First of all, Carly and I planned this unit this summer, and it is always interesting to see how our summer dreams come to life, what needs to be modified, scrapped, etc.
I traditionally have done a writer's workshop model of free verse with mini-lessons on writing territories, free verse as a genre, cutting lines and stanzas, being in the poem, crafting a strong lead, repetition, crafting a strong end, figurative language, and weeding the garden.
Several years ago, I read parts of Heather Lattimer's book Thinking Through Genre and got some great ideas for narrative non fiction reading and writing (learning from a genre study and then applying it as we write) and we decided to do some re-working of the current unit.
To start the unit, we did a giant poem sort with the kids. Students are currently grouped at five different groupings of desks. Each group got a pack of 32 poems, all written by past students of mine, and had to start looking through them for themes/categories. Once some categories became evident, they could start recording them as well as the poem titles that went in each category on a record sheet. They quickly came up with things like friendship, family, nature, cabin life/travel, pets, sports...some groups got creative with categories like depressing, happy, old things. Carly and I did the same sort this summer but on a mammoth scale; we looked through over 300 poems I've collected over the years--the best of the ones handed in yearly--and started doing just what we asked the kids to do, sort them by category. Then we each took home four folders full of poems and began the process of looking through them to weed out the strongest in each category. Some fell by the wayside, maybe chosen through the lens of the moment, the year, the kid, but a great deal withstood the test of time for me, reaffirming my belief that 12 and 13 year olds have a lot to say and are excellent writers.
So...after the kids sorted the poems into theme/category and recorded them, they had to divide them up and scan them and mark up figurative language in each poem. This is about where each group got by the end of the first day. They really took a lot of time and focus looking through the poems and discussing them. Some were written by older brothers and sisters, neighnors, sports heroes at the high schools. It was awesome to see.
The next day, they for sure divided up the poems and each student had to pick one or two from their pile that they thought were the strongest. The group had to consider each and choose four or five (so their top four or five from the group of 32) to use to write a multiple choice/true false/matching/fill in the blank quiz with a focus on figurative language. After they chose their top poems, they had to each write some quiz questions to contribute to their group's quiz, aiming to be clear because another group would be taking the quiz the next day. Each group got their quiz questions (10 total) done that day (well, mostly!!) and started a Google Drive doc that they shared with me.
The next day, I gave them 20 minutes to finish typing up the quiz, which mostly worked. There seemed to be one lagging group in each class with a kid who hadn't written up their questions, and so there was some wait time that led to some restlessness in most classes that of course in a middle school isn't the greatest. When each team had finished typing their quizzes, I printed one from the main computer (they were working on Chromes), stapled a sheet with the names of the kids in the group on it, and paper clipped any poems the kids taking it would need to refer to. Once all done, we rotated the quiz to the table counter clockwise from them, and the kids took the quiz from another group. Only two classes totally finished and got their grading done. The other three I have to grade and/or give back for the groups to grade. One really chatty class--one of Robin's and my co-taughts--didn't get finished with the quiz, so we still need to finish.
Anyway, it was really cool to see them apply what they had learned into something meaningful. The discussion during the quiz-taking was interesting, too, ranging from arguments about what the answer was to how confusing a few of the groups were with a few of their questions (I intervened in several cases, giving the group a freebie point.) The grades will be going into the grade book for real, and the kids will also get credit for writing the quiz with their group.
I'll write about our next activity next time--five centers that we will finish up with tomorrow. I have to get to grading some more essays as long as my eyes are open!
Some of my favorites...all past students now in grades 8 through college.
The battle field a diamond,
it looks like 9 vs. 1
but it is truly a duel.
General against soldier
ball against bat,
their bodies 66.6 feet apart.
But their minds are right next to each other.
For the soldier to win, focus only on the ball.
Not the fans, not the score,
nothing but the ball.
The ball comes and the soldier’s muscle memory takes over.
Load, stride, hips, hands, extension, follow through.
The ball rockets past the general’s knee.
The soldier hustles to first after a job well done.
The first pink streaks of dawn
break through my window..
I tiptoe to the door
careful not to wake my parents.
I ease open the door
and slip outside.
It is still dark.
Wind whistles through the birch trees,
crisp air nips at my ears,
and I huddle deeper into my sweater.
I stumble down the hill
that leads to the lake.
Mist floats ghostlike
across the glassy water.
Black trees are silhouetted
against the purple sky.
The haunting call of a loon
can be heard drifting across the landscape.
I look out at the pale colors of autumn trees
and wonder if life could be any better.
The Willow Tree
I see branches of the old willow tree
Caught in a dark cloud of shadows,
Raining down eerily—
Frozen in time
Guarding the oversized puddle
We call a creek.
I hear owls calling into the dead of night
Sending warnings to the careless
Mice of twilight,
Bunnies quietly being tucked into bed
To avoid being caught
By the watchful eyes of the owls
Looking down from the treetops.
I wait for morning to come,
For the sun to come up
Onto the fluffy white clouds,
Slowly changing them a rosy pink
Swimming in a sea of baby blue
That is sky.
I watch as the willow tree
Escapes the darkness,
Sun radiantly shining
Through its branches.
Quietly the willow rests—
A vampire asleep during the day, awake at night
To prepare once again to guard the creek at sunset.
The exotic gypsy
is a maple,
cloaked in sunset hued leaves.
The crippled sailor,
drooping and hunched,
white with age.
I am a spruce,
stretching and tugging
until I reach
the sky of my future.
The roots that are my family
into rich soil
and will keep me strong.
I will not be swayed,
even in the storm’s fiercest rage.
I will not be a
crying for what has been.
I will not be a
who only has the rocks
and must hold on for its scraggly, little life.
I will be the spruce,
proud and tall,
the calm in the storm. --Lauren Stepka
And the best-worst typo of my teaching career so far...
The door opens and light streams in.
Dust appears in clusters around me.
Dust appears in clusters around me.
When the door shits, they become invisible again.
I scan the room.
Shoes are scattered all around the floor.
In the very farthest corner of this mud-encrusted jungle
there appears to be the oldest, most worn out pair of sneakers
you’ll ever see.
I dig them out of their dust-bunny and shoe-laced prison.
Once released, the stench gets to me, like a huge slap in the face.
Then it slinks back to its sweaty home.