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Breathe Life into All of Your Lessons with Poetry

by Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg

In my classroom, poetry is the river of life that runs through everything we do. While some may find it one of the easiest and most convenient items to trim from an already packed curriculum, I search for places in every unit where I can add poetry that supports and fortifies all aspects of my English and language arts classroom instruction.

If you think about it, poetry is the one facet of our content area that encompasses all of our core teaching benchmarks: reading and literary analysis; writing and conventions of language; speaking and listening. It’s all right there in each concise, deliberately selected and crafted group of words that we call poetry. If only we could harness a poem’s power and unleash it to reinforce the lessons that we already teach in our classroom…

It is possible.

Since becoming a PA Writing Fellow back in 2000, teaching poetry is one of my absolute favorite things to do in the classroom with kids of any age. Until that one intensive summer so long ago, I think I felt a little… intimidated by poetry, even as an adult. I mean, what if my interpretation of a poem was completely different from what the teacher’s guide said? And how on earth can you possibly place a grade on a child’s emotions that he or she was brave enough to put down on paper? What I’ve learned is that poetry isn’t just about hearts, flowers and sunshine. It’s not just something girls do in their private notebooks or that old men wrote long ago in language we can’t understand. Poetry breathes with the essence of life. (I know, that sounded so poetic, right?) Seriously, though, it can breathe life into your existing lessons, too. We need to reclaim our classrooms and establish a culture where myriad forms of the written and spoken word are valued as potential opportunities to deepen understanding of our content (as well as all content areas in the humanities). Read more

From the Classroom: Fearless Reading (and Analysis)

By Tricia Ebarvia

Ever since the NCTE Convention in November, I’ve been thinking a lot about the theme of advocacy. How can we advocate for our students—and the teaching practices that we know will best serve them? How can we help students advocate for themselves—on their own behalf and perhaps more importantly, on behalf of others? How can we help students advocate for issues that can help make their world and our society a better place?

As educators, we know the power of empathy. Just yesterday, as we finished up our unit on Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, my students and I discussed how important that novel is to our understanding of others around us who may be feel vulnerable or disempowered. Literature has the unique power to allow us to walk around in another character’s point-of-view, to broaden and deepen our own experiences so that we can become, ultimately, more understanding fellow human beings.

But lately I’ve been thinking that literature, by itself, may not be enough. If we read books, no matter how rich and wonderful and engaging they are, but we fail to expose students to study today’s relevant social issues, we miss an opportunity to help students to read the world. And in this era of #fakenews, reading the world may be more important than ever. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Poetic Inspirations

by Kelly Virgin

At Continuity this past weekend we began our thinking by reading and reflecting on poetry. After looking at several poems, we were given a few minutes to write about whatever came to mind. The last stanza of “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye instantly inspired me to write. I borrowed her last lines and continued with my own:


Famous.JPGI want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.

I can give first-class belly rubs and meandering, sun-filled walks that bring the wag of a tail and a tongue-filled smile.

I can wake up five minutes first to fill the house with the scent of brewed coffee and to present a steaming mug to my groggy but appreciative partner.

I can help a student believe in herself as a writer by praising her creativity and giving her space for voice and choice in my classroom.

Like the pulley and the buttonhole, my purposes are small and intimate, but in those moments, I become famous.

This brief spurt of inspiration and the thoughtful discussion that followed reminded me how vital poetry is as a writing tool. Since poetry packs so much meaning into so few words, it works well as a seed to spark ideas for personal writing. I have found that even my most hesitant writers find success when writing in response to poetry. Read more

Books on The Blog: Digital Photography and Young Poets

by Linda Walker

New Year’s Eve 2016 my husband and I enjoyed the company of our two young grandchildren. My granddaughter brought along her digital camera to document the evening. She snapped photos of balloons, streamers, noise makers and Grandad wearing a silly hat and an even sillier expression. While driving to the local pizza parlor for our dinner, she and I stopped at several places to snap some more pictures: the local high school her mom attended, the water tower, and several nighttime shots of the Domino pizza sign just to verify that yes, we did eat something other than chips and dip. Later we talked about how much fun it was to go back and relive the night through her photos. Days after I began to think about how those captured digital moments could become the springboard for poetry writing. This idea led me to search for poetry books with photographs as a medium. And that is how I discovered April Pulley Sayre. Read more

Teacher to Teacher: Welcome to Poetry Month!

By Janice Ewing

As we ease into April, also known as “Poetry Month,” we are thrilled to welcome a pair of poetry ambassadors to our blog – Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger. This duo has been writing and performing poetry around the world for many years, as well as inspiring others to find their own identities as poets. In our Teacher-to-Teacher spot this month, Sara and Michael dispel some common misconceptions about poetry, and then go on to make a convincing case for how it fits into and enriches any curriculum. We hope you enjoy this ‘visit’ with Sara and Michael, and we invite you to share your connections to this post, as well as your experiences with reading/listening to, writing, and teaching poetry.

Why Poetry?
by Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger

The list of arguments not to teach poetry writing is long.

Confusing. Not rigorous enough. Not for the boys. Not aligned to the standards. Not non-fiction. And, what can I put in that grade book yawning open on the desktop? Is it fair to put a grade on kids’ feelings?

The list of reasons to lock poetry up in permanent confinement in those dangling weeks in the spring after everything else is done is even longer. School has requirements after all, assessments to be recorded, evaluations to be made. What does poetry have to do with 21st century literacy? Read more