Grades 6-12 lesson plan - A Suggested Four Week Unit of Study in

By Geraldine Gonzales,2014-05-07 15:33
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Grades 6-12 lesson plan - A Suggested Four Week Unit of Study in

    A Suggested Four Week Unit of Study in Poetry: Grades 6-12

Introduction: Students Come to Us with Knowledge of Poetry

    When it comes to teaching poetry in middle and high school, there’s some good news: virtually every one of your students has had school experiences with poetry. You won’t be starting from scratch, and in fact, some of your students may already consider

    themselves poets. The not-so-good news is that some students may arrive in your

    classroom thinking they “hate” poetry or that they “can’t do it.” It may be that for the last

    seven years or so, they have been writing poems during their class’s poetry unit and

    comparing themselves sometimes not-so-favorably or being compared to the “class poets,” those students who seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to things poetic.

There are several ways to help students who may be stuck to break out of the poetry rut.

    When you capture the attention of students who don’t believe in themselves as poets and

    show them how to find the poetry within themselves, this might just become the favorite

    unit you teach all year.


    The first goal of any genre unit is to immerse your students in that genre. You’ll want to

    have as many books of poetry as you can get your hands on. Check out all the books

    from your local library, visit the school library, scout out local stoop sales, invite families

    to send in their favorites. Pull poetry books from wherever you can. Have these books

    accessible for the duration of your unit of study.

For the first week, there are several activities to get your class thinking about poetry and

    noticing how poets think or “live” differently.

Finding Poems We Love

    On the first day of the unit, drop as many poetry anthologies on each table as you can,

    and ask students to browse through them to find one or two that they really like. Include

    published student anthologies, poetry web sites or poetry magazines with student writing

    from previous years. The students’ job is to recopy the poem exactly as it is in the book and post it up on a bulletin board headed: “Our Favorite Poems” or “Poems We Love.”

    On this interactive poetry board students can “drop” and “add” poems as they find more

    poetry they love. Be sure students know that it’s ok to copy and post a poem published by

    another student in a previous year, or even one they may have written the year before.

    ? Student Assessment: Notice which students are copying exactly from the original

    and which are not. Students who re-write the poems in paragraph form may not have

    had many experiences with poetry. Though it’s not necessary to “correct” them at this

    point, you will need to watch those students as this week unfolds and confer with

    them about lines, stanzas, and the basics of poetry during reading or writing


    ? For Your Reluctant Poets: Share with these students the poetry of Ogden Nash,

    Jack Prelutsky, Billy Collins or Michael Rosen and allow them to copy and post these

    short, funny, or odd-looking poems. Poetry may seem less intimidating when you

    realize you’re laughing too hard to be apprehensive.

? This activity is chiefly about browsing and sharing poetry with each other, filling the

    room with the sound of it. It’s very social – the goal is to make sure that everyone has

    the opportunity to hear and read a wide array of poems and gets at least one favorite

    up on the board some time this first week.

Poetic Dramatizations

    In small groups, have students select one or two of the class’s favorite poems and

    rehearse them to be read aloud. Model and encourage dramatic interpretation. You might

    even ask students to find music that “feels” like the poem (this leads to discussions about

    a poem’s tone later in the unit) and play the music in the background. Everyone in the

    group should have a part and recite at least one line of the poem out loud. The group

    might choose to read it all chorally, or to take turns by stanza.

You’ve Got to See This!

    If possible, show a video of a previous class’s Poets Café, in which students take turns

    reading their final drafts and sipping beverages as if they were attending a classic coffee

    house poetry reading, or a similar celebration. Or, find a video (or tape recording) of

    Maya Angelou or another celebrated poet reading aloud. Try to get your hands on the

    anthology, Poetry Speaks, a reference text that includes 3 audio CDs. Your students will be treated to readings by 42 poets, including William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and

    Langston Hughes. Alternatively, you might access one of the many poetry websites,

    some of which have audio recordings of poets reciting their work (e.g.,,, or even student written poetry on Ask students to do some

    research as they listen and watch: what makes this reading different from most read-

    alouds? Besides providing inspiration, this also lets the class know what to expect during

    their own celebration at the end of the unit.

Mentors, Mentors, Mentors

    Begin reading, giving, and sharing your favorite poems and poems you think will make

    good mentors, or models, to your students. Some teachers have their students keep a

    separate folder or section in their binders called “Mentor Texts” where they keep a

    photocopy of key poems distributed and discussed in class. Soon students start adding

    poems that they find on their own and want to take on as personal mentors.

    ? In reading workshop, look at poems and ask students to notice interesting ideas,

    phrases, and words. (See Katie Wood Ray’s book Wondrous Words and Shelly

    Tucker’s Writing Poetry for more ideas on noticing craft.). As a follow-up, the same

    activity could also be assigned for homework.

    ? In class, delve into conversations about poems in a whole group or in small groups.

    Whole class conversations around poems read aloud serve as a model for the kind of

    talk you’d like to go on in small groups and partnerships. (See Harvey Daniels’

    Literature Circles or Lucy Calkins The Art of Teaching Reading for more ideas

    about book clubs or literature circles.)

    ? Ask students to respond to poems in their reading response journals or notebooks.

    ? The more you react to and talk about great poems, the more ideas students will have

    when it’s time to write their own.

The Theme’s the Thing

    As you read a poem, help students notice that, while the poet seems to be writing about

    something concrete, s/he may also be dealing with some deeper theme: love, death, truth,

    beauty, justice etc. Depending on their level of sophistication, students might be able to

    discuss symbolism and these universal themes. This discussion gets them ready for later

    conversations on writing symbolically and metaphorically. To get students thinking about

    “big idea” themes, try the following poems: “I, Too Sing America by Langston Hughes; Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas; “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost; or “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” by Adrienne Rich. Check the 6-12 anthology

    listing and make selections based on your students’ interests. Find poems that you think

    will strike a chord with them.

This first week is focused primarily on immersing students in poetry. For the most part,

    students will be reading and discussing poetry. Any writing of poetry during these first

    few days should be optional. Continue building their confidence and familiarity with

    poetry and leave it as a possibility for now: “Oh! What a terrific idea! That sounds like a

    poem. Quick! Write that down before you forget it.”


    Continue immersing students in poetry.

What Does a Poem Look Like?

    With your students, generate a chart that lists some of the things they’ve noticed about the poetry you’ve been reading together. Include all ideas. Some ideas that students might suggest are: white space, line breaks, stanzas, skipped lines, capitals at the beginnings of

    lines, rhyming words, repetition etc. In conversation, note that “rules” can be broken, but it’s important to know the conventions of poetry well. Poets break conventions because playing with readers’ expectations often adds to the meaning and style of poems. Unless

    they know poetic conventions first, students cannot achieve those effects, and will have a

    smaller repertoire for writing.

Anyone Can Write a Poem

    Sometimes students don’t “get” some of the subtler conventions of poetry – like the

    notion that each line in a poem is not necessarily a complete sentence. What’s more, even

    when these lines at first seeming unrelated, they are usually focused around one idea.

    You can help students understand this by having them explore the work of other poets,

    and then try their hands at writing their own poems similarly focused on one organizing


You might want to demonstrate this by using a poem like Sandra Cisneros’s “Abuelito

    Who” as a model. Cisneros, using a long list of descriptors for her grandfather, leaves

    you with a distinct feeling about both the man and her feelings toward him.

Alternatively, you may want to begin by generating a “format” or “structure” that

    supports this idea on chart paper and demonstrating, or collaborating with students, to

    “fill in the lines,” thus writing a poem. This idea expands on the idea of poetic conventions by giving students framework with which to begin, although it is admittedly

    a rigid structure. Structure can help reluctant poets get started, but you will want to be

    careful to move students very soon into writing poetry that does not have guidelines as

    tight as those in the example below:

     The Feeling Poem

    ? Line one: Name an emotion

    ? Line two: “Smells like. . .”

    ? Line three: “Tastes like. . .”

    ? Line four: “Sounds like. . .”

    ? Line five: “Feels like. . . .”

    ? Line six: “Feels like. . .”

    ? Line seven: “Feels like. . .”

    ? Line eight: Name the emotion

Sample Poem:


    Smells like the skin of burnt marshmallows, smells like burning hair,

    Tastes like chalk and Robitussin and vinegar,

    Sounds like thunder one-one-thousand-BOOM away,

    Feels like numbed cold fingers,

    Feels like pressure inside my lungs,

    Feels like my body’s not my body, make my body disappear,


     Heather Benson, Grade 7 Teacher

    Written as a Class Model

This class model suggests that structuring what students write line by line does not

    necessarily need to stifle their imagination or feel for words. Once again, it is important

    to remember that the overall goal is to support students in developing ideas and structures

    of their own. Beginning with a prescribed format like this may reassure struggling or

    reluctant students, while other students in your class will be challenged to make this

    “format” their own. How you choose to approach this first writing activity should depend on the needs of your students. Everyone should have a first draft of a poem by the

    end of the period, many of which you can use in future lessons as examples and models.

Metaphor or Simile Poem

    You can also demonstrate how to build a poem around a single extended metaphor. Begin

    by writing a metaphor on the first line and then extend the metaphor in depth and detail,

    line by line. Below is one example written by a student:


    Love is a rainbow

    Green is the love I have for my friends

    Yellow is how I love my sister

    Red is the hurt I feel when people hurt me

    Blue is how I feel when I lose a love

    Purple is the bird soaring above the love rainbow

    Pink is a valentine’s love

    All of these colors together

    Make up my rainbow of love

     by Leonce, Grade 6

How Do Poets Use White Space?

    Copy “Abuelito Who by Sandra Cisneros (or choose another poem that you think would work well) onto an overhead. Before letting them read the poem, show them the blurred

    image on the overhead of the words on the page or hold up a small version across the

    room from students. Ask them to describe the shape of the poem. Point out that some

    lines are longer than others. “Is sick,” for example, is a line in the very middle by itself;

    it’s also the turning point of the poem. Explain that the poet did that very deliberately.

    Discuss the poem, its meanings, and WHY Cisneros might have put those two words all

    by themselves on one line. Chart responses. These may include the following: to make

    certain words stand out; to make us pause after the word “sick” or other significant words;

to make us stop and think; because they’re phrased together; because it’s the main idea.

    You may want to do the same lesson with other poems, like those found in Arnold

    Adoff’s book Sports Pages or another poetry collection.

You might follow up with concrete poems or poems in stanzas to demonstrate line breaks;

    skinny poems like those by e. e. cummings; or EarthDance by Joanne Ryder, a children’s book that shows how the placement of words on a page can echo the meaning of

    the poem.

Where Do We Make Line Breaks?

    Line breaks serve an important purpose in poetry. The end of a line signifies a pause

    short when there’s no punctuation, a little longer when a comma occurs at the end of a

    line, and longest of all for end punctuation such as periods or question marks. Students

    should realize that where they locate their line breaks is where their readers will place the

    hanging emphasis of pause; line breaks control poems’ sound and meaning.

When introducing a new aspect of poetry, it’s a good idea to revisit a familiar model; use

    it to make your teaching point and rewrite it with student help. For example, the “Fear”

    poem printed above was written within the confines of a particular format, but now

    you’re going to adapt that format and make it your own. Ask students to help you rewrite

    the poem, choosing line breaks and stylistic choices that make sense to them. Begin by

    using the traditional slashes inside the old text to demonstrate where you are revising

    before you recopy the text.

    Smells like / the skin of burnt marshmallows, / smells like burning hair,

Eventually, you might come up with a rewrite something like this:


     Smells like

     The skin of burnt marshmallows,

     Smells like burning hair,

     Tastes like chalk and

     Robitussin and


     Sounds like thunder




     Feels like numbed cold fingers,

     Feels like pressure inside my lungs,

     Feels like my body’s not my body,

     Make my body disappear,

     Make my body disappear,


Ask the students to take one of last week’s formatted poems, break it up and revise it as

    we did in the example above. As you confer with students throughout the workshop

    writing time, reinforce their use of slashes to show line breaks.

How Do Poets Add Visual Flavor?

    Again, go back to a familiar poem (in our case, the “Fear” poem), and this time refer also to poems by Arnold Adoff, Ryder’s EarthDance or to a collection of shape poems. Another choice would be A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems, selected by

    Paul B. Janeczko, a collection of visually playful poems illustrated by Chris Raschka.

    Notice that these poets play not only with the lines but also with the style, size and the

    typeface or font of the words. Rewrite this poem, or show examples of what students

    might do with their own poems: In this poem, note the larger and smaller font sizes:


     Smells like

     The skin of burnt marshmallows,

     Smells like burning hair,

     Tastes like chalk and

     Robitussin and

     Vinegar, heudr Sounds like tn




     Feels like numbed cold fingers,

     Feels like pressure inside my lungs,

     Feels like my body’s not my body,

     Make my body disappear,

     Make my body s-t-r-e-t-c-h

     And curl and

     Make my body disappear,


Reading with Fluency

    Ask students to read the last version of “Fear” demonstrating with their voices how the

    words get bigger and bigger and smaller and smaller, how the words s-t-r-e-t-c-h and curl

    and disappear.

Looking at the World Differently

    Poets see the world differently. Read Naomi Shihab Nye’s “A Valentine for Ernest Mann.” Provide all students with a magnifying glass. Have them look closely at a

    common object (plant stems or leaves, the skin of a fruit, a squashed piece of chewed

    gum) and draw what they see. Now describe what was drawn. Make comparisons over

    time to the original. Students can now use this information to write an original poem.

Read poems that have beautifully worded images. Remember, immersion is the key.


    As they revise, poets and writers may need to weed out some words. Unless students

    intentionally want to achieve effects by using nondescript language, discourage such

    overused words as “good”, “bad”, “nice.” In word study lessons, build bulletin boards

    with lists of strong synonyms gathered as a class to replace those stale words.

Literary Devices

    Find examples of poems you love that incorporate a variety of literary devices and guide

    students to notice the impact they can have. As you study each device, record excerpts

    that illustrate it on a “poet’s craft” chart, identifying the device and its effect on the overall tone of the poem. Some examples include:

    ? Alliteration the beginnings of words that sound the same (e.g., One misty,

    moisty morning)

    ? Consonance the repetition of consonant sounds especially at the end of words

    (e.g., blank and think; strong and string)

    ? Assonance the repetition of vowel sounds that are similar (e.g., mad axle alley)

    ? End Rhyme the ending syllable(s) that sound the same

    ? Slant Rhyme two words that partially rhyme(e.g. dry an died, grown and moon)

    ? Repetition words/lines/phrases repeated for emphasis

    ? Onomatopoeia the word sounds like what it is or represents (buzz, fizz, crackle)

Poets often use other literary devices such as metaphor, simile and personification to

    create vivid images. As you draw students’ attention to these craft elements, encourage them to consider incorporating them into their writing. Find poems you enjoy that

    demonstrate them. For example, Rachel Field, in her poem “Barefoot Days,” uses rhythm and repetition effectively; in “Harlem: A Dream Deferred,” Langston Hughes uses personification to bring his images to life. You may want to first read and discuss a

    sample poem, have students seek out examples of these and other devices in the poems

    they love, and ultimately, incorporate them into their own poetry.

Rhyming Patterns

    Using several poems on overheads, show students how to determine a poem’s rhyme

    scheme. (For example: English sonnets, such as those by William Shakespeare, are

    always in the form of three quatrains and a couplet: ABABCDCDEFEFGG.) Even if you

    don’t ask your students to write in a rhyming style, they should know what AABB means as they read a poem. And, this is good practice for the ELA eighth grade exam.

Don’t Let the Rhyme Write the Poem – YOU are the Poet

    You may want to devote one or more mini-lessons to helping students understand that a

    poem, just like any piece of writing, is organized around a theme and/or style, but that it

    does not have to rhyme. If, however, the poet decides to create a poem that incorporates

    rhyme, it must make sense. We can teach students to use a rhyming dictionary or to find words that they want to use in their poems. Rhyme must also make

sense for the poem itself. Adding rhymes adds a musical quality to poetry, and if

    musicality is out of place in a poem, students will want to avoid it.

Meter and Scansion

    For more information refer to a book of poetic forms, or check:

To make sure students maximize the power of rhythm, you may wish to teach meter and

    scansion. Try having the students clap the rhythm in a poem that follows a particular

    metric pattern, such as iambic pentameter, where each line contains five combinations of

    an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable (e.g., Shakespeare’s “Shall I

    compare thee to a summer's day”); or dactylic trimeter where each line consists of three

    combinations of an accented syllable followed by two unaccented ones (e.g.,

    Longfellow’s “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,”).

    On an overhead demonstrate how to use accents and how to identify feet. It’s fun to teach

    “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” and then challenge students to write a sonnet

    in the same format.



    You’ll want to decide early in your unit how many poems you’ll require your students to

    write. Some teachers assess students on their daily attempts at poetry and on one “final”

    poem which they take through the writing process during the last week. This is the poem

    that is “published” and read at a Poets Café.

Plan Your Celebration Early

    Early in the week, plan your Poets Café, an open microphone night, poetry reading, or

    whatever celebration you want to have. You may want to devote a mini-lesson to electing

    party planners whose job it is to start and manage a sign-up sheet for food, drink, plates,

    cups, etc. You may want to plan two celebrations: a “quiet” one during school hours,

    where everyone must read a poem to the class, and a BIG deal café after school in your

    classroom, lights dimmed, spotlight on, video camera rolling, and every administrator in

    the building on the spot with his/her own original poem. It should be entirely up to the students to prepare and set up the show. You may even invite students from years past to

    read, as well as older and younger siblings, parents, teachers, or you can open the reading

    to the community or other schools via videoconferencing, or posting to a school web site.

Revising Poetry for Publication

    Have each student select something that s/he has written that holds promise. Ask students

    to write for an extended time about the topic in their writer’s notebooks (prose is fine).

    Get to the bottom of why they wrote about that topic. What is the poem’s special

    meaning to them? What message do they want to convey to the listener? Then go back to

    past lessons to revise for sound, language and visual representation on the page.

Partner Revision

    Students can work in partnerships to revise, practice and design their poems for final

    publication. This activity supports the fluency lesson you did during the first week.

    Ask for Advice for Next Year’s Poets Ask your students to write advice for next year’s group on “how to think like poets.”

    Write their responses next to their names on a chart paper. This chart will be an

    interesting indication of how much they’ve learned!


    Some teachers publish everyone’s poem in a book/binder/magazine or class poetry

    anthology. It’s worth the time. Many teachers hand this anthology out on the last day of

    school with space in it for students to sign each other’s magazines or books. Include

    student pictures and/or artwork and this could serve as a regular classroom yearbook.

    Another alternative is to have students submit their poems to Web sites that publish

    student work, such as, and


    This should be the easiest part of your poetry study, and the most fun. In advance, select

    two students to emcee, and a third to stand at the door and take names of readers (just like

    an open mic/mike night at a poetry reading in the Village). The students have done all the planning, so you sit back to listen and enjoy the show!

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