How to Make Poetry Writing Awesome With Stations

I received this frantic text from a friend:

HELP!!! I'M BEING HELD PRISONER...

Just kidding. It was

HELP!!! I'M BEING OBSERVED THE DAY AFTER STATE TESTING AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT LESSON TO TEACH!

Same thing, right?

My first thought was why is she yelling at me

My second thought was Wow! That stinks. I'm glad it's not me. 

Until it was me. Being observed. The day after state testing. Sheesh.

It's easy to understand why that's a stinky time to be observed. During testing, the kids have to sit for hours without moving or talking. They're allowed to breathe, but not too loudly or Johnny in the next row will hear their sinuses vibrate. They spend that silent, still time reading passages about carpet fibers, and then they have to write on demand about the carpet fibers.

What do you do on those days when your students are about to jump out of their skin? Poetry writing stations are perfect!

                                  

But the day after testing? Fiesta time! Arriba, arriba. Andale! 


    
 

And they deserve it.

So what's a teacher to do on that first day after state testing? Or for that matter, what's a teacher to do when having an observation on any challenging day, like the day before a vacation? Or the day before an exciting field trip? Or the day Justin Beiber comes to town? Fortunately, I already knew what I was doing, which was a good thing, because even after teaching many years, observations make me quake in my Tieks. We were going to have some creative fun with poetry stations.

Poetry Stations

Poetry stations allow the kids to move around, to share ideas, and to think creatively. In short, it was exactly what they needed after testing. In addition, it is a student-centered lesson, so all I had to do was manage the rotations, circulate, comment, and ask the right questions. The rest would take care of itself. Anyone observing would be able to see that the kids had the background knowledge they needed to write and discuss poetry. It would be obvious that we had read poetry and their eyes, ears, and mind were trained in noticing its nuances.

I'll show you four easy to set up stations that are perfect for middle school kids and don't require much in the way of extraordinary preparation.

The timing is flexible, as are the number of stations. If you only have one class period to spend on it, use fewer stations, but have duplicates. This will ensure that the kids get to experience every station. (Are you reading between the lines here? Duplicate stations ensure that you won't hear whining about not "getting to go to" every station. None of us speak Whinese.)

Preparing Poetry Stations

This is how I like to prepare.

  • Every station was supplied with a sign and one set of instructions. I like to provide one set because I like the kids to work together to figure out what they have to do. Using old tennis ball canisters (minus the balls- we don't need that problem bouncing around), I tape the station's sign on one side of the canister and the directions on the other. 
  • I also placed a basket at each station. It contained regular and colored pencils, and any handouts or blank paper needed.
That's it. Simple. Here are some poetry writing stations you can use.

1. Found Poetry

I had been cleaning out my bookshelves and I had several books that were falling apart at the binding. I tore out the remaining pages and placed them in the basket, along with the directions for writing Found Poetry.


Station Time in Middle School! I use large baskets, so I don't have a lot of small pieces to pick up. Everything starts in the basket and ends in the basket.

The kids loved this. They couldn't believe I tore a book up, and they were so passionate about their poems, which turned out to be awesome!

Found Poetry is an awesome writing station addition. And it's a great way to re-purpose dilapidated  books!

Found Poetry is an awesome writing station addition. And it's a great way to re-purpose dilapidated  books!


2.  Out of the Box Poetry

Choose four random words and have students craft a poem using those words. I like to use words from different parts of speech. The key is to make sure the words are rich with meaning but are truly random. You should probably tell students  that they can't string any two words together, or else you will end up with your random adjective describing your random noun... performing your random verb. Sort of like hairy novels strumming... And as an added challenge, it's nice to suggest students use a specific literary device or two. So the station might look like the one to the right.

Sometimes we do Out of the Box Poetry as a creative Do Now, and the kids always beg for more. It's fun for them, and they learn how to "play" with language.

 3. Template Poetry

My kids love template poetry. The beauty of starting with a template is that when they try it, even the kids who don't usually care for writing can find their inner Rober Frost. The confines of the template helps students focus. And once they have their ideas down, I always tell them that this is their poem and they can alter the template in any way they see fit when they revise.

There are plenty of templates available on the internet. Here is a favorite of ours that you can download for free:
                 
Writing poetry doesn't have to be daunting for kids! Use poetry templates and watch their confidence soar!

4. Object Poetry

Place an object on the table. It can be something lying around the room or something unusual that you bring in from home. Ask students to craft a poem about the object. The poem should be from the point of view of a speaker who feels strongly about it. The emotion doesn't matter as long as it is powerful: love, hatred, jealousy, etc...

Point of View Poetry is an easy addition to poetry writing stations. Bring in any object and tell students to choose one of the three techniques to write an original poem.
It's wonderful to see the wheels turning while kids try imagine the reasons that the speaker might hate something like a teddy bear. Another option is to write from the points of view of two speakers with opposing feelings about the object. Or the poem could be written from the point of view of the object itself. You know, an old teddy bear speaker writes You cast me off...like dirty gym socks on a damp day... Not my best, but you've got the picture.

Kids are insightful. They will surprise you with the feelings inspired by simple objects.

    Station Logistics

I rotate the kids every ten to fifteen minutes, but I don't follow a hard and fast rule about it. I try to get a feel for when they're itching to get up and move. Our goal is to generate ideas and get a "taste" of several different poems. On another day the kids will choose their favorite and work on perfecting it, playing with the wording, and writing another draft.

When we near the end of the lesson, I ask students to stop and reflect on these questions with their group, before coming together to reflect as a class.
1. What were the benefits of this poetry writing activity?
2. What were the challenges?

You might hear some of the same pros and cons that I did.

Benefits: 

~ The guidelines helped us focus.
~ It was helpful to have a starting place.
~ The ideas we were provided with were fun to work with.
~ It helped to have a group to help us figure out the requirements.
~ ...but there weren't too many requirements.
~ It gave us a chance to express ourselves in a way we wouldn't have thought of.

Challenges: 

- It could be limiting.
- Sometimes it's hard to connect the words and ideas.

This is when I tell the kids that when they choose one to revise, they will be able to free themselves of the constraints originally presented. They can play with the words and alter any template or requirements. They should play with the words until the poem is completely theirs. Their words. Their ideas. Their poem.

I did share the stations idea with the friend who was being held "prisoner." I'm told it went quite well, as did mine.

Fiesta time!

                    Poetry stations are perfect for days when you know your students will be squirrely.



















5 comments

  1. Thank you,Sharon! I'm going to post the found poetry directions here. So keep your eye out for them.

    ReplyDelete
  2. These are brilliant suggestions, Darlene. The variety ensures that kids will find something they enjoy. We don't give much time to creative writing in my room. This is a great way to get a "spark" going.
    Thank you!
    Marion

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, Marion, we don't have a lot of time for creative writing either. I wish we did, because the kids get so much out of it!

      Delete
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