Such an engaging project for me to peruse some of my poems asking: Is this a love poem? What makes this a love poem? Can love lost, or love denied, be considered a love poem? Can it be a love poem without reference to a person? Looking through the lens of “love,” poems took on new meaning. A couple were obviously love poems from the title on—“Love, Off Guard.” Others, like “Selfies of Autumn,” may not be as obvious to a reader until the epigram is considered and the story beneath the text blooms.

This poem appears in a new book, Acrylic Angel of Fate (2016, Finishing Line Press, KY).

Selfies of Autumn
(for Barbara Caldwell)

The day drips with the elixir
of autumn—a dark honey
of orange, a sadness of red,
the steadfastness of green.

A rainpool of birds slap
the summer’s heat from their wings;
beaks strip their feathers as if
to neaten up for a brave new day.

In the garden, I pose with the ghosts
of spring peonies. I can still breathe
their ambrosia heavy as wine, still feel
their heads lean.

Along the woodpath, squirrels
tear and leap, leap and tear, delirious
with an onset of primal intuition.

Above them the bittersweet vine,
blood-burned, still wants to reach,
to wind.

A windburst stirs the leaves
to the gripping point. One golden
soul, all lightness and fluttering heart,
twists and soars.

But time just won’t, I think,
allow for drift. I’ll snap a picture
for eternity, I say. You and me
against the starry cold.

—Shirley McPhillips

(Turn to p. 278 of Shirl’s book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers for a list called “Gathering of Flowers: Anthologies of Poetry.”)

Add comment April 19th, 2016

Talking poetry

Spend an hour in good company with poet and Stenhouse author Shirley McPhillips and National Writing Project host Tanya Baker as they discuss poetry, Shirl’s new book Poem Central, and the joy of reading the right poem at the right time. So pour a cup of tea and click on this link to listen to the entire interview.

Add comment September 23rd, 2014

Blogstitute Post 2: Poems Waiting to be Found

blogstitute2014Welcome back to the second post in our summer Blogstitute series. We are staying with the topic of writing — but this time we are joined by author and poet Shirley McPhillips who shares her thoughts on “found poems.” These poems are all around us — on traffic signs, in letters, in newspaper articles. We just have to have an open eye and an open ear to find them. Shirley shares some student-found poems and ideas for inspiring students to write their own poetry.

Shirley’s latest book is Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers. Leave a comment — or better yet, a found poem — in the comments section for a chance to win a package of eight Stenhouse books. One winner each week! You can also use code BLOG to receive 20% off and free shipping on your order from the Stenhouse website.

Poems Waiting to be Found

“Those happy poets who write found poetry go pawing through popular culture like sculptors on trash heaps. They hold and wave aloft usable artifacts and fragments: jingles and ad copy, menus and broadcasts. . . .”    

—Annie Dillard (1995, ix)

Once addicted to words—to the tune of words, to the feel of writing them down, to the look of them in print—they do indeed begin to “wave aloft” their hidden treasures. I hold onto them in my notebooks: lists, snippets, clusters, lines. Many times before I begin to write a new poem I read a few pages by an author I admire in order to get into a certain thoughtful zone. When I feel itchy (or most often before) to walk down that writerly path, I read through some pages of disparate lines in my notebook hoping to catch not so much an idea but a thought, an image, or a sound that will start me off. Often a new poem begins with a line I like the sound of. That sound will lead me to places I never expected to go. The words lead. I follow. Connections are made. In this way I “find” my poem.

But “found” poems tweak the process a bit differently. These are poems in which someone else’s phrases or lines are taken from their usual context (fiction, nonfiction, signage in our daily lives, another poem, etc.) and arranged to make a new poem. In this way the new poem is not a “copy,” nor is it “plagiaristic.” And, if published, the origin of the lines may be attributed. Once you’ve recognized and arranged found lines to make something new, your eyes and ears will find it hard to resist the search thereafter. We go “pawing through the popular culture” like the sculptors Dillard writes about in the epigraph.

Finding Poems in Unexpected Places

Blog posts online describe fascinating found poem experiences. Patrice, for example, noticed a line in the carriage of the Paris Metro, “A sonorous signal announces the closure of doors.” She thinks the English translation reads better than the French. Benny wrote a poem from suggested recipes for the Ultimate Banana Daiquiri. Bill reminds us of a whole book of poems from the broadcast musings of Phil Rizzuto, shortstop and announcer for the New York Yankees. Danika has written a collection of poems from comments on YouTube. Randy wrote poems taking lines from articles about Hurricane Sandy. He sent one to each of his relatives who lost property on the Jersey Shore.

Poet Hart Seely scoured official Defense Department transcripts of news briefings and speeches by then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He took the best nuggets from Rumsfeld’s “verbosity” and turned them into art. His poems, published as The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld, first appeared in Slate in 2003, and readers shivered with recognition and newfound truth. No doubt you will recall these words from a February 12, 2002, press briefing addressing the lack of evidence of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”: “There are known knowns . . . there are known unknowns . . . there are things we do not know we don’t know.” You might want to read Seely’s poem online: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/low_concept/2003/04/the_poetry_of_dh_rumsfeld.html. What a difference a form makes.

Jenni B. Baker and her friends in graduate school arranged an online poetry-writing group. They posted and responded to a prompt each week. One week they challenged themselves to write a poem using words found on product packaging. Not having much faith in the idea, Jenni reached for a product at hand—teeth-whitening strips—and copied down all the words. She did it in half an hour, and it was fun. Since then she uses this strategy as an exercise when struggling with an idea, “a way to unclog the creative pipes.” Eventually, she began practicing “crafting poems from speeches, menus, Twitter streams and more” (“Finding Poetry” 2012).

By 2011, Jenni had become an active devotee. So she founded the Found Poetry Review (http://www.foundpoetryreview.com/), a biannual literary journal, to showcase poets finding poems in their everyday lives and to encourage others to try.

Students Find Poems in the Everyday

Following is a sampling of poems students have found from everyday sources. The lines have been left wholly intact, nothing added. They have provided a context for their poems. And each source has been attributed. When you read these poems, imagine the poetic eye sharp enough to recognize selected print as a source for a poem. Imagine the mind composed enough to separate out words and lines around a single idea or image or event or experience. Imagine the ear receptive enough to hear and select words and lines that sound so right in their arranged places. Imagine the poetic knowledge required to find a beginning line, to end-stop or enjamb (one line spilling over into the next) those lines, to break the stanzas, to land in a strong place. These are some of the skills all poets need. Even found poets.

James—a found poem from the book The Most Beautiful Place in the World by Ann Cameron (1993):

I remember the peacocks on the lawn,
thousands of stars in the sky—
my town.

But back
the wall,
a good
I ran out
of signs.

I can’t go there again.

Nathan—a found poem from a Public Service Electric & Gas monthly statement:

Public Service

This is the charge
for delivering.
This is the charge
for balancing
for transporting.

This is the charge
for generating.
This is the charge
for commodity,
for Worry Free.

This is the charge
for the balance
of those, energy strong,

William—a found poem from the Playbill of Kinky Boots on Broadway:

Play Bill

Welcome to the vault.
Something wicked
this way comes.

Kinky Boots,
Viva glam!

Bank your Broadway
memories, unlock
the last five years.

It’s about taking you
on a journey, beyond
your four walls, beyond
a new town.

As the Poem Finds Its Way to Paper

Finding lines that have possibilities for poems is one thing. What to do with them is another. Poets spend years honing their craft. It’s serious business. So some might bristle to hear that folks think they can just find some lines on a bottle of olive oil, and voila!

Granted, not all found poems are created equal. Not all found constructions work well as poems. And readers’ tastes run the gamut. But finding lines and crafting these types of poems can be liberating and fun. When feeling strapped for an idea, or stuck on a poem of our own, we can take a break and use someone else’s words and still feel creative as we try to arrange and order them to represent some kind of new truth. We can still practice the craft of making a poem and yield something honest, artful, even moving, as the preceding examples show. We might transform what is found using a traditional form such as a sonnet or villanelle, or write in free verse making decisions about line endings, spaces, stanzas, and so on.

As students and teachers get started writing their own found poems, I think Baker’s breakdown of the types of submissions she receives for the Found Poetry Review online, and what she tends to accept as quality, can be instructive. She describes three broad buckets:

1. Reportage: A problem

Excerpted, sequential lines from a text, with added line breaks and spaces. “Singling out a pithy paragraph in Lolita, pressing the return key a few times and calling it a found poem doesn’t do much for me on the editorial front—it is not surprising or inventive.”

2. Distillation: Can work

Words and phrases from a text rearranged so the message is the same but the lines are arranged in a different way. She looks for originality in arrangement.

3. Reinvention: Works well

Words and phrases from a text arranged so that the poems meaning has little or nothing to do with that of the source material. It answers the questions: “What can you add to the source material? What new story can you find within the original?”

Some Tips for Crafting a Found Poem

•Your source is any text that’s not already a poem (unless it’s a cento, which is made of lines from other poems).

•As you read source material, you may underline or highlight lines or phrases that speak to you, that you like the sound of. Maybe you have a theme or mood or image in mind as you’re reading, and you find yourself jotting around those. Or you may review your listings later and discover your central idea.

•Jot the phrases and lines on a notebook page or in a word-processing document. Or cut them out and arrange them on a table. Short lines probably will work better. Arrange them by common characteristics or theme or sound or grammatical units.

•Begin to write your poem. You might find a good first line and let that line push you sound-wise, sense-wise, and rhythmically to the next line and the next. Lines and phrases can be repeated too. Some people like to group their lines and phrases in various ways: good beginnings, description, actions, speaking to the reader, repetition, statements or commands, great landing pads (endings), and so on.

•Revise. And revise again. Now you’re thinking “poem.” You might have a few poems you like next to you as you work, including some found poems from this text, or Dillard’s (1995).

•Read your poem out loud. Again. To yourself. To a kind person. When your voice follows your notation, does it sound right? Does it feel right? Does thought move from the first line and push its way forward? Do you land at the end?

•You might experiment by writing several different poems using the same lines and phrases.

Finders Keepers

Summertime, that beautiful word. Seems like a good time to practice finding poems in the print all around us. With the folks you’ve just read about as inspiration, dive in. Bet you’ll never see the words on your hand sanitizer the same way again.


Cameron, Ann. 1993. The Most Beautiful Place in the World. New York: Yearling.

Dillard, Annie. 1995. Mornings Like This: Found Poems. New York: HarperCollins.

“Finding Poetry in the Existing and Every Day: Jenni B. Baker on Found Poetry.” 2012. Metre Maids.


30 comments June 19th, 2014

Now Online: Poem Central

How can you bring poetry to students to enrich their lives as readers, writers, and human beings? Poet and staff developer Shirley McPhillips offers a multitude of entry points in her new book, Poem Central.

Using exemplary poems by teachers and students alike, Poem Central illustrates poetic devices and explains how they’re used. You and your students can apprentice yourselves to the readers and writers described in classroom vignettes, stories, and glimpses of poetry work in action. Curated lists of print and online resources help you find poems and further explore each concept.

Treat yourself to this reflective and complete guide to teaching poetry. Students will catch your passion as they come to find, read, talk about, and write poems for themselves. Poem Central will be published later this month, and you can now browse the entire book online.

Add comment June 5th, 2014

The Importance of Poetry with Shirley McPhillips

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.

Add comment April 30th, 2014

Now Online: Life’s Literacy Lessons

Noted literacy educator and author Steven Layne (Igniting a Passion for Reading) has received much attention over the years for his poem “Read to Them.” It inspired Life’s Literacy Lessons, a collection of poems first published over ten years ago, which has touched tens of thousands of teachers.

Now Steven has added six additional poems and five longer pieces of prose—anecdotes written in the voice and style of the stories he shares in his powerful keynote addresses—in a new edition to be published by Stenhouse next week.

Steven’s poems and stories about literacy teaching and learning are filled with honesty and wit that inspire educators at all grade levels. From grammar to handwriting, from standards to reading aloud, these short pieces highlight the tears, laughter, challenges, and rewards experienced by today’s teachers. It’s the perfect gift for a colleague, mentor, or your entire staff—anyone with a passion for creating lifelong readers and writers.

Life’s Literacy Lessons will start shipping next week, and you can pre-order and preview excerpts now.

Add comment April 9th, 2013

National Poetry Month: Using Your Senses

We just can’t help ourselves — we had to start celebrating National Poetry Month a few weeks early. We are going to kick things off by introducing you to our FREE Poetry Sampler e-book with tips and ideas for teaching poetry from several Stenhouse authors. You can download the e-book right now from our website.

Now through April we are going to bring you one post a week by authors Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli. Their recent book Poetry Mentor Texts explores a variety of poetic forms and each chapter includes a “Your Turn” lesson that helps teachers transfer the ideas into their classroom.

The first post from Lynne and Rose is a brand new Your Turn lesson, not found in the book. Check back next week for a new lesson and then for more inspirational posts and poetry samples from Lynne and Rose.  Poetry Mentor Texts is still available for preview on the Stenhouse website.

Your Turn: Create an Ice Cream Memory to Use Your Senses

Hook: How many of you like ice cream or sherbet? Turn and talk with your partner about your favorite flavors. Let’s share with the whole group. (Teacher records some on the board.) You may want to read Ice Cream by Elisha Cooper; The Perfect Scoop: Ice Cream, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accomplishments by David Lebovitz; or Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems.

Brainstorm (Prewrite): Make your own list in your writer’s notebook. (Students share in small groups before lists are distributed.) Take your favorite flavor and create a word storm in your notebook—feelings, senses, thoughts, opinions, associations, and so forth. You may use it later to write another notebook entry. Turn and talk with a partner.

Purpose: Today we are going to use ice cream flavors to help us recall a vivid memory for our writer’s notebook. The entry will probably be fairly short, maybe four to ten sentences. You will probably use many writing strategies quite naturally, such as appeal to the senses, color words, and vivid adjectives.

Model (for grades 3–6): Teacher writes memory on the board.

The light, tinkling music from the Good Humor truck as it rolls down Durham Street pulls the children from their houses like a powerful magnet. Slap-slaps of screen doors are followed by the jingling of coins stuffed deep into shorts and jeans pockets as we dash for the street. Each child has a favorite. Mine is the rocket with its creamy vanilla ice cream swirled with chocolate.  I like to push up the ice cream slowly so I can enjoy the cool taste on a hot August day for a long time. My younger sister Sandy, with huge baby blues and ringlets of gold that jiggle as she jumps up and down in front of the truck window, always asks for an orange Creamsicle and spatters the sidewalk with drops of sticky sweetness—a prize for the ants!

Guided Writing: Turn and talk about the memory. What did you like about it? Open your notebook and try to write an ice cream memory. (It may be helpful to have students brainstorm settings and write one sentence about each before deciding on the entry.)  For example: Boardwalk—I sat on the hard, wooden bench and watched the waves rolling in and out, licking my creamy vanilla cone in rhythm with the waves. I will walk around the room and peek at what you are doing (roving conferences with clipboard).  (After some time, have students share in small groups and in whole groups. Copy some of their sentences on the overhead to include as “expert” samples.)

Independent Practice: Now try to write a notebook entry about a real ice cream memory. Think a moment, do a web or a list to get started, refer to your word storm and settings, or just start writing. Remember, you are not writing an entire story! Here is my example. (Share on overhead or distribute your thoughts on a handout. Give students time to write and share, even if only with a partner.)

Reflection: Let’s look at my paragraph. What writing strategies did I use? Reflect on the strategies you seem to use naturally and automatically as a writer. What are your “fingerprints”?

Write and Reflect Again: If you would revise this entry, what is one thing you would absolutely do? Try it out. Perhaps rewrite your entry as a poem in any format. Compare entries. Which do you like better? Why?

Projection (Optional): Create a goal for yourself that will help your reader to visualize your words.

  • Try to appeal to a sense you don’t usually use, such as smell, taste, or touch.
  • Look at your adjectives. Are they vivid and exact?
  • Do you use color?
  • Examine past portfolio entries to see how you have used the senses to create description. Choose a piece for possible revision(s).
  • Find examples in your reading where authors appeal to the senses, and copy them into your notebooks.

Rewrite of Model Paragraph as a Poem:

Ice Cream Summers by L. Dorfman

Slowly rolling down the street
Music pulls children from houses
Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Slap-slap goes the screen doors
And pockets jingle-jangle
As we dash madly for the curb.

Cries of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry
Fill the air with sweetness—
Cool words for a steamy day.

Rocket for me to last awhile
And orange Creamsicle for sister
Who bounces on the balls of her feet.

Ringlets jiggle up and down
As her baby blues grow wide
While sticky drops spatter sidewalks . . .

Ah! The ants will have dessert!


Add comment March 20th, 2013

An interview with the authors of Poetry Mentor Texts

Stacey Shubitz over at the excellent Two Writing Teachers blog recently interviewed Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, authors of Poetry Mentor Texts: Making Reading and Writing Connections. Lynne and Rose talked about the role of poetry in the Common Core Standards and how to make poetry a part of the classroom culture all year long. “Poetry gives students possibilities for collaboration and offers opportunities for students to use the strategies learned through poetry as they write in other modes during writing workshop. Teachers might want to include poetry as a choice in writing workshop or include it as part of a multi-genre presentation which can include art or music.”

You can read the full interview on Two Writing Teachers. The book is still available for full preview on the Stenhouse website.

Add comment January 30th, 2013

Podcast: Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli on Poetry Mentor Texts

“Poetry is a great way to level the playing field–kids delight in the sounds…poetry appeals to our ears our eyes, our imagination, our very souls.”

Teaching poetry is daunting for many teachers, but given the right approach it serves an important role in literacy learning, and students love it. In this short video interview, Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, authors of the new book Poetry Mentor Texts, encourage teachers to use poetry throughout the day and curriculum, and explain how their book makes it easy to do so. You can preview the entire text of Poetry Mentor Texts on the Stenhouse website!

Add comment January 15th, 2013

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