Harnessing Creativity: Isn't that an Oxymoron?

07 January 2013

       My students enjoy poetry. They like when I read poems aloud, and they like to write poems.  They especially enjoy a quick poetry “Do Now” once in a while. The problem is that the 5 minute “Do Now” poems they wrote left a lot to be desired.

       I found that by requiring students to write a poem without giving them some guidance, I was guaranteed to end up with a stack of pitiful rhyming poems about puppies. Not that there’s anything wrong with puppies. Or rhyming. But the forced rhyming that students do? Ugh. “I love my puppy as much as my guppy.” Double Ugh.

        So I would give them a topic or a form and then hope for the best. But my students complained about that. And they still ended up working puppies into the mix.

        Then someone suggested that I start giving students specific words that they had to work into their poem. The idea was for me to ask them to write a free verse poem, in which the given words were included. The first time I proposed it the reaction was not promising. In fact, I thought a rebellion was brewing. I positioned myself near the door in case things got ugly for me really fast. But we all survived. And even flourished. The kids know it forces to do something that initially feels uncomfortable, so that they have to expand their "vision." And their vocabulary!

        To make it quick and easy for me, I make an entire list of words, cut them out, and put them in a box. Then I can let a student choose the words randomly.  It’s great! I call it Outside of the Box Quickwrite Poetry.

          Through trial and error, I found out that some words work and some don’t. For instance:

  Words that are strictly adjectives have to be used sparingly, because the kids just hook them up to modify one of the nouns they were given, no matter how weird the combination is.  I once ended  up with an entire class writing about turquoise babies and evil pillows.

Nouns and verbs work best.

And I always present an extra challenge, like "include a metaphor" or something,  in order to differentiate instruction a little. 

So the four word might be
1)smoke  2) bridge    3) include   4) suppress

         The best part is that now  my scholars beg me to give them words to include. And none of them is ever “puppy.”

Poetry meatballs to you!


  1. Darlene, what a fun idea! Kids seem to store that outside-the-box thinking and are loathe to bring it back out. I used to (retired:) do a poetry corner. They could either read one of their favorites or one of their own creation. After they lost their inhibitions, more would try their hand at their own poetry and leave Shel or Jack behind. I would, of course, seek out the budding poets and give them preference in our limited time. They would have enjoyed the

  2. Wow! I just discovered what Fun in First Grade was talking about with the Robots thing. She suggested I might want to turn it off because I'd get a lot more comments if they didn't have to prove they're not a robot. Also, to finish my last comment (it froze)... They would have enjoyed the "wonder words" (I wonder how they'll use them?). Send me an email if you'd like to know how to turn the robot off. Kranz.p54@gmail.com

  3. Thank you! And thanks for your help with the robot!

  4. Great idea - I"m going to try it! Do you think it will work with 3rd graders? Sadly our last poetry lesson was on rhyming couplets (sigh) so we had LOTS of "guppy puppies" (well not really but it was almost as bad!) I was so traumatized that we haven't done any poetry since :) Love your blog title and explanation of it too. I'll be checking in frequently.
    Lynn FunintheFours

  5. Hi Lynn! Thank you for the kind words! I think it might work for 3rd grade,but you might want to cut it back to 3 words that aren't too "cutesy." If you try it,I'd love to know how the poems turn out;I hope they don't make you want to shout!(I can't rhyme well either!)
    Take care,

  6. Love teaching poetry! We just finished out poetry unit, an I always throw in an "Inspired By" poem. The kids borrow a format from a poem we read. For example, they create an extended metaphor poem like "Hope is a Thing with Feathers" by Dickinson. They choose an emotion, an animal, and build a comparison. My kids come up with great ideas. Thanks for sharing your idea. Caitlin (www.the-room-mom.com)

  7. Hi Caitlin!
    I love your idea! I bet the kids do a great job with it! I'm going on over to your site right now!
    Best, Darlene