Observation Poetry

Here is one of my favorite ways to have students create poetry.  Kids love it and even the most reluctant or struggling writer can write a poem following this lesson.

First, divide a piece of chart paper into four, and label it like the above model.  Tell students that poets like to observe the world and write about what they see in unusual or unexpected ways.  Show them an interesting object and model how you can describe it like a poet might.  I usually use a seashell, but you can use any interesting object from nature, like a beautiful rock, or a pine cone, etc.  Use something that everybody in class can see easily and that won’t be damaged.

Start describing how the object looks, then chart your noticings.  Then pass the shell.  Invite students to provide words that tell how the object looks and feels.  Chart those.  Then ask for comparisons.  You can use the word ‘simile’ (or not.)  I like to say to students “What else could this shell be?  Pretend it’s bigger…pretend it’s smaller.”  Then write in their similes.  Usually my students are more creative with their comparisons than I am!  A shell becomes a sled for a doll, an elephant’s ear, a surfboard.  Finally, go to the last box and ask the students to wonder about the shell.  Then to imagine asking the shell a question.  Go for deep wonderings!

Now, your four box poem is started.  Transfer the collected words/phrases to a kind of narrow paper so it looks like a poem.  Read it dramatically, so it sounds like a poem.  Instant success!  Kids usually oooh and ahh over their class created poem.

Next, give kids a turn to create their own poems.  Distribute objects (one per student) and ask students to do exactly as you did as a group.  Tell them to look at the object carefully–what do you see?  Describe how it feels…compare it to something…wonder about the object.  Tell students to fill up each quadrant as much as possible, then have them create a poem from their words.

As you confer, coach students to look at their objects in the light.  Touch all sides of the object.  Leave the reader wondering with your last question.

You’ll get great results, but don’t stop there!  Teach students to revise by using repeating words, or sound words.  Students can also rearrange the order of words, play with line breaks and take out unnecessary words.

This process may take two sessions with very young writers, only a day with those more experienced.  With very inexperienced writers, you don’t need the quadrants–they may be cumbersome.  But do teach into the ideas for the quadrants–describing how the object looks, etc.  (The poet who wrote Cotton Ball was in first grade.  The poet who wrote Winter, and put her own spin on observing something, was in second.)  For more information on writing poetry check out my website (Poetry Unit, under the Tools button.)

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