Student poems from Mrs. Larson’s 5th grade class at Corbett Elementary:
rain or wet dirt
a drum when it falls
a zebra or a labyrinth
Down in the very ground
I came to gain nutrients
My bud is a tree
A dog’s claw scratching
a brownie or a pine cone
under a tree branch
My name is Jack.
I come from the sky.
All day long I go to the sun.
At night I believe there is light.
My favorite food is ice cream.
I sleep at night.
I fear erasers.
I believe I can save the world.
I wish I could fly.
—Jack H., 1st grade
My name is McKenzie.
I come from the sun.
All day long I read walls.
At night I sleep in pea pods.
My favorite food is cockroaches.
I sleep in a bed that is too small for me.
I fear that a plane or a helicopter is going to crash.
I believe in everything that does not exist.
I wish I could breathe under water.
—McKenzie B., 3rd grade
The monsoon is like the eye
of a cheetah opening and
closing. It is shooting out
bolts of electricity, when it closes it is
the thunder booming. The cheetah is
running in an empty field. Its soul
is trapped in the storm.
When the clouds
descend, the soul is free.
—Finlay P., 3rd grade
I am the monsoon. I have plenty
Of things that happen when I’m here.
I shoot lightning as quick as a whip.
My thunder sounds like a lion’s
Roar. My rain makes a cheetah look
Slow. And it sounds like the pitter-
Patter of a dog’s nails on cement floor
In a room with other dogs pitter-pattering
On the floor. My clouds look like
Cotton balls splattered in grey and
Black paint. I am nothing like your
Hot fudge sundae.
—Vienne W., 4th grade
Two poems by 4th graders from Keeling Elementary:
The toothbrush is tickling himself on Mt. Lemmon
He sang quickly to the cavities
He heard an eagle flying in the desert
He was talking Chinese in France
When the toothbrush saw the toothpaste going on him he slowly screamed
The toothbrush bailó el merengue en la noche loquito
The toothbrush dijo buenas noches to la luz
The toothbrush ganó todo los juegos
The toothbrush abrió los ojos en la mañana y dijo buenos días to the mirror
The floss and the toothbrush skipped juntos afuera locos en la mañana
My bed turns red it dances and twirls
As it walks brightly into the light it acts like a little girl
It accidentally told me a lie and it felt guilty when I found out
It told me softly I am tired
I put it to sleep and walked away quietly
One minute later I came back and again the bed twirled brightly
Poem by Teresa P, of Corbett Elementary,
Ms. Yearego’s 4th grade class:
She lives in a hollow tree. She lives on aphids. Poison-Ivy Girl has to watch out for dry spells. Her weakness is Herbivores. She can spread ivy to villains, make leaf hats (not from ivy), and can plant plants with the touch of her spit. She can glide through the wind. Also Poison-Ivy girl can fit through tiny holes like this ¤. She could camouflage. A situation she could be in is having to pass through the desert without being dried up, to get to the villains. Another is maybe to lure a group of elephants away from people without being eaten.
I measure a successful lesson plan first and foremost by how engaged the students are, and secondarily by the quality of their writing. Take a Breath, Steal Some Time was the most successful class of my residency at Corbett Elementary.
I began by saying, "Don’t open your folders yet! I’m going to tell you a story first." I told the story (as discussed by Italo Calvino in his Six Memos for the New Millenium) of the artist/philosopher Chuang-tsu and the King who asks him for a picture of a perfect crab. In order to do this favor for the King, Chuang-tsu says he needs five years, a house in the country, and a dozen servants. I stopped mid-story, right after the five years have expired, the picture isn’t finished, and Chuang-tsu has returned to request another five years from the king in order to complete the project. I asked them what they thought the King would say. Most said something to the effect of, "Off with his head!"
The King does grant Chuang-tsu five more years, and on the very last day of the ten years that have elapsed, Chuang-tsu picks up a brush and paints a perfect crab. I asked students how they would feel if they were the King at the end of the story. "Cheated" and "angry" were the most common reactions. This prompted a conversation about social values and how art, time, and the creative process are viewed by our society now as compared to the society in the story. Most of the students agreed that they would feel much better if Chuang-tsu had produced 100 pictures of a crab, even if imperfect, on his way to producing a perfect crab; this is symptomatic of our culture, which values quantity over quality. We recognized that in the story, the king understood the importance of quality and was willing to invest ten years’ worth of resources to achieve artistic perfection.
I wanted students to have a hands-on artistic experience creating something seemingly simple, like Chuang-tsu drawing a crab, to see how difficult it actually could be. So, I handed out an object to each student and asked them to study it with their senses. (I had picked the objects the night before - twigs with leaves, a few rocks, dried pomegranates and lemons, flowers, a stick or two, avocado shells, seeds, bark, etc.) I had made a handout designed to give a structure to their thoughts and observations. Many students got stuck on, "My object is called ____________." I told them if they couldn’t figure out what their object was, they could make it up. Some of them were still stuck, so I suggested they start with, "When look at my object, I think of ___________." Free-associating helped them think about the possibilities of their object; cactus remains became snakeskin, bark became beef jerky.
After studying their object, I asked them to write a haiku. I asked them to include their object in some way and to include a sense-discovery they had made. I went around helping stuck students by making haikus on the spot as examples and showing them how to transform the amazing things they had written during the prewriting into poems.
Before going to teach my first class at Khalsa Montessori School, I kept changing my mind about how to get my students to write. I’d studied others’ lesson plans and read texts such as The Grammar of Fantasy and Educating the Imagination. I wanted to have a flow to my residency in which the students gradually accumulated knowledge about poetry; I would see their writing incorporate what I was teaching, thereby validating my role as educator. After all, administrators are interested in how creative writing can help the student achieve academically and programs like this, which may or may not depend on grant funding, must convince others that it does.
Even if there were no research to support the fact that it can help students in school (which there is), I can say that, in my experience, it helps students in life by giving them a means of expression, a way to explore through language the vast, undiscovered territory of the heart and soul.
Upon entering the classroom my first day, I read the following quote from Dr. Maria Montessori and realized that my knowledge of poetry was not nearly as important as my love for it:
"Education is not something which the teacher does, but it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but by experiences upon the environment."
During this year’s extended winter rains, and about halfway through the residency at Sam Hughes Elementary, my students and I considered Tucson’s special summer rainy season. We read three poems about rain and storms—one by local poet Ofelia Zepeda ("Black Clouds"), another by the early 13th century poet Judah-Al Harizi ("The Lightning"), and a third by a 4th and 5th grade class in Phoenix ("Monsoon"). We talked about the surprising comparisons and similes in the poems and looked at how the collaborative poem in particular used all of the five senses to bring the monsoon to life. From there the students went on to write their own monsoon poems. The day had been overcast and it had rained that morning. When the students began to share their poems, first in the third grade classroom, and then in the fourth grade classroom, the rains began again. It seemed their poems too brought the storm to life.
Another residual enchantment was experiencing the students’ delight in language and reading—an interest that extended to languages other than English. Throughout the residency we read various poems in translation, reading both the original and the English translation, and the students were always eager to volunteer to read the poem in its original language, always eager to hear it. I wish I had found the Al-Harizi poem in its original (it was translated from the Hebrew by T. Carmi), for there were students ready to read it.
Name: Erin Armstrong
This residency showed me how capable and creative students of any age can be. My goal was to introduce as many types of writing to the students as possible. I worked on poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. As a fiction writer, I loved creating magical creatures and houses with the students. However, some of their best writing came when they had to make something banal interesting. One lesson that worked well was using a multilingual poem to teach the idea of personification. Initially, I was nervous about this lesson because I don’t speak Spanish; however, my students came to my rescue. Many students helped to read the bilingual poem and realized that they could create work that incorporated both languages. Using Carmen Tafolla’s poem "Bailar", I asked students to take something everyday, like their desk or bed, and make it real. Students could use any language to write their work and some amazing writing was produced.
In general, I loved participating in this residency. I felt like I bonded with the students and passed on my love for writing. In one class, I managed to get a private dialogue going with the students. Each week I would comment on their writing, which I did by writing on lined paper that I stapled into their manila folders. A few weeks later, students started to write back. It was a wonderful feeling to be in dialogue with the students and I think it allowed me to push their writing further. I even managed to get work from those students who often dreaded the writing process. I thought this was a great way to teach students while allowing them to expand their own creative process. Each week they impressed me with their knowledge and their amazing talent.
Notes on my "Fantastic Characters" lesson plan
I used Sarah Kortemeier’s "Glass Man" lesson plan as a starting point for this lesson and also went back and spent some time with Rodari’s Grammar of Fantasy, from which the "Glass Man"
idea comes. I also was inspired by some of the results from a previous lesson using exquisite corpse as a form for collaborative "autobiographies of lies."
There were already some fantastic characters emerging in these group works, including the "Hot Cheetos Girl" and "the girl who sleeps 87 years every century." I anticipated this lesson being the
first in a series of exercises on primary story
elements—character, setting, and plot. But I really like how Rodari's idea of the fantastic binominal—the juxtaposition of interestingly disparate words&mdah;applied to character
creation in such a way that plot and story sprang from the
dissonances in the character’s name. It was a fun experiment, and the results were surprisingly good. We did indeed seem to spark the students’ imaginations and enthusiasm.
The student sample included with this lesson is a good example of how
you can see story and plot sprouting from the basic assignment of answering questions to create a character description.