Archive for November, 2013

Discover. Play. Build.
Join the Chalk-a-bration over at Teaching Young Writers

Join the Chalk-a-bration over at Teaching Young Writers

This post combines three ideas/connections to three blog sites. The Thanku poem was started by the Teaching Authors who encouraged us to write thank you haiku about teachers who have influenced us. Chalk-a-bration is a monthly round up that Betsy Hubbard hosts at Teaching Young Writers. And the Celebration Saturday round up is hosted by Ruth Ayres at Discover. Play. Build.

Last Friday before we broke for a week off, my students wrote their Thanku poems in chalk. I wrote, too, and was pleased with the sticky thanku I wrote for my mom. I’m hoping she will read this and make me pancakes this morning.

I celebrate that Brooklyn's flying and thanking me for her wings.  How awesome!

I celebrate that Brooklyn’s flying and thanking me for her wings. How awesome!

Tyler celebrates the sunshine in his life, his mother.  His grandma makes pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse.

Tyler celebrates the sunshine in his life, his mother. His grandma makes pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse.

I love you, Mom, for more than just your pancakes, but your pancakes are the best!

I love you, Mom, for more than just your pancakes, but your pancakes are the best!

Read Full Post »

See more Poetry Friday at Carol's Corner.

See more Poetry Friday at Carol’s Corner.

Bradford pear tree

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, Betsy Hubbard of Two Writing Teachers asked us to take a moment to be still and write a poem. I actually wrote this poem by speaking into my phone on the way to Walgreens to get some decongestant. (My sinuses do not like the cold.) While I was shopping, a young woman, girl actually, asked if she could help me find something. Then she commented that I smelled. “It’s not a bad smell.” I had carried the roasting turkey smell with me. Anything can make its way into a poem.

Thanksgiving Day

Fire orange blazes from the tops of the trees
announcing the season’s change,
so I drive to my parents’ home by the lake
through the woods, tall pines, draping oaks.

Mama puts the turkey on early in the morning
while I still lounge in pajamas.
That Thanksgiving smell fills the air,
a scent I cannot emulate,
a scent I hold here

in my clothes, in my hair, my heart.
My mind does not wander to times before;
I do not miss the sound of children.
No, I am just here with this now,

This turkey roasting, the warmth of the fire,
this place where I am always loved.

–Margaret Simon

Read Full Post »

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

john green quote

This weekly Slice of Life Challenge makes me write. Sometimes, the writing comes easily. Sometimes, I re-write it ten times. Sometimes, I don’t know what to say. Sometimes, I think what I say is stupid, or worse, uninteresting.

This quote from John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars (which is an awesome book, btw) really hit home with me. I have to do a lot of self-talk to convince myself that I have something to say. I want to be worthy of your time spent here.

On Saturday, I went to Wordlab. I hadn’t been in a while, so I forgot how stimulating and yet, frightening, it is to sit with a group and write raw and read raw. This week’s guest writer-presenter was Charles Garrett. He first asked us to write 10 American sentences. I had not heard of the American sentence before. Apparently coined by Alen Ginsberg, who rejected the Japanese haiku, the American Sentence is a sentence of 17 syllables.

The apple in his eye had a bite taken out, a black and blue spot.

Don’t say this is easy until you have drawn on the page left-handed.

Speaking of the black bird singing, did you hear the owl who cooks for you?

In a perfect world where lines are straight and black is black, no grey, I’m blind.

My hips are square in this red chair, but my mind is flying to the moon.

Crazy, right? Then Charles asked us to choose one of the lines to be the title of our poem. As if that wasn’t hard enough, then we had to chose a line from within poem 1 to be the last line of poem 2. Our brains were stretched and prodded and poked, but none of us gave up.

I combined these prompts with a technique from Ava Haymon that I tried with students last week, repetition.
So even though I don’t think I have written a brilliant poem, these writing exercises give me something to write and keep me breathing and healthy.

Not everyone sings in the shower.
Not everyone believes Namaste.
Not everyone digs in the hard ground,
or buys roses to bloom the next day.

Not everyone steals to feel worthy.
Not everyone wants a stiff drink.
Not everyone smells like a flower,
or washes their hands in the sink.

Not everyone loves their own mother.
Not everyone wears socks in the bed.
Not everyone turns on the TV
to hear what the weatherman said.

Not everyone reads The New Yorker.
Not everyone watches cartoons.
Not everyone adds sugar to coffee,
or stays in pajamas ’til noon.

Not everyone likes to write poems.
Not everyone knows how to rhyme.
Not everyone has the same gifts
or discovers them all in good time.

–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Discover. Play. Build.

Join in the fun of celebrating on Saturday, a blog round-up at Discover. Play. Build.

Beginning with Monday, this was a great week for poetry writing success. Using the field trip notes from last Friday, Monday’s quest was to complete and revise our poems and post them on the class kidblog. One of my newest students had success with this poem:

My dangling trumpet flower

is like a golden trumpet,

big yellow bell,

and a fluffy bridal gown.

My dangling trumpet flower

is a hummingbird’s favorite snack

with the most delicious flavor

of a big slice of cake.

And the student comment, “I like this poem very much. I like that you made it very specific and beautiful. I also like that you put similes and metaphors in your poem.” Both students are fourth graders who are just stretching out their writers’ wings.

On Wednesday, I used a new lesson I adapted from a conversation I had with Ava Haymon, Louisiana poet laureate. The structure of repetition worked well. I posted a few on my blog for Poetry Friday and got this email from their teacher, “I shared your blog with the sixth graders today. Jack and Ethan were beaming when they saw their poems. THANK YOU so much for giving them that feeling. The vice principal wants them to read the poems during the announcements next week.” Celebration, indeed!

Mayor Hilda Curry talks with our 6th grade students about their service project.

Mayor Hilda Curry talks with our 6th grade students about their service project.

On Friday, three of my students and I led the school in a Walk for St. Jude. A teacher’s child lost her life to cancer last month, and the response to do something to honor Kamryn was amazing! Students could purchase a t-shirt, a button, and a color page of a star along with the donation for the walk. I’m not sure how much we raised in dollars yet, but we raised awareness and felt pride in giving back to St. Jude. Before the walk, the skies were dark and cloudy; however, just in time, our angel Kamryn swept the clouds away to show us the sun.

Kamryn's best friend Amanda was interviewed by the newspaper.

Kamryn’s best friend Amanda was interviewed by the newspaper.

The button and Kamryn's picture on my t-shirt.

The button and Kamryn’s picture on my t-shirt.

The official St. Jude Give Thanks Walk is today. You can still donate to support my walk on my page.

Read Full Post »

See more Poetry Friday with Katya at Write. Sketch. Repeat.

See more Poetry Friday with Katya at Write. Sketch. Repeat.

How do you write a poem? Where do you begin? I learned long ago from working with children writers that they are full of ideas. I wrote an article for the National Writing Project journal The Quarterly in 2005 when it was still in print titled “Writing with William.” (I was pleased to find it on a Google search.) In the article, I described a tutoring experience that led me to understand young writers need tools, not ideas, structures, not prompts. When I was talking with Ava Haymon, our state poet laureate, last weekend about writing ideas for students, she said a technique that she likes to use is repetition.

Using Ava’s poems as models, I introduced this structure to 6th graders at our monthly enrichment day we call WOW (Way out Wednesday.) “The Child Born” begins each line with the same three words, “The child who.” I asked the students to listen for the details. Following the reading, we did a memory test. “What did you remember?” While they didn’t quite understand the poem, they did remember almost every line, especially “The child who bites cuticles instead of fingernails,” and “The child who sucks her hair at night.” Details are memorable. Another model I used was Betsy Franco’s “Fourths of Me” from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

Then I gave them the assignment: Write about whatever you want to, but begin each line or each stanza in the same way. Examples: Before, Everybody, As long as, The child who, Anyone, Who, Why, I am. The students also added beginnings to the list.

This was a successful lesson because everyone wrote a poem. Even the kid who said he hates writing poems. Even the one who said she has never written a poem before. After writing, we shared and did a memory test for each other’s poems. They realized the importance of using specificity and original ideas to draw a reader’s attention.

What Do You See?

When you see the stars, you see the sky
But when I see the stars, I see the days passing by.
When you see the beach, you see grains of sand.
But when I see the beach, I see a place untouched of man.
When you see the ocean, you see fish and pearls.
But when I see the ocean, I see an underwater world.
When you see a child, you see a small man.
But when I see a child, I see a gift from God’s hands.


Before and After

After the sun sets at night,
After the bud blooms,
After the plane takes off in flight,
I’ll go home to my room.

Before the sun rises at dawn,
Before dew forms on the flower,
Before the bird lands in its nest,
The king will give up his power.

This time I will not stay silent,
This time I will speak.
This time I will not be shy,
This time I’ll be bold.


My Dream

I am the frail one.
I am the fragile one.
I am the annoying one.
I am the one in the back of the classroom.
I am the new student.
I am the one no one wants around.
I am the dumb one.
I am the one nobody talks to.
I am the runt of the litter.
I am the timid one
Only in my dreams.


Read Full Post »

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

Ava enjoys paella at the Spanish Festival.

Ava enjoys paella at the Spanish Festival.

I am having a hard time putting into words this feeling. This good, fulfilled feeling after a successful Fall Poetry Night. I think magic happens when a poem is read aloud, the words shared become everyone’s words. Your life becomes theirs, and theirs yours. We become a community.

On Saturday, I hosted our state poet laureate, Ava Leavell Haymon. (See a previous post here featuring her poetry.) She came into town in time to have paella downtown at the second annual Spanish Festival. Ava laughs at her new title. She said it has a certain amount of celebrity to it, but in the same way a rare boa constrictor might; Everyone comes to see what it is.

I don’t think that was the case for our audience Saturday night. I had been getting messages on Facebook from a variety of people who wanted to read. I wouldn’t dare say no to anyone who has the courage to read his own poetry aloud. So we had 4 featured authors and 5 readers in open mic. Good thing the food truck man was coming, and a number of friends had brought treats.

Ava took notes as each poet read, and she made a point of speaking to each one with specific comments about their writing. What a gift! When she read her own poetry, she instructed us as well on the forms of her poems. The teacher in her is natural. All weekend we shared stories of teaching poetry. I look forward to trying some of her ideas with my students. (And sharing them here.)

Ava reading at A&E Gallery.

Ava reading at A&E Gallery.

I entertained an angel this weekend, an angel who taught me about opening my ears and my heart to all poets. Ava was still smiling Sunday morning. She told me after all of the traveling and many activities of her new position, the energy of Saturday night had rejuvenated her. I felt she did the same for me and for all who attended and participated in the Fall Poetry Night.

Read Full Post »

Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres is gathering Saturday Celebration posts on her blog. Click the image above to visit.

Early in October, I had an author visit my gifted classroom. Chere’ Coen wrote the book Haunted Lafayette. When she was talking to the students about ghost stories, she mentioned Jefferson Island, and the students did not know anything about a location just down the road. Rip Van Winkle Gardens located on Jefferson Island is a land of beauty while also a place of historical and geological significance. I decided to remedy their lack of knowledge by planning a field trip.

The weather in November can be iffy. On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, we had a cold front and temperatures dipped while the wind blew hard. All that went away Friday, and the sky opened to the sun. Temperatures rose to a comfortable 75 degrees. The heavens were shining on our day.

I invited some other teachers along, so we gathered 32 area gifted kids from second through sixth grade. They watched a video and learned about the actor Joseph Jefferson for whom the island was named. They learned about the salt dome disaster of 1980 when an oil drill punctured the salt dome causing a whirlpool that closed the salt mine and caused damage to acres of land. The owner’s home fell into the lake leaving only the chimney visible today.

A huge gong hangs from an old oak tree.

A huge gong hangs from an old oak tree.

Lake Peigneur with chimney

Lake Peigneur with chimney

We toured the historical mansion, and took a nature walk along the trails through the lush and beautiful gardens. Even before I told them they could, the students started collecting items from nature. They couldn’t help themselves. They picked up peacock feathers, moss, flowers, bamboo sticks, pinecones, etc. I gave them ziplock bags to hold their collection.

After collecting, I gave the students a Private Eye loupe magnifying glass. The exercise went like this: Look at your chosen object through the loupe and ask the question, “What does it look like? What else? What else?” In this manner, students were able to build a metaphor poem. This exercise worked well for my youngest writers. Here are a few.

emily private eye poem

erin metaphor poem

private eye

Kielan metaphor poem copy

A little lagniappe (South Louisiana for something extra) occurred when the owner saw me and asked how the day was going. I introduced myself and explained how the students did not know the stories of Jefferson Island. He brought me into the gift shop and handed me a DVD and a book. When I introduced him to two of our students, he told them some of the ghost stories. What a thrill for these kids and for me! Today I celebrate the success of our field trip, the learning, observing, writing, and friendships!

Read Full Post »

See more Poetry Friday at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

See more Poetry Friday at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

Most students in the middle grades know the name Lemony Snicket, so when I introduced his article from Poetry magazine, they were primed to listen. In this article, Lemony Snicket introduced adult poetry to children. He says, “Poetry is like a curvy slide in a playground — an odd object, available to the public — and, as I keep explaining to my local police force, everyone should be able to use it, not just those of a certain age.”

We read aloud the whole article. My instructions for writing were simple, “Steal a line that you like and write from there.”

The poem I wrote is a Cento, in which I took a line from each of the poems in the article.

An open door says, “Come in.”
The room I entered was a dream of this room.
I’m in the house.
I’m still here?
There is no need for you to come and visit me.
You are food. You are here for me to eat.
There will never be enough.
Nothing anyone could do to stop it coming.
The next obvious question:
“Does anyone want to be my sack of potatoes?”
Think of a big pink horse.
There are monsters everywhere.
What is it the sign of?
It is what it is.
That’s Poetry to me.
Thank you, I have enjoyed imagining all this.

Some student samples:

If I would be walking
down the road that
you told me to imagine,
would it be full of gumdrops,
and rainbows covered
in sprinkles and chocolate
fudge on a marshmallow
cloud that tastes like
strawberry icing or maybe
chocolate ice cream on the
hottest day of the year,
or would the road be
full of dark nights, but no stars
and gravestones, with lost kids,
and a grey, lonely path with
cracks in the middle
that can swallow
me up in one bite, with
eyes looking at me in
every direction?

If I would be walking
down the road you told
me to imagine,
which road would I be walking?
If I would be walking
the road you told me
to imagine, would my road
include you?


Electric green and red tears
reflected like rainbows over water in the daylight
right before rain
a warning of good fortune
telling us it’s okay

Read Full Post »

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

Stir Up
These are the first words I wrote in my journal in the Festival of Words poetry workshop with Naomi Shihab Nye on Saturday. I was star-struck… for about 5 minutes. Because Naomi is probably one of the warmest, most welcoming, poetry presenters I have ever seen. She makes everyone feel like they belong there. Even the man who had to step out to take a phone call. She spoke to him with concern and said, “Step out any time you need to. I understand.” And the woman who attended without registering. She pulled up a chair right next to her. “You are no intruder. You are a poet.”

The most wonderful welcome was for my former student, Kaylie. I got special permission from Naomi to bring Kaylie to the workshop. Everyone else there was my age or older, but that did not intimidate Kaylie. She shared like the confident poet that she is. She even read her award winning poem from the LA Writes anthology. Our hearts were full. Can you tell from our picture?

Kaylie and me with Naomi.  Love her!

Kaylie and me with Naomi. Love her!

Inscription to Kaylie from Naomi Shihab Nye

Inscription to Kaylie from Naomi Shihab Nye

Here are a few quotes from the wisdom of Naomi Shihab Nye:

I’ve kicked the word busy out of my vocabulary. I am embracing the word befriend.

When was the last time you really listened to your heart?

What old story are you telling yourself that keeps you from being free?

An artist is doing the art.

Each thing gives us something else.

What have you lost? What have you found?

You are an amazing poet.

with gratitude for your voice.

Kaylie wrote this poem in response to the first writing prompt, “What old story are you telling yourself that keeps you from being free?”

I am free.
I have never been bound by the chains of life,
Never been shackled or held in one place.
My pen is allowed to scribble across the page,
And I never restrain it.
I don’t take the time to think about my past,
I only think about bettering the future.
Held aloft on shimmering wings of gossamer,
My head floating through the clouds,
My heart thumps in a song.
As long as I write, my spirit will live eternally.
I will hide my innocence and curiosity inside of bubbles that float behind me,
Keeping this freedom inside of me flowing forever.
–Kaylie B., all rights reserved

Read Full Post »

Discover. Play. Build.

Celebration Saturday is here! I am happy Ruth Ayres started this tradition. It makes me stop every Saturday and think about the week in a positive way. Yesterday Ruth wrote:

I think too busy means I’m missing real life. Too busy means I’m swept up by the current panic or the flashy trend.

Too busy means I’m surviving.

Life should be more than survival.

Because when we are trapped in survival, it is too easy to believe we can’t do anything powerful or meaningful or worthy. It is too easy for the day to wrap around us and to feel like the only choice is to react

Life should be more than reaction.

I’m wondering if the way to step over (or maybe to step on) too busy, is to find the celebration.

Her words spoke to me because I feel I went into the panic mode last week and began the crazy mantra that I’m too busy. Her words made me stop. OK, breathe and look around you for things to celebrate.
Last night I made Tortilla Soup. That is something to celebrate, time to cook and time for soup!


The air has gotten cooler. The flowers in my front flower bed opened up to this cool air. They remind me every morning to open up to the air and see the light.

Brooke bday

Brooklyn celebrated her 12th birthday yesterday. I brought sprinkle donuts and satsumas. She brought homemade chocolate chip cookies. We took a break from all our writing to celebrate Brooklyn. I gave her a journal. She waved it at me and said, “You gave me the gift of writing!”

Before we took the break, V. was writing at the computer. She saw the google doodle and played with the changing ink blots. She announced, “I see a cat with wings.”
I said, “You should write a poem about the cat with wings.”
She got up and threw herself on the pillows in the reading center exclaiming, “I can’t take all this writing!” Hilarious. I had to take her picture.

Too much writing

What are you celebrating this week? Take a moment to stop, breathe in the cooler air, and celebrate your life.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »