Archive for April, 2016


Yesterday, my student Lani was featured on Today’s Little Ditty with a reverso poem inspired by the book Water Rolls, Water Rises by Pat Mora.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is writing a poem a day about daily Wonders on Wonderopolis.  I love how her website speaks directly to students about the writing process.  On Monday, Amy wrote, “I began thinking about the value of sharing our stories, the sad ones as well as the happy ones.”  Her poem was a before/after poem that held universal truths about the sadness of broken marriages.

There’s a sadness weighing on my mind.  It’s not my loss, but even when others suffer a loss, we grieve.  It’s the way of the world.

My writing friend, Catherine Flynn wrote a poem about Crystal Rapids in the Grand Canyon, but the poem was about so much more.  This stanza speaks to that deep grief that comes back over and over.

The path is altered,
a chasm opens.
Never fully healed,
full of fissures that can crack
without warning,
bringing us to our knees.” (Catherine Flynn)

Sometimes writing poetry is about diving into the sadness, entering in, and letting it all go.  Inspired by Amy’s and Catherine’s poetic honesty, I wrote this poem for B.  She’s probably not ready to read it.  But I needed to write it.

A Tree Grows near the Pier

when the sun rose,
so did he,
fishing pole in hand,
tackle in a box.
His heart full of hope.
His mind full of lures.

the boat lost him,
so did we,
as a tree grows
near his tackle box;
Its branches open wide
for resurrection fern.

–Margaret Simon

resurrection fern

Ruth has the Progressive Poem today.

Ruth has the Progressive Poem today.

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During this monthlong survey of poetry, there is trouble.

So many decisions to make.

What should I teach today?
Line breaks,
literary elements,

I want to say stop to
sing-song rhymes
and simple forms.

Then one turns to another and says,
“Let’s write a rap abecedarian.”

Like the messiness of art class,
the instructor must allow
for paint splatters and stains,
for stalled-out cinquains
and skip-to-my-loos.

Poetry is hard.
Poetry is easy.
There are rules in poetry.
There are no rules:
Let the poem find its way.
This is the trouble with poetry.
This is the joy of poetry.

–Margaret Simon

Follow the Progressive Poem to  Charles Waters.

Follow the Progressive Poem to Charles Waters.




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One thing that helps me during this month of poetry discipline is forms. When I have something to say, words to use, form can help me with a placement that sometimes leads to wisdom or a nice image. Amy Rudd linked up to DigiLit Sunday yesterday reminding me of the Fib poem. This form is based on the mathematical Fibonacci sequence which begins with 1,1,2,3,5,8.

I came home from a quick weekend trip to find African iris blooming in the courtyard. I did not plant these. The prior owners did, so they delight and surprise me each year. I gathered words from a Google search and wrote two fibs.

African Iris Fibs

Open only a day
Walk across the garden to you.

African irisNew
wings, African grace
welcome me to this rainforest.

Follow the Progressive Poem to Irene's site Live your Poem.

Follow the Progressive Poem to Irene’s site Live your Poem.

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

In my world of teaching and writing, revision is a constant companion. I look at my teaching and revise. Rarely am I following the lesson plan I wrote. I revise based on the direction my students need to take. And last week revision was something we needed to talk about.

I believe that revision is a mature behavior. Revision is having the confidence in a piece of writing to take the risk of changing it. Without even realizing it, I write in constant revision. As I write this post, I backspace. I save and read. Go back. Rephrase.

My students do this, too, as they type their pieces into the blog. Many of them are resistant to the two steps of rough draft in their notebooks, then typing into a final draft. But as I watch them, I see that revision becomes organic to this process.

Sometimes, revision comes from talk. We read the piece together. Discuss what we like. And look at where the words can be stronger.

I sat down with Kaiden to revise his abecedarian about wonder posted here. For the most part, this was an excellent piece of writing. The repeated word, wonder, was intentional and served a purpose. Yet there were a few words that weren’t quite working. So we looked at a list of Shakespeare words. This elevated Kaiden’s poem. There we found kindle. What a great word for K and for wonder! Engaging in this work with him was fun for both of us.

Ralph Fletcher tweeted:

revision by Ralph Fletcher

Let’s relax about revision. If a piece of writing is a stepping stone to another piece, let it be. Use revision strategies on those gems, the ones you want to embrace and hug a little longer.

Revision canva

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.


Marilyn Singer is a master poet. At NCTE in the fall, I had the pleasure of meeting her. I was also a lucky participant who won a copy of Follow, Follow. Marilyn invented the reverso poem and has published 3 books of them, two based on fairy tales and her latest Echo, Echo based on mythology.

On Today’s Little Ditty, Michelle Heindenrich Barnes interviewed Marilyn Singer and offered a ditty challenge to use the word echo in relation to a poem. I was determined to try the reverso form.

With my students as cheerleaders, I worked hard and produced something worthy of being called a reverso poem. The process began when we watched this video together.

I asked my students to select an insect to be in a mask (or persona) poem. I selected this image to inspire my writing.

screenshot from the film Microcosmos by Jacque Perrin.

screenshot from the film Microcosmos by Jacque Perrin.

Then I did some caterpillar research. I wrote “zig zag stitch” and then discovered that caterpillars excrete a silk line as they crawl in addition to using the silk to create a chrysalis.

Creepy crawly caterpillar
munch munch
munching milkweed
at tremendous speed.

Life changes
creeping, crawling
leaf to leaf.

Sunlight glimmers
on fuzzy bristles.
I zig-zag stitch
a silkthread path
leaf to leaf.

Leaf to leaf
a silkthread path
I zig-zag stitch
on fuzzy bristles.

Sunlight glimmers
leaf to leaf.
Creeping crawling

Life changes
at tremendous speed.
Munching milkweed
Munch, munch
creepy, crawly caterpillar.

This is a tough form to get just right. I don’t think mine successfully creates a different meaning in reverse. But my students liked it, so I am celebrating it none the less.

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Poetry Friday round-up with Michelle at Today's Little Ditty

Poetry Friday round-up with Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty

This month as I go through poetry every day with my students, inevitably favorite forms emerge.  From her blog, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater introduced my students (and me) to the abecedarian form.  One by one my students are trying this out.  I have said it’s a very challenging form.  Some rise to a challenge.

Kaiden has risen to this challenge not only using the form, but also repeating the word wonder.  When he got stuck on a letter, he searched a list of Shakespeare words.

All the time wondering
Batty in the night for wonder
Can’t get any sleep from wondering
Dying to quench my thirst for wonder
Enclosing myself in books of wonder
Fascinated by wonder
Going insane from wonder
How did it become this way
I have no idea
Judged because of my wild hair from wondering too much
Kindling the fire of wonder
Loving every drop of wonder
Mourning without wonder
Not having any time for doing work because of wonder
Oblivious of all my dirty and messy ways
Prowling the library for wonder
Quivering without wonder
Rest is impossible with all this wonder
Sleep I can’t
Tearing up books
Unfortunately, I am addicted to wonder
Vigorously turning pages
Withering with out wonder
Xhaling because my wonder is filled
Zzz’s I can finally catch

–Kaiden, 5th grade

Earlier in the week we danced with paintbrushes, making watercolor abstract paintings while listening to music.  One selection led some of us artist/poets to think of water (rain).  It’s been raining every morning for the last few days.  I wrote a more playful poem while my 5th grader, Tobie, is thinking deeply and writing serious poems.


Tobie's painting of water

Tobie’s painting of water

As I sit intently
listening to the music that played
I thought of how there were many others
much more
than you could even imagine

Before you think
of planets in space
imagine drops of water in a sea
grains of sand on a beach
every blade of grass in a lawn
every second before dawn

–Tobie, 5th grade


Rainy Day

Rainy Day by Margaret Simon

Rainy Day by Margaret Simon

Popping in puddles
painting balloons.
Sprinkles bubble.
Wet air
Wet hair.
I don’t care.
Let’s play anyway.

–Margaret Simon




Follow the Progressive Poem to Matt Forrest's Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Follow the Progressive Poem to Matt Forrest’s Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme


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Join the Spiritual Thursday round up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Join the Spiritual Thursday round up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

On Wednesday, I was out of the classroom at an enrichment day for 6th graders. While I was away, my students were still writing poems. At the beginning of this National Poetry Month, I told them that they would write a poem each day. I have provided some kind of prompt activity (video, music, other poems), but this day they just chose to write. I checked our Kidblog site and found new poems. These poems were not sing-songy rhyme poems. They were serious poems about real life.

Poetry can be serious. Poetry can be spiritual, but I’ve not told my students about this aspect. However, writing in poems can bring out deep feelings even in the youngest of poets. In an effort to capture this move to deep thinking, I have found a poem in the poetry of my students.

Secrets are hidden,
the rain doesn’t care;
It’s still pouring down.

shining like a precious jewel
is waiting for us.

Many don’t
know the comfort
of last words and hopes.

Rest is impossible
with all this wonder.

A found poem by Margaret Simon from poems by Lani, Tobie, Kaiden, and Erin

Follow the Progressive Poem to Deo Writer with Jone.

Follow the Progressive Poem to Deo Writer with Jone.

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My internal critic is turned on high voltage. I take my journal in my backpack to school to school (I teach at two), and I turn the page and write some words, then a student needs me. I come back to the page focused, thinking, and another student has to share.

Here I am at home with Charlie and there’s nothing worth much in my journal. This is day 13 of my personal challenge to write a poem a day, and my personal critic thinks I can’t possibly keep this up.

Step one: upload a picture. Here’s another sky picture taken from my car with my phone.

Sky Sea

Sky Sea

How to Stay a Poet (A synonym poem)

Attach a line to a thought
with a long string, maybe even wire

Fasten sprinkles of light,
a frosting of powdered sugar would taste good.

Unite clouds to sky to space,
an ethereal concept, I know.

Abide with your favorite poets,
savor their strength, their providence.

Linger over the page, make a statement,
scratch it out, start again.

Remain committed; don’t listen to the witch
in your head telling you to abandon all.

Keep on writing. Stay a poet.
Stay here.

–Margaret Simon

Process: After writing the title, I did a synonym search for “stay.” I used selected synonyms as the first word of each stanza. Creating rules for myself helped me get through writer’s block. This is not one of my finer poems, but it’s a poem. Let’s keep moving forward.

Follow the Progressive Poem to Teacher Dance

Follow the Progressive Poem to Teacher Dance

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for March Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for March Slice of Life Challenge.

We brought out the paintbrushes and watercolor paints.  Each table had a stack of white paper.  I turned on the music.  Painting flowed in time with the beat.

This is dancing with a paintbrush.  When the music stops, we title the piece of art and list three words that come to mind.  This continues for three rounds.  The songs are all instrumental, one sounds oriental, another symphonic, and another Irish.

Following this painting activity, we write.

Freedom of expression, playing with words, making associations with music and poetry, the resulting poems went in all kinds of directions. (My students share their poems on Kidblog.)

In reading Tara Smith’s book review of Writing with Mentors, I pulled out this piece of advice: “Mentors Show Students How to Play: In order to grow as writers, students need safe places to play with writing – places that aren’t assessed or evaluated or given a grade.  They need places where their work can be messy, where thinking outside the box and being wild with ideas is encouraged.”

When I was struggling to write a poem with my painting, I turned to a favorite author, Mary Oliver.  From A Thousand Mornings, “Poem of the One World” begins “This morning/ the beautiful white heron/ was floating along above the water.”

Writing beside this master poet helped me to follow the rhythm that my own words wanted to take.

This longing
the beautiful white egret
wanders from known to unknown waters

And then
onto the shore of this
one stream we all swim in

where everyone
is part of the blue vein
where we can throw a stone in

which thought made me feel
for a small moment
welcomed home.

–Margaret Simon, after Mary Oliver

Dancing with a paintbrush

The abstract painting that led to my poem.


Follow the Progressive Poem to Today's Little Ditty

Follow the Progressive Poem to Today’s Little Ditty

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Last week I led myself and my students into image poems.  We imagined a scene in nature (or on water) and wrote to this list of line prompts from the River of Words Teacher’s Guide. 

Prompts for the Teacher:

~ Think about this spot. Sketch it if you like.

~ Picture yourself in this location.Write a line or sentence that describes what you are doing and exactly where you are: “Sitting on a sandbar on the banks of the Calcasieu River in IndianVillage, Louisiana.”

~ In your imagination, look up.What do you see? Begin this line with “Above me” or “Over my head.”Try to use a simile in this line.

~ Now look into the distance, as far as you can see.Write what you see.

~ Describe a sound you might hear in this place.

~ What is on your right?

~ Hone in on a single detail in this scene.Try to describe it, using an unusual or vivid verb in the line.

~ Shift your perspective and your position—stand up, flop down, walk away—and notice another detail in the landscape: the quality of light, the time of day, a seasonal plant or animal,for example.

~ Finally, read over your images and see if you can conclude with a reflective line that somehow captures how you feel about being in this place.(You might caution students not to rush this line; it may occur to them later as they compose their poem).

rope swing

Swinging by the bayou on the grandmother oak,
legs curled around knotted rope,

Above me branches drape like outstretched arms
holding strong,

Sky opens up to a flash of egret flickering through the trees.

The echo of a far-off motor drums the quiet.

The holding tree is the oldest oak I know.
Hanging moss twirls in a wind-dance.

Jumping from the rope-grip,
my feet fall on fronds of greening fern.

My swinging is a brief sparkle in this grandmother’s eye.

–Margaret Simon

Here is Vannisa’s poem.  She pointed to a postcard from Marjorie Pierson’s collecting of wetlands photographs as her inspiration. Click here to view the image.

Standing in the shade,
on the edge of a swamp
where there are cypress trees
with snakes and alligators
lurking within the waters

Over my head,
thick branches and leaves
sway over me as a roof,
with moss dropping down
like the strings of balloons
that fly to the ceiling

In the distance
more trees and gators are
still creeping underneath

Insect buzzing
filling my ears,
the tweets of birds
travel from above

On my right,
a tree trunk
with bugs crawling in a line
making their way up and around

Mother duck and her ducklings
swim all over
yawing around places where
mother knows it’s unsafe

Moving away from the shade,
the water reflects
the afternoon sun into my eyes,
glistening in the light

This artistic landscape
won’t be able to stay forever,
you won’t notice it,
but the wetlands are quickly washing away.

–Vannisa, 6th grade

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