Learning Poetic Forms

Slice of Life 2019: Day 20

This week in Creative Writing, my high school students were given the assignment to research various poetic forms and then return to class ready to teach the class about one specific type.

We had such a fun day learning about various types of poetry and then hearing each student’s exploration with that particular genre. I gave them several poetry websites to peruse. Then, they were to select one poetry type, study it, write a poem in this type and teach us how to do it. I provided links to every kind of poem from Spenserian Sonnets to Limericks.

I was the student today and it was marvelous. The students chose wonderful forms… not all haiku. We had students teaching the class how to write villanelle, acrostic, haiku, tanka, odes, sonnets, and simple rhyme poetry. Their examples were solid and thoughtful. After the presentations, everyone selected their favorite and wrote that type during workshop.

Since I had never experimented with tanka poetry, I decided today was the day.

Tanka is a traditional Japanese form like haiku, but with two additional lines. The tanka includes the figurative language of simile, personification, and metaphor in just five lines, each with alternating syllabic lengths of 5, 7, 5, 7, 5. Nature is usually the topic of tanka poetry. Below is my first try:

Pink Dogwood

Blooms blushing in March

Taking instructions from the sun

A flush of fuchsia

Like cotton candy at a fair

Disappears quickly

SPRING Acrostic

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Let Them Drink Tea

At a coffee shop recently, I was economizing a second cup from a tired, green tea bag and pondering the long stretch ahead on the calendar. Punxsutawney Phil had already missed his shadow and Valentine’s Day was knocking at the door.  

“We’ve got to get through February and all of March before we have a break,” I thought.  “How am I going to keep these writing students motivated during the dreary, wet weeks ahead? How am I going to keep myself going?”

These questions and more revolved around my brain as I gazed out a window, a dreary grey sky lingering there. All of nature was hibernating, it seemed, taking a break from productivity and movement. Some humans had taken a cue from the red maples: A sign on the nearby ice cream shop said, “closed for the season.” Yet some of us plow ahead, a caffeinated beverage in one hand, a raincoat in the other.

After more contemplation, a bright light ignited in my head.

We will have tea.

“Tea makes everything better,” says Bindi Irwin. “Where there’s tea, there’s hope,” says Authur Pinero. I’m not sure who these people are that said this about tea, but I liked what they said!

Yes! Let them drink tea!

So, the idea that formed in my February brain grew into an event. At our next class, I announced that we would have a tea party during our read-a-round session.  Everyone signed up to bring  something from home: a snack, a jar of sweetener, some bags of tea. I brought an electric tea kettle and 10 porcelain tea cups. For a few of my students, this was their first tea experience. “What do I do with the tea bag?” and “How much water do I pour into the cup?”

Once we finished with the how to’s and everyone was settled, we enjoyed reading each other’s stories while we sipped and snacked. Smiles could be seen on weather weary faces. The caffeine gave a boost of energy for peer reviewing. And, generally, the tea provided a calming effect upon the whole group of young writers as they read and commented and grew.

At the end of class, I picked up a goodly stack of well-written peer reviews.  Then someone asked on the way out the door, “Mrs. Naz, can we do this again on the last day of school?”   I smiled, knowing they would want lemonade by then.  

Yes! Let them drink tea!  Tea warms the heart and softens the grey (I said this and liked it).

Sometimes its the little things that get us through the tough times, like a kind word, a smile or, in this case, a cup of tea.



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Slice of Life: Day 14

These students are ardently writing about Animal Farm, a political satire written as a cautionary tale against the evils of totalitarianism.  For a writing teacher, this is a beautiful sight:  sixteen energetic students writing and typing with confidence, using transitions, making connections between the text and the outside world, and working heartily right up to the bell.  They have opinions and they aren’t afraid to share them.

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They came to class with their books all marked up and tabbed.  They brought in stacks of paper and laptops.  They had outlines and graphic organizers ready to attack the topic.  When we started the essay, they jumped right to it with a few questions, but plenty of confidence. You could hear pencils and pens scratching and keyboards clicking.  It was a joyous sound.

To prepare for this day, we read the novel, held a Socratic-style debate about the nature of leaders, tracked the characters and their role in the allegory, and closely read for propaganda and irony.  They marked their books as they found catchy slogans, repetitive messages and spin.

Once we finished the book, I gave the students their topic for the in-class writing assignment.  They had a week to organize their thoughts into a graphic organizer, gather evidence and ponder more on the topic.  Because they had been marking their books all along, they were armed with all kinds of evidence to support their opinions.  They were ready and I could tell.

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When they finished, they turned in some weighty essays, nice and thick, double spaced.  No one seemed to be at a loss for written words, another bonus!

What a wonderful writing teacher kind of day!

Now I have 16 hefty essays to grade!  I’ll need to inspect these to see if they are as good as they look… to see if the proof is in the pudding.  Better get right to bed.  I’ll need some rest to tackle these.