Posts Tagged ‘Poets.org’

This poetry month I didn’t commit to write a certain type of poem every day like many other poets I am following. I decided I would write to the muse. Wherever she lead, I would follow.

Among my weekly teacher-poet emails, I get Teach this Poem from Poets.org. This week the poem to teach was “Earth. Your Dancing Place” by May Swenson. One line (“Take earth for your own large room”) jumped out at me and wanted to be a golden shovel. After messing with it in my journal, I created this draft.

Earth’s Heartbeat

If you take

a moment with earth,

touch her for

her soothing spirit, place your

hand on her beating heart, your own

heart will open a door to a large

living room

Margaret Simon, draft 2020

I was also inspired by Catherine Flynn’s post that included the NASA Earth Day poster. The artist, Jenny Motter, used the idea of listening to the pulse of a tree to create this amazing image. There is much more imagery used in the artwork that you can read about at the NASA site.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life .

When we returned from our holiday break, I found a poem from Poets.org in my inbox.  I subscribe to Teach this Poem, a weekly lesson plan around a selected poem.  The poem Dead Stars by Ada Limón drew me in, and I felt compelled to teach the lesson. To begin, we looked at pictures of the Orion constellation and made attempts to draw it in our notebooks.

Before we read the poem, I talked about how I love poems that take notice of something in nature then go deeper to something more profound.

We find it hard to settle our brains down, and poetry offers us that silence, that quiet space, and allows us to reconnect with ourselves, or with an idea, or with an emotion. (Ada Limón)

When reading a poem with my students, I let them take the lead.  “What do you notice?” “Are there any words you don’t know?” “What do you think the poem is about?”

Each group of students takes the discussion in a different direction.  With my first group, we discussed an interesting metaphor in this line, “I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.”  Daniel rephrased the line, “Laying eggs of attempt.” Then we noticed that both hearth and nest are places of caring.

With my second group, theme became the focus.  What is the poet trying to teach us? She wants us to rise above the tide (the hard times) and be alive.  Landon wrote a thematic sentence, “Be alive, reach for the stars, and shine!”

In my third group, stars, constellations, and the fact that we are made of stardust became the topic of discussion.  “But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising–” (Ada Limón)

I pulled up an article to read from National Geographic.

Everything we are and everything in the universe and on Earth originated from stardust, and it continually floats through us even today. It directly connects us to the universe, rebuilding our bodies over and again over our lifetimes. (Iris Schrijver)

In response I wrote a septercet, a form created by Jane Yolen with 3 lines of seven syllables each.  The last line is from Ada Limón’s poem “Look, we are not unspectacular things.”

When I work on poetry with my students, I try not to push them to complicated analysis.  There is time for that when they are older.  I hope to expose them to amazing language, to the art and craft of metaphor, and to understand that poetry is always available to them.  Even when they are “rolling their trash bins out.”

A cherita about the stars:

You say look up

Take notice of the stars
Name the one you are

We are the star
dust of many ages
collected as unique thoughts.

(c) Margaret Simon




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Join Jama at Alphabet Soup for more of Poetry Friday.

Join Jama at Alphabet Soup for more of Poetry Friday.

At this time of year, the days grow shorter, the weather cooler. In a recent e-newsletter from Poets.org, I found a lesson plan designed for 9th-12th graders about exploring darkness and light through poetry. I teach gifted elementary kids, so I adapted the plan somewhat to fit my level of students. But I kept Emily Dickinson’s poem There’s a Certain Slant of Light. The poem is presented on Poem Flow in which a few words appear on the screen and fade out to the next lines. This technology added interest to the lesson. My students didn’t quite “get” the message of the poem, but they learned about the sound of poetry. We talked about some of our “wonder” words, like heft, affliction, and oppression.

Before presenting the Dickinson poem, I turned off the lights and we wrote words and phrases that we thought of in the dark. Then they chose words they wanted to “steal” from Emily Dickinson. Then we wrote. Each time we write, we share. We have a class Kidblog site, so they post to it. Since I travel between two schools, this allows my students to read and comment on writing from another school’s gifted class.

Some of our poems were coming out pretty spooky and dark. OK, I know I set that up with turning out the lights and reading There’s a Certain Slant of Light, but I challenged myself to write a happy poem. I was pleased with my poem that the students helped me title “Silhouettes.”


We turn out the lights
Behind sheets, our hands
Make shapes–a story,
a dance,
a play–
No audience
No stage
No flashing lights
Just my brother and me
on a winter afternoon.

Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

One of my students wrote a short piece with a repeating line, so when I conferred with him, I taught him about the Pantoum form in which the second and fourth line becomes the first and third of the next stanza. This is his revised poem:

Winter (A Pantoum)
This is darkness, the black, blurry time of the year.
It blinds me in sadness.
Its dull appearance gives me the blues.
This is darkness, the black, blurry time of the year.

Darkness blinds me in sadness.
Cobwebs surround me.
This is darkness, the black, blurry time of the year.
Shadows everywhere.

Cobwebs surround me.
Tiny bits of light make creepy reflections on the floor.
Shadows everywhere.
This is darkness.

I have a new student who is a third grader. I have gently drawn her into our writing circle. She is shy, yet confident. When she wrote the following poem, it had 3 rhyming lines, but no others, so I talked to her about making a decision in her revision. She could keep the rhyming lines, but since we expect the poem to rhyme, she would need to make some of the other lines rhyme. She decided not to keep the rhyming words and went to the thesaurus to revise. I think she is quickly getting the hang of writing workshop. Here is her revision:

Winter Glory

The winter woods can be glowing

even though you are afraid.

The bright sun shines from behind.

The cold dark woods are sometimes gloomy.

The squirrels are scurrying for the last nut.

I am blinded by the beauty.


Photo by Clare L. Martin
Vannisa’s inspiration came from this photograph.

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