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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Heroes of History

Read below for Marceau's amazing story!
One popular conversation in education centers around "What is worth knowing?" To that conversation I'd like to add the question, "Who is worth knowing?"

When I ask students to name someone famous and the first reply I hear is "Kim Kardashian," I die just a little bit inside. Students don't seem to have an understanding of, or appreciation for, the lives of great men and women who changed the course of history. 

But biography picture books can help to remedy that.

Wiser Words Were Never Spoken

My high school daughter recently took her SAT and was describing the writing prompt she was given. She paraphrased the quote and named the speaker (which I won't reveal here), and then described for me the way in which she had crafted her response. 

I finally asked, "And did you include why that quote was so important, considering the person who said it?" 

Her reply: "Well, I had heard of him, but I didn't really know who he was." 

Opportunity lost.

Regardless of what some might have us believe (the PARCC assessment comes to mind), historical context does, in fact, matter when examining any piece of text, and history is the product of those who made it.

Students therefore need knowledge of heroes of history.

Getting Started

Before showing students even a single biography, I gave them some practice summarizing current events articles from Tween Tribune using the tried and true 5Ws and 1H. This required a significant shift in students' responses; after all, I had been encouraging them for months to elaborate, and now they were being asked to summarize an entire article in a single sentence. 

The Tween Tribune article "It's Even Too Cold for Polar Bears!", for example, was summed up as follows:

Due to her specialized diet designed to eliminate a thick layer of insulating fat, Lincoln Park Zoo's resident polar bear Anana had to be moved indoors last Monday during Chicago's record-low temperatures.

Note that in addition to the basic facts, the sentence also provides students with a model for writing a cause/effect relationship.

After some independent practice with longer articles (requiring even greater ability to discern important facts), we were ready to move on to trade books. 

You may want to follow along on the assignment guidesheet which you're welcome to download in pdf (or Word) and be sure to grab the blank sheet as well (also available as a Word doc). You'll notice that the instructional steps below differ somewhat from those given to students for their own work.




Just the Facts
 
For my mentor text, I selected Robert Burleigh's George Bellows: Painter with a Punch!, in part because while George Bellows' art might be familiar to students, the man as an artist was not. I also planned to return to this text in a later lesson on using opposing viewpoints to construct argumentative writing.

In their notebooks, students jotted down a list of the 5Ws and 1H (Who, What, Where, When, Why, How) and were asked to listen for those facts as I read the book aloud. I read the majority of the book, stopping to monitor understanding and also to ask if any of our facts had been discovered.

By story's end we had 
Who: George Bellows
What: painted pictures that weren't beautiful
Where: New York City
When: early 1900s
Why: to show emotions and power
How: showing scenes of everyday city life

Cobbled together after some discussion and experimentation, these facts became a fact-fixing sentence that sounded like this:

In the early 1900s, George Bellows and other artists in New York City’s Trashcan School began painting pictures that showed the ugly, gritty, common scenes of the city in order to capture the emotion and power of everyday life.

Prove It!

Students knew that this was coming. What textual evidence backed up what we just stated? We found several sentences which might work, and finally settled on just a snippet of one quote, which we placed into a sentence that included both the author and book:

According to author Robert Burleigh in the book George Bellows: Painter with a Punch, Bellows thought scenes of everyday life were beautiful and was “determined to find them.”

So What?

But then I asked, "So what? Why did that matter?" And here's where students begin to see the light. Those people from history who changed the way others think, believe, or act tend to be those worth remembering. In the case of George Bellows, he and other students of Robert Henri went against the traditional belief that the artist's role was to paint what was beautiful. 

This led us to construct an opposing viewpoint statement to precede the summary sentence we had already drafted:
For centuries, most people believed that artists should focus upon what is beautiful and romantic, but one artist named George Bellows thought differently.

Legacy

This, naturally, led to the question of legacy. "What lasting impact did this person's life and work have upon us? Why should they be remembered today?"

I had to provide a bit of background here, discussing with students that at this time in history, many schools of art were wrestling with the role of the artist and the artist's responsibility to represent "real life." Eventually we came up with this closing sentence:

Artists of the Ashcan School helped others to explore "bold new worlds" while at the same time recording, in full color, what New York City looked like one hundred years ago.

Pieced together, the finished summary read as follows:

For centuries, most people believed that artists should focus upon what is beautiful and romantic, but one artist named George Bellows thought differently. In the early 1900s, George Bellows and other artists in New York City’s Trashcan School began painting pictures that showed the ugly, gritty, common scenes of the city in order to capture the emotion and power of everyday life. According to author Robert Burleigh in the book George Bellows: Painter with a Punch, Bellows thought scenes of everyday life were beautiful and was “determined to find them.” Artists of the Ashcan School helped others to explore "bold new worlds" while at the same time recording, in full color, what New York City looked like one hundred years ago.

An impressive summary once completed. But, could students could do it on their own?

Training Wheels

Armed with this model, students jotted down the sentence order in their notebooks as a quick reference:

I. Opposing Viewpoint 
II. 5Ws and 1H
III. Textual Evidence
IV. Legacy

Each student was then assigned a picture book biography from numerous examples chosen by the teacher. Some teachers might be surprised that students aren't allowed at this point to choose their own books, but I feel it's important that students approach the exercise with no preconceived notions about the person they're studying.

Students read the books for homework and completed the four step process outlined on the guidesheet. The following day they shared their first attempt with a classmate and made revisions based on that peer's feedback. I then had students switch books with any other student in the class apart from the one who had heard their summary. This guaranteed that by day three, two students would have read each book and could get together to compare paragraphs. This sharing led to much more productive revisions, as both students had intimate knowledge of the text and could offer more specific feedback on not only form, but also content.

I was surprised by students' success with the process. While some, as expected, followed the Bellows model precisely, simply swapping out details as needed, others departed from the model. A couple of students tried switching sentence orders when writing summaries of their second books, while others tried different grammatical structures while maintaining the sentence order we had established.


One student, not thrilled when handed Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, was amazed to learn that this entertainer played a major role in the French Resistance, and led many Jewish children to safety. His paragraph, which he knew fell far short of paying homage to this unsung hero, reads:

Many people might think that miming is a fairly recent type of drama, but it is actually an ancient form of art that, because of sound movies, might have been forgotten; however, a talented young Frenchman named Marcel Marceau revived its popularity. After serving bravely in the Resistance against the Nazis during World War II, Marceau followed his dream of becoming an actor capable of moving the audience to laughter or tears, all without saying a word. According to author Gloria Spielman in Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, "By the time he died in 2007, Marcel had revived the ancient and almost forgotten art of silence." Because of Marceau's work, many performers who followed in his footsteps realize that it isn't what you say, but how your facial expressions and body gestures convey it.

Most surprising to many students was how much they enjoyed reading about people they had never even heard of (many students had already made plans for the next book they wanted to read). The skepticism I witnessed on the first day when distributing books was replaced with enthusiasm by day two of the assignment. And since then, students have been asking to do the assignment again, and many have naturally been begging to read biographies of their own choosing.

So What's Next?

While this lesson can certainly stand alone as an exercise in summarizing, I can see these simple summary paragraphs serving as introductions to other types of responses to biography, current events, and history.

In my next post I'll share some possible extension activities, as well as some of the more popular titles which students enjoyed.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March

"I want to go to jail," (third grader) Audrey told her mother.
Since Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks thought that was a good idea, they helped her get ready.

Cynthia Levinson's stunning and moving We've Got a Job chronicles the days leading up to the 1963 Birmingham Children's March. Read on to discover more about this historic event (and how you can win a copy of this book for your very own classroom).

In We've Got a Job, readers learn how young protestors, some just grammar school students, took to the streets in May of 1963 with the intention of filling the jails so that the segregationist policies of the South's most notoriously divided and violent city could no longer be carried out. For years Birmingham had seen vicious attacks on blacks, including countless fires and bombings, so many that the city was bitterly nicknamed "Bombingham" by its black residents. 

Too often, however, those of us who view history as an ordered series of dates in a textbook see the events of Birmingham as a given, as a struggle which was destined to take place. Little do most of us know how close the Birmingham protests came to utterly failing.

While many adults participated in sit-ins, marches, and public prayer meetings, it soon became apparent that retributions by whites, mostly through job loss, threatened to snuff the small flames of freedom before they ever caught. But encouraged by Martin Luther King, Fred Shuttlesworth, James Bevel, and others, children accepted the challenge and risked their own freedom and safety to do what had to be done. Facing the threats of dogs, high pressure fire hoses, and crowd brutality, children took a stand for those freedoms for which they can no longer wait.

Told through the eyes and voices of those who participated, this book brings a sense of intimacy and urgency which is often lacking in textbook accounts. Cynthia Levinson mixes personal narratives, historical background, contemporary anecdotes, and headlines of the time to create a well-rounded, highly readable account of extraordinary heroism by ordinary folk.

The Chain of Hate

Martin Luther King wrote:

"To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify hate in the world... Someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives."

And perhaps this defined the greatest challenge for the marchers: meeting hatred with love, violence with nonviolence, ignorance with understanding, intolerance with patience. What Levinson helps the reader to see is that the two sides weren't clearly cut; many whites sympathized with and supported the black cause, and many blacks disagreed with the nonviolent measures of the leaders of the protest movement.

One excerpt from Chapter Eight: May 2. D-Day describes the excitement of the children as they're carted off to jail in buses after they've filled all the police paddy wagons:

The kids were exhilarated; the policemen were exhausted. An officer asked a marcher, "When is this going to end?" 

She responded, "Do we have our freedom yet?"

I wish you could have your freedom just to stop this," he admitted.

Later, at mass meeting in Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, King reassured hundreds of worried parents by saying:

Your daughters and sons are in jail... Don't worry about them. They are suffering for what they believe, and they are suffering to make this nation a better nation."

The book concludes with an Author's Note, a map of the city, and a timeline of the events described in the book. These documents, as well as the book's final chapter, will help teachers answer the many questions that students might have about the Birmingham Children's March, and its outcomes on history.


Extensions and Recommended Resources:
  • One key to strong informational writing is the ability to blend exposition and narrative in a way that provides readers with information, while at the same time encouraging the reader to read on. Cynthia Levinson makes this happen through wonderful transitional phrases, the inclusion of headings, and a well-researched collection of quotes from the very people who lived the events. Many excerpts from this text could provide wonderful models for students to use in their own writing.
  • A study of Martin Luther King, Jr. would benefit greatly from this book, as it helps readers to see him as a very embattled, very conflicted, and very human figure. In the rear view mirror of history, we tend to see only the accomplishments and greatness of our heroes, and rarely their struggles. Students will be interested to learn that King faced disappointment, criticism, and failure; much of his greatness was his refusal to be defined or consumed by those same failings.
  • Peachtree Publishers has created a wonderful companion site featuring a synopsis, resources, and additional information about the players mentioned in the book. Also, be sure to check out the Official Blog Tour for this book. Every blogger has their own take, and lots more resources as well.
  • The Greensboro Sit-Ins are mentioned as an inspiration for the nonviolent restaurant sit-ins which took place in Birmingham. I've collected some wonderful picture book recommendations as well as several resource sites in a post titled Sit Down and Be Counted: Exploring the Civil Rights Movement with Picture Books.
  • If you're looking for a teacher reference, or a book appropriate for readers in grades 6 and up, I can recommend none more highly than A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968. Well organized by year and event, with plenty of period photographs, this is the book that will help you answer all of your students questions (and your own!) about this tumultuous and important time in our nation's history Author Diane McWhorter provides fact in a beautiful tapestry that reads like a story, full of real-life human beings whose individual stories form the larger transformation that we call The Civil Rights Movement.

    If you've read this far, then I welcome you to enter this win a copy of We've Got a Job, courtesy of Peachtree Publishers! Simple email me at keithschoch at gmail dot come (standard email format) with We've Got a Job in the subject line. That's it! The contest is open to US residents only, and ends Friday, May 10, at 11:59 PM EST. It's a fantastic addition to any middle or high school classroom!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Betsy's Day at the Game: A Review and Giveaway

Peanuts, Cracker Jack, cotton candy, and hot dogs! Those are my fondest memories of the ball park, and they certainly top my daughters' lists as well. But one equally hallowed tradition of baseball had been fading from the American scene, so I'm glad to see a picture book that's bringing it back.

Betsy's Day at the Game, written by Greg Bancroft and illustrated by Katherine Blackmore, describes a young girl's visit to the ballpark with her grandfather. The book captures all there is to love about baseball, and that's because author Greg Bancroft seems to be a baseball fan first and foremost. His descriptions and Katherine Blackmore's images capture the sights, sounds, smells, and (my favorite part) tastes of the ballpark. Via their narrative, we spend a day vicariously at the park. Simple enough, right?

As the story progresses and the game begins, however, we realize that much more is taking place. Betsy and Grandpa are teaching us, step by step and in plain English, how to keep score. For the those who are as clueless as me, keeping score in baseball goes way beyond tallying runs!

Codes and symbols are entered onto a scorecard, effectively chronicling every offensive and defensive play of the game. From what friends have told me, baseball fans can read a score book and see the entire game played out in their heads in the same way that musicians can read musical notation and actually "hear the song."

So while I started out as a true scoring novice, by book's end I had a pretty good idea of the whole process. And trust me, if I can figure it out, anyone can! Betsy's Day at the Game would definitely score a home run with any young baseball fan. Using the handy scorecards supplied in the back of the book, fans could easily follow along with and score their favorite team at the park or on TV.

You can enter to win a free copy of this book for your fave fan or yourself by simply emailing me at keithschoch at gmail dot com (standard email format) with PLAY BALL! in the subject line. Contest closes at 11:59 PM EST Friday, April 19, 2013.

Want more chances to win? Visit the blog at Scarletta Press to discover more sites featuring book reviews and giveaways.

Some Recommended Baseball Resources:
  • Aspiring writers will want to check out Greg Bancroft's 10 Things I Didn't Know Until I Published My First Book. If you're planning on breaking into the book biz, you should read this article! 
  • See more of Katherine Blackmore's illustrations at her site.
  • Check out a tutorial on scoring if you want more examples, plus the formulas to figure out all the stats you would ever need. The actual scorecard isn't as nice as the one in the back of Betsy's Day at the Game, however.
  • The Baseball for Kids site features lots of extras for young fans of baseball.
  • Taking your child to the park for the first time? Definitely make a Plan B! As parents, we know how attention spans can wane as kids become hot, tired, cranky, over-sugared, and restless. TeachMama has a fabulous set of suggestions for surviving your outing using Kid-Friendly Learning During Baseball Games. 
  • Check out some earlier posts on the Teach with Picture Books site including Going Extra Innings with Baseball Picture Books (books and lots of sites for kids about baseball), A League of Their Own: Women in Baseball, and Girls Got Game (incredible female athletes). Let Them Play, discussed in an earlier post on Black History, is another baseball story from history that kids find incredibly intriguing.
  • With 42, the Jackie Robinson movie, releasing in theaters this weekend, younger readers might be interested in learning more about this courageous hero of baseball history. For readers in grades 2-5, I highly recommend Jackie Robinson: American Hero, written by the star's own daughter, Sharon Robinson. This transitional book features not only the perfect blend of images and text, but also the perfect blend of backstory and biography. Sharon Robinson provides young readers with just enough historical context to understand and appreciate what made Jackie Robinson's accomplishments incredible not only for his time, but for all of time, and not only in sports history, but in our nation's history. If you're a teacher hoping to engage your reluctant readers with chapter books, this one is a winner!

 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Purposes for Poetry: Ten Ways to Use Poetry in Your Instruction

Often when I mention poetry during a workshop, at least one teacher laments, "I would love to do more poetry with students, but there's so much else to teach in my curriculum!" What I try to encourage (and I'm often helped big time by the workshop participants) is for this teacher to consider using poetry within her curriculum, as an integral part of her language, reading, and writing lessons, rather than as an add-on. In other words, I ask her to find a purpose for poetry.

Now, before you poetry purists flame me and cry out, "Poetry is in itself worth reading!" let me explain that I agree with you. I fondly recall organizing poetry picnics in third grade, where we would spread sheets and blankets on the field adjacent to the school playground and share favorite poems as we munched on morning snacks. So yes, I believe in poetry for its own sake.

But at the same time, I'm a realist. Many of us find it increasingly difficult to allocate the time to read poetry for its own sake; we would, in fact, like to discuss it beyond the month of April without needing an excuse or (shudder) a learning objective.

So increasingly it seems that while teachers can name lots of good reasons for using poetry with children at an early age, they still wonder how they can continue to integrate poetry in later grade levels. I offer a few suggestions below. And even if you can't get through my ten reasons, do take the time to explore the recommended sites and resources appearing at the close of this post. I could in no way do justice to all the fantastic poetry books that are available, so I encourage you to share your favorite title in the comments section below.

1. Activate Prior Knowledge

Students are most receptive to new learning when they can connect it to what they already know. Poetry provides a quick and fun way to do this.

Recommended Texts:
  • The Year Comes Round: Haiku Through the Seasons by Sid Farrar and illustrated by Ilse Plume presents students with vignettes of each season in the signature haiku 5-7-5 syllable, three line form, focusing upon nature with a surprising perspective. Each month is represented by its own poem, and students can write their own after determining what makes a poem a haiku. Students can also unearth the literary devices employed by Farrar such as personification, metaphor, alliteration, and simile. A sample from the book:
Lawns call a truce with
mowers and slip beneath their
white blankets to sleep.
  • Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds stays true
    to the form and function of haiku, with each poem offering a funny twist in the final line. Apart from pure enjoyment, this book shows students (especially some of your hard to motivate boys) that poetry can be simple and straight forward and even fun. in "why I wrote Guyku," Raczka says, "When I was a boy, I didn't even know what a haiku was. But I did spend a lot of time outside with my friends. Nature was our playground, and we made the most of it - catching bugs, climbing trees, skipping stones, throwing snowballs. Now...I realize that haiku is a wonderful form of poetry for guys like us. Why? Because a haiku is an observation of nature, and nature is a place where guys love to be." A sample from the book:
If this puddle could
talk, I think it would tell me
to splash my sister.
2. Establish Theme

Teaching with a theme and its accompanying guiding questions isn't new to most of us, and the majority of teachers maintain a ready repertoire of methods to establish themes for classroom novels or other literature units (see some ideas and a huge list of Universal Themes in my How to Teach a Novel Handout). The perfect poem, however, can lead to a wonderful writing reflection or discussion that allows students to construct the theme and essential questions for themselves.

Recommended Sites and Texts for Theme:
  • The Children's Poetry Archive groups poems by themes, and my class always enjoys reflecting upon poems about death since, after all, every novel we read seems to be about death! Many poems on this site are read aloud by their authors, and my students especially love hearing The Carrion Crow read aloud.
  • A common theme in upper elementary and middle school novels is Change. Encourage an in-depth study of Change using Paul Janeczko's examination of Nothing Gold Can Stay in his new Heinemann title Reading Poetry in the Middle Grades. This highly recommended book features 20 thought-provoking poems from contemporary writers, with extensive lesson plans which help students to better understand each poem, and to apply it to other texts and their own experiences.
  • Students can compose and publish their own poems using the Theme Poems interactive from ReadWriteThink.
3. Explore Language

If you're anything like me, you struggle to teach students grammar in way that is motivational or memorable. How many of us can recall learning our parts of speech and verb forms in deadly dull exercise books? While drill and example books might have a place in instruction, I'd recommend some verse to liven up the process of language learning.

Recommended Texts and Sites:
  • If you're seeking to help students learn parts of speech,
    check out the Language Adventures from Gibbs Smith. These highly engaging and hilarious books focus on discrete parts of speech through the incorporation of rhyme and humor, and later editions contain learning activities, definitions, and reproducibles related to the book's topics. Answer keys and additional activities can be accessed at author
    Rick Walton's website. There Rick offers some wonderful language learning activities (your lesson plan for next week might just be waiting for you there), as well as an amazing assortment of ideas for using his picture books (over fifty in print!). 
  • At The Poem Farm, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater shares wonderful original poems and teaching ideas.
    One of my favorites is Getting Dressed, a wonderful poem featuring personification. In addition to the many poems she shares on the site, you can have her work for your very own in her newly published collection of poems titled Forest Has a Song. In addition to the resources at Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's site, you can also download a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Poetry Activity Kit, featuring ideas for "Forest Has a Song" as well as several other poems from HMH titles.
  • Alphabest: The Zany, Zanier, Zaniest Book about Comparatives and Superlatives probably isn't a poetry book, since each page contains just three words (such as Fuzzy, Fuzzier, Fuzziest) but it reads like poetry, and helps kids understand how adjectives can be changed to compare two or more things. Author Helaine Becker sets the scene in a busy amusement park, and illustrator Dave Whamond delivers the goods with his spirited and wacky illustrations. Students can likewise choose a single adjective, and create images to illustrate its comparative and superlative forms. 
    From Alphabest: The Zany, Zanier, Zaniest Book
  • Looking for poems with onomatopoeia? Check out Noisy Poems for a Busy Day by Robert Heidbreder and Lori Joy Smith. Short and fun, and easily replicated by students. Collect all your students' poems and create your own Busy Day anthology!
  • Finally, check out this Figurative Language lesson on personification and alliteration from TeachersFirst.

4. Focus on Facts

Creating poetry is a wonderful way for students to share information they learned through class or independent study. What's fantastic about poetry is that it can bring life to otherwise dry and lifeless facts!

I can recall assigning fourth grade students to create poems for mathematical operations, and as a class creating couplets describing the most important names, places, events, and dates for the American Revolution. Students are incredibly receptive to these challenges! So after checking out some of the examples below, be sure to devise your own lessons to have students write informational poems in class as well.

Recommended Texts:
  • In Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, Hena Khan introduces young readers to the world of Islam by describing its colors and traditions in simple rhymes.
    Each poem serves as a definition, and the terms introduced are explained in greater detail in the book's end. Mehrdokht Amini's gorgeous bright and intricate illustrations make this book itself a treasure, perfect for reading with groups or sharing on a parent's lap. A sample from the book:

    Gold is the dome of the mosque,  
    big and grand.
    Beside it two towering
    minarets stand. 
  • Animology: Animal Analogies, written by Marianne Berkes and illustrated by Cathy Morrison, introduces students to word relationships (also known as analogies) through the simplest of rhymes. Bold, full spread pictures show realistic depictions of the animals in their natural settings. Like all Sylvan Dell books, this one includes the "For Creative Minds" follow-up activities in the back of book, which can also be accessed at the publisher's site, along with an e-book preview, a video trailer, a 48 page teaching guide, and other resources.
  • Hey Diddle Diddle: A Food Chain Tale is another Sylvan Dell title featuring a wealth of support materials for classroom instruction (see the menu bar to the right on this page). In catchy rhyme, author Pam Kapchinske describes the the animals and complex relationships which make up a food web, the circle of life, and more specifically the ecosystem on a pond and forest habitat. Sherry Rogers' images capture each animal playing its part in this ongoing natural cycle.
5. Set a Scene

Before launching a science, social studies, or math unit, I often used poetry to set the scene. The poems I chose from myriad books would spark discussion, curiosity, and prior knowledge, ultimately building excitement and anticipation for the new unit. If only all textbooks were nearly as engaging!

Recommended Texts:
  • Water Sings Blue, written by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Meilo So, provides the denizens of the deep with their own voices, priming student curiosity about life in the ocean. One of my favorites is the poem "Old Driftwood," wherein this artifact is described as a "gnarled sailor"..."telling of mermaids/ and whales thi-i-i-s big/ to all the attentive/ astonished twigs." Another sample from the book:


    Sea Urchin
    The sea urchin fell in  love with a fork.
    With a tremble of purple spines,
    she told her mother, "He's tall, not a ball,
    but just look at his wonderful tines!
  • Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night is a perfect poetry/informational text companion to Poppy or any other novel that takes place in the forest.
    Each of Joyce Sidman's wonderful poems about the nocturnal world of the woods is accompanied by a fact-filled sidebar, exploring the creatures described in the poems and in Rick Allen's beautiful relief print illustrations. The title poem in part reads: 
    "Perched missile, almost invisible, you preen silent feathers, swivel your sleek satellite dish of a head." This small excerpt gives you an idea of the book's sophisticated verse! The author cleverly formatted the poem "Dark Emperor" in the shape of an owl, and if your students are interested in creating concrete poetry like this, you might find that shape templates are a good way to get started. And if you're not familiar with Avi's novel Poppy, be sure to check it out! Boys find it easy to root for this strong female character because "she is, after all, a mouse."
6. Inspire Writing

If you're seeking ways to get students writing, poetry is an effective vehicle to transport them to success. Take the opportunity to preview Poetry Mentor Texts online at the Stenhouse site; you'll be amazed at the simple steps to sophisticated writing using the lesson ideas presented there. In addition to Poetry Mentor Texts inspiring students to write their own verse, this book will also provide you with ideas for using poetry as a creative response format for other disciplines as well:

Poetry shouldn't be just a part of the language arts curriculum. It offers another way to communicate and demonstrate our understanding of a concept in content areas. It is a method for deepening comprehension and developing a level of empathy and knowledge that can be applied to real-world situations. Poetry can be used to informally assess science and math. It can help students link content areas.

Additional Recommended Texts and Sites:
  • Students can extend or rewrite or revisit favorite or famous poems. In Casey Back at Bat, sports writer Dan Gutman revisits the classic American poem (the picture book version illustrated by Max Payne is one of my favorites). Choose similar narrative poems, and challenge students to extend them, revise them, or "answer them" with poems of their own.
  • In an earlier post, I discussed writing "Valentines for Vermin" using Vulture Verses: Love Poems for the Unloved as a mentor text. The book closes with a request: "So many cards to write! So many animal friends! I may need some help. Do you know someone who is misunderstood? Will you help me write friendship notes, too?" Such a fantastic suggestion! Working in pairs or teams, students can research basic facts about other unloved animals that "scuttle, slither, buzz, and sting." A really fun and stress free way to get students writing creatively, with results which they'll be eager to share with others.
  • If you're seeking inspirations for students to write poetry in a number of forms,
    you'll be amazed and delighted to read Fly with Poetry: An ABC of Poetry or Leap Into Poetry: More ABCs of Poetry.
    First, it's amazing that author/illustrator Avis Harley has found enough poem forms to write and illustrate not just one but two ABC collections, and second, she's done it by focusing solely on the topic of insects! So she not only presents and explains the poetry forms in detail, but these mentor texts teach students wonderful facts about dozens of creatures that crawl, climb, and fly as well. Extensions using other animal species are possible, although I can see these form poems being applied to almost any subject area.
  • Students love the idea of fractured fairy tales, so a book like Monster Goose by Judy Sierra is certain to be hit. The author's creepy and comedic new versions of classic childhood rhymes will inspire your students to want to create the same.
    After sharing a few poems such as Humpty Dumpty (below), provide students with a collection of unrevised rhymes, and see where their imaginations can take them. See, too, if their accompanying illustrations can be as entertaining as those of Jack E. Davis, illustrator extraordinaire of Bedhead fame. Davis not only captures a key moment of each poem, but also cleverly establishes and then breaks the borders of each illustration, creating an off-the-page effect.

  • Humpty Dumpty
    Humpty Dumpty swam in the sea
    Humpty's sunscreen was SPF-3.
    Because he was so lightly oiled,
    Dear Humpty ended up hard-boiled. 

7. See New Perspectives

One of poetry's transcendent powers is its ability to refocus, if not totally transform, our point of view. It's far too simple for students (and teachers!) to lose themselves in their egocentric viewpoints, and fail to consider issues from another perspective. Poetry open students' eyes to new ways of seeing.

Recommended Texts:
  • Make Magic! Do Good! by Dallas Clayton is a quirky and crazy collection of verses that collectively encourage readers to see the best in themselves, in others, and in every situation.
    From Make Magic! Do Good!
    So much of modern day communication relies upon snark and sarcasm, it's refreshing to find poems that are open and honest and encouraging, while at the same time remaining zany and random, which kids also appreciate. I also think that the way the book cover turns into a poster is a pretty cool twist!
  • Perspective, or point of view, plays a huge role in history and its interpretation. Although not entirely accurate in historic detail, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere remains a classic of American Literature. Check out this previous post where I discuss several picture versions of the text, and the unique perspective supplied by each. 
  • In Daniel Kirk's Dogs Rule! and his later Cat Power!, the author/illustrator profiles some of the furriest and funniest heroes of each species. See my Words and Images in Perfect Harmony post for more details, as well as teaching suggestions.
  • The National Geographic's Book of Animal Poetry is wonderful in that it often features multiple poems for a single animal.
    The zebra and the pig, for instance, are both celebrated by four different poets. Examining the poems, students can discuss what facts and features each poet chose to discuss. In what ways are their poems alike? Different? Older students can even attempt to identify the poem form used by each writer. After reading some of the examples in this book from both classic and contemporary writers, students can then try their own hand at describing animals both foreign and familiar. Such poems are an excellent addition to those animal reports and presentations which many teachers already include in their curriculum.
8. Ignite Curiosity

Much has been said in educational texts about inquiry learning. From my own experiences, however, I find that students are naturally inquisitive, and there's not much more we need to do but focus their natural curiosity. Poetry can do this!

Recommended Texts:
  • A Strange Place to Call Home, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young, is an intriguing exploration into diverse and unique habitats of the world.
    In the preface, the author explains: "
    Extreme environments such as deserts, glaciers, salt lakes, and pools of oil may not seem appealing, yet in these places, there is often less competition and more safety from predators. So over time, a variety of animals have adapted to these challenging conditions. This collection of poems celebrates some of these great adapters and the risky places where they live." End notes give further explanation of each animal and its adaptations to its specialized niche, along with notes about the poetry forms employed for each piece. Below is a sample poem, written in sonnet form:
TOP OF THE WORLD 
mountain goats 

Atop a rocky peak, the air is pure, 

    but the wind blows fierce and the climb is steep. 
Each step must be confident and so sure, 
    there's little need to look before you leap. 
The ice, the snow, the winter's biting cold 
    require a cozy, insulated coat. 
What animal lives here, hardy and bold? 
    Behold this king of cliffs, the mountain goat! 
Feasting in springtime on grass that is lush, 
    avoiding in summer the sun's blazing rays. 
Browsing in autumn on stubborn dry brush, 
    learning to deal with the year's hardest days. 
Living where enemies cannot intrude, 
    it succeeds indeed at this altitude.
  • World Rat Day by...wait for it...J. Patrick Lewis is a fun collection of unusual but authentic holidays, celebrated here in verse. Where else could you learn about Cow Appreciation Day, Limerick Day, or Chocolate-Covered Anything Day? Students will enjoy researching these and other wacky holidays, and even inventing their own to commemorate people, places, and events that are important to them. (See a video trailer here at the Candlewick Press site).

9. Provide Pleasure

Okay, so you may think I cheated on this one. After all, I'm supposed to be giving you purposes for using poetry. But if we can't convince our students that one of reading's purest functions is pleasure, then I don't think we've really done our job.

So many poems and books of poems exist to fill this classification that I won't even begin to list them all here. So if you have a favorite poem or book you read with students for pleasure, please share it in the comments section below!

Recommended Texts:
  • A Dog is a Dog by Stephen Shaskan is an incredibly simple, yet funny and clever book about a dog who may not be a dog at all, but perhaps instead a cat...or is it a squid?...or a moose?
    This crazy dog sheds one disguise after another, and who knows what he'll be next? It's short, fun, and you'd better be prepared to read it more than once, although its simplicity, meter, and rhyme make it easily accessible to independent beginning readers. Also be sure to check out the cool stuff on the author's site.
  • Do you have older students who are obsessed with zombies? The Zombie Haiku site offers a unique twist on this traditional poetry form, with submissions from famous contemporary authors, as well as poetry "fakes" by greats of the past.

10. Capture Character

Most of us have assigned biography reports, only later to be disappointed when some students fail to capture the greatness of the men and women they studied. What's awesome about biographical poems is that they encapsulate the essence of what makes a person's life memorable and meaningful.

Recommended Texts:
  • When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis features a satisfying mix of heroes and heroines from the world-wide struggle for human rights.
    Familiar names such as Jackie Robinson,  Harvey Milk, and Mohandas Gandhi share the pages with new discoveries such as Sylvia Mendez (Mexican-American-Purto Rican civil rights leader), Muhammad Yunus (Bangladeshi banker), and Dennis Banks (Cofounder of the American Indian Movement and Anishinabe political activist). Several artists collaborate to illustrate the poems, which can also lead to a discussion of what each artist chose to represent the whole of a person's life in a single image. For more teaching ideas integrating these poems with informational writing, see the related post at Two Writing Teachers blog.
  • Another collection of biographical poems, also be J. Patrick Lewis, is Freedom Like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans. These poems are notable in that they capture the content of each person's character, rather then the rote facts of his or her life. John Thompson's realistically rendered illustrations help to make this title a standout.
  • Use the The Explorers' Graveyard lesson plan for sharing facts and findings when reading biographies. Again, the aim here is to get to what's worth knowing about this famous person.If you're looking for a funnier take of epitaphs, I recommend Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verses by J. Patrick Lewis (yes, him again!), and illustrated by Simon Bartram. The hilarious and revealing tombstone tidings capture in the most clever way the humor of many professions. Take this one, for instance, written for a Book Editor:

    Miss Spellings
    Exclamation points
    Were myriad!!!
    She live on the margin.
    And died. 
    Period.
Recommended Online Tools for Writing Poetry:
  • My top pick is Instant Poetry Forms, which allows students to enter prompted words and verses in order to form (you guessed it!) instant poetry. Some of the forms are purely creative and student-centered, while others allow students to enter researched information (such as data on an early explorer) to create nonfiction verse. An excellent way to encourage your poetry-phobic students (usually the boys!). Each prompt generator includes an example of a finished poem in that style, so students can get a good idea of how the finished poem might sound.
  • Rhyme Brain isn't just another rhyming site; instead, it has three functions: rhyme creator, alliteration creator, and portmanteau creator. The results for the latter two tools are pretty impressive, and lend themselves to some real playfulness with language.
  • Poetry Splatter is a decent site for reluctant or struggling writers. Students are offered limited words to complete template poems. The results are fairly closed ended, but this might be a good place to start for those students who struggle to generate poems wholly on their own.
  • At the PBS NewsHour Extra Poetry site, students can write poems based on current events using the poetry forms and examples found there.
  • At WriteRhymes, it's as easy as "As you write, hold the alt key and click on a word to find a rhyme for it..." That's it. You can Copy, Save, or Print from the site.

Additional Recommended Resources for Poetry Month:
  • Stenhouse Publishing has compiled a wonderful collection of poetry lesson plans and teaching ideas from about a dozen of their best-selling professional resources.
    Check out the Poetry Sampler, available as a pdf download directly from the publisher.
  • ReadWriteThink is a go-to resource if you're seeking poetry lesson plans complete with interactive or printable components. From the search page, you can narrow down the 285 results by grade level, resource type, or popularity.
  • If needed, here's an extensive glossary of poetry terms. I wish each term was accompanied by an example, but a good place to start regardless. If you can't find a term there, then you can likely find it in this Glossary of Poetic Terms.
  • Bruce Lansky books and teaching ideas at Poetry Teachers. Sixteen poetry categories, fun ways to get students writing, and poetry theater (poems to download in read-aloud theater versions).
  • The Children's Poetry Archive is a wonderful collection of poems selected just for children, and read by their creators.
  • For older students (middle school and up), The Virtualit Interactive Poetry Tutorial features three study poems, as well as extensive online aids including Elements of Poetry (understanding language), Cultural Contexts (social, political, and economic currents) and Critical Approaches (literary criticism).
  • Tweenverse is a fun collection of poems by Richard Thomas. No activities included here, but you'll several of these to be perfect as mentor texts for helping students write verse to reflect on their own experiences. See Summer Camp Souvenirs or Brother Trouble for a quick idea of what you'll find there.
  • The Poets.org Educator Site provides teaching tips, popular poems to share, curriculum units and lesson plans, and suggestions for Poetry Month.
  • Poetry for Tough Guys features poems written by Steven Micciche, mostly aimed at guys. Don't worry; it's still kid appropriate! Perhaps a good stop for reluctant boys to gain entry into verse.