Immersing Ourselves in Poems with a POETRY FLOOD

Last Wednesday and Thursday, my students engaged in a “poetry flood”, a gallery walk designed to give students to immerse themselves in 50 different poems.  The activity design was fairly simple:

  1.  I chose close to 50 unique poems of varying styles, poets, topics, and time periods for students to browse and read.
  2.  During the poetry flood, students walked about quietly and read poems.  As they came across ones of interest that they liked or enjoyed or thought would be a good choice for their poetry project, they jotted down the poem title and author.  I do play soft music through the overhead projector/ceiling speakers during the gallery walk; this selection is one of my favs for the 2018-19 school year!
  3. Students could revisit and re-read the poems at any time, including the online voting.
  4. The activity took two class periods; our first day was a bit short since we were on a modified afternoon schedule due to state testing.  We completed the flood on Day 2 and did our online voting so that I could have time to compile the responses and have enough copies of the poems for each student in each class.
  5. Once they completed their reading (roughly 20-25 minutes for most), they went online to a Google Form in our Canvas course and voted for their top three poem choices and explained each choice.  They also voted for whether they wanted to do a FSLL poster or Sketchnoted Poetry Analysis for their project; we reviewed project options and requirements Wednesday and Thursday.  Students turned in the hard copy of their “poetry flood” notetaking/jot sheet form once they finished voting.  You can see a breakdown of project choices below.

5.  Note:  I definitely recommend using Google Forms to collect student votes so you can download responses into a spreadsheet and quickly sort the top choices and give students one of their top three choices while avoiding replication of poems within a class period for project work.  Click here to see a PDF version of my form.  I actually downloaded one master spreadsheet and then did some cut/paste to separate into my four different class sections to make voting easier.

Below are videos and photos to help you see our poetry flood unfolded over two days:

{Note:  please pardon the mess with items covered up to preserve our testing environment in my classroom last week and the week before!}

With the exception of my first period class (I did not get to see them Thursday because of our testing schedule, so they picked up on Friday with completing the poetry flood), my other three classes received their poems on Friday.  I made copies on neon paper, and we spent most of the period annotating the poems.  Each student was required to do five high quality annotations and could use their poetry terms and FSLL question stems (install this font for the download to format correctly) to nudge their thinking.

Once they finished the first round of annotations, students showed me their work and we conferenced for next steps to polish or finalize their annotations.  Most needed a 2nd pass at going beyond some connecting and summarizing of stanzas and a little coaching to help them focus on some literary or poetic elements.   In addition, I encouraged some students to further elaborate on their notes if that was needed.  The majority of students responded really well to the conferences and set about their work in a positive and earnest manner.  I was quite impressed with their efforts, especially with the final product after our annotation conferences.

Those who finished their annotation work a little early used scratch paper to begin planning a mockup and notes for their project.  We’ll actually craft the posters on Thursday and Friday of this week.

Given our limitations of time with the two week state testing session that just ended plus end of the year events, I feel these activities are a meaningful way to give my students a personal and positive experience with poetry at the end of the year.  What kinds of activities do you like to do to immerse students in poetry?  What are your favorite poetry projects, especially when time is short?

Finding a Path into Poetry with Annotations, FSLL Charts, and Poetry Chats

Last week  (April 17) we began our exploration of poetry with an inquiry-oriented warm-up.  I presented students two documents:

  • An annotated copy of “Alone” by Maya Angelou (annotations by me)
  • A FSLL (Feelings, Story, Language, and Lines) that I had completed for “Alone” by Maya Angelou.

Students could work alone or with a partner to record their noticings about the annotation strategies evident on the poem; they also recorded their noticings about the kinds of elements discussed in the FSLL chart.   They also got to talk about any overalap they saw between the two.  Once students had recorded these noticings, we shared out to the whole class.

The next day, we engaged in a class reading of “Every Day” by Naomi Shihab Nye; this poem is part of a collection in her book A Maze Me:  Poems for Girls, a longtime favorite of mine.  Students practiced annotation the poem and working on their FSLL charts for the “Every Day”; students also had the opportunity to share their work with a partner.

My two “accelerated” classes also had the opportunity to complete a sticky note lit analysis jigsaw by finding two metaphors and one symbol in the poem.  Students had the opportunity to identify the literary element, draw a sketchnote to represent what they saw in their minds when they read those lines, and to write a short explanation of the literary element and how it contributed to the overall message or meaning of the poem.

This past week we engaged in poetry chats to generate conversation and share our thinking about the poem.  I did two variations of the poetry chat:  one version was set up like a timed station rotation, and the other was structured more like table talk with a large class share.

With the station rotation version, we did timed stations in which students wrote their responses on butcher paper.  This pretty much took the entire class period and is a great option when you have the luxury of time.  On Day 2, each group was assigned the task of reading over the responses and generating a 3-2-1 reflection to share with the whole class:

Students received a performance assessment grade for their poster presentation and a separate grade for the written poster (content, response to the writing/thinking directions).

A quicker version that is also meaningful is to assign a question prompt to each table group and let them brainstorm their responses on a large sticky note to to then share out to the whole class.  Though they don’t get the benefit of the silent “write around” and seeing the thinking of an entire class like the longer version,  this version still engages student in teamwork and critical though as well as an opportunity to speak to the entire class.  I used the same prompts for both variations of poetry chat, and I also provided supporting notes on any literary elements I felt might be helpful for students.  You will note my question prompts say “silent” because originally I had planned for each class to do the silent write-around part first, but as many of you know, time is at a premium right now, and I was not able to do it with three sections due to time constraints.

We are on the eve of state Milestones testing here, but we’ll continue to read poems and analyze them using the FSLL strategies/question prompts to annotate and think about poems.  Our next steps will be to take our charts to the next level with 11×17 posters, so stay tuned for a new post on that in May!

Building Community with Collaborative Class “Where We’re From” Poems

This year I wanted to start the school year with an activity that infused reading, writing, and critical thinking while building classroom community and some personal connections.  Inspired by an Instagram post from the Ohio Writing Project at Miami University, I decided to work with my students to craft a collaborative “Where I’m From” class poem from each of my four sections of 8th Language Arts at Chestatee Academy.

We began by looking at a mentor text; for two of my classes, we used the original “Where I’m From” poem by George Ella Lyon; for two of my other sections, I used student created poems.  We gathered at the carpet in the front of the room and I did a read aloud of the mentor text poem for students as I projected it on the board.

Next, I asked students to look at the poem individually and record his/her noticings in their notebooks using the following chart as a guide:

Students took about 10-12 minutes to record their noticings.  We then had a large group share out and discussion of what we noticed as a class.

Next, students participated in a gallery walk of 10 additional mentor “Where I’m From” poem texts by middle and high school writers.  I gathered my mentor texts from here and here; after printing and number the poems, I placed them in my ever faithful neon pouch holders and hung them on small hooks around the room.   Students were instructed to participate in the gallery walk quietly as they:

  1. Read each poem closely and carefully.
  2. Recorded any three favorite sentences from the poems into their literacy notebook.  Students could record more than four, but our goal was to collect at least three mentor text sentences we loved that we could use as inspiration for writing our own lines/sentences.



Once we had completed the gallery walk, students worked independently to draft their three very best sentences that they felt best represented themselves.  Students could use the mentor sentences they had copied into their notebooks as a template; they could also free-write or do a combination of both techniques.    After completing our drafts, we did some variations of peer feedback using the praise/question/polish technique, a strategy I learned from fellow teacher Glenn Rhoades last year.  Fortunately, I had plenty of PQP slips leftover from last year to use with my students.  I was sure to take time and model/explain each part of the PQP feedback process.


Once students had received peer feedback from at least two classmates, they completed any revisions they felt were needed and then drafted the sentence onto a neon sentence strip.  Once students were satisfied with their work, they traced over their draft with a black or blue Sharpie.

This activity gave provided the following:

  • Students got to deconstruct a text together in a “safe” space.  Looking at text structure is something we will do regularly all year, so I was happy to begin with this practice in a meaningful context.
  • Students got to participate in a gallery walk, one of my favorite active learning strategies.
  • Students got to choose their own mentor texts; in this case, favorite lines/sentences for their own writing.
  • Students were using their literacy notebooks.
  • Students had opportunities to draft, engage in accessible peer feedback, and revise.

In addition, this activity that took place over 2.5 class periods served as a series of formative assessments as I observed and listened to student participation/thinking and read their drafts.

I also incorporated a writing reflection activity to help us think about the power of story and how stories don’t necessarily come from a book:

Here are the finished products that I put together Friday afternoon; students will get to enjoy the collaborative class poems this week!

Remembering Mama: “A Dandelion for My Mother”–Poetry as Solace

Four years ago today, I lost my beloved mother to stage four pancreatic cancer.  She was my best friend, my confidant, my cheerleader, and my heroine.  As always, I find poetry a source of solace, and today I discovered one of the most gorgeous poems I’ve ever read that is fitting for today as I reflect on our love, our times together, and the void her passing has left in my life.  “A Dandelion for My Mother” is written by Jean Nordhaus, mother of one of my favorite nonfiction writers, Hannah Nordhaus.  I hope you will take time to read the words in this poignant and incredibly beautiful poem.


Visual Notetaking and Analysis of Poetry with Sketchnoting

Throughout this school year, I have been using sketchnoting as a medium for helping students craft visual notes and share their closer reading of a text.  Whether sketchnoting smaller chunks of a text or lengthier excerpts, I usually provide students some scaffolding for thinking about their sketchnote designs by giving them steps or talking points of ideas they may want to incorporate into their sketchnote design.

Students just completed a unit project on Dickinson and Whitman in which sketchnoting a poem by one or both of these poets was an option in the project learning contract.   Like all of their other creative product options, I provided a working “checklist” of ideas for designing their visual notes and analysis of a Dickinson or Whitman poem of their choice:

Our “Sketchnote Center” referenced in the support document was a collection of exemplary sketchnotes students had created last semester, and these served as “mentor texts” to inspire student thinking.  The “FSLL” method mentioned in the document is a strategy for poetry analysis I found in the summer of 2016 from a fellow teacher in this Facebook group.  I will compose a separate blog post on the FSLL strategy soon.

Here is an initial sampler of student work:

Supplies I provided students included:

  • 11X17 paper (plain white as well as pastel colored sheets)
  • Assorted colors of Sharpies
  • Magic Markers
  • Colored Pencils
  • Copies of the poems they wanted to sketchnote (I did printing upon demand for students)

Two of my classes were able to participate in a gallery walk in which we set up stations for students to view and provide feedback on the creative products (sketchnotes were one choice on a menu of possibilities)  that students created for their projects (students had the choice to work alone or with a partner on the project).  Of these two classes, some students in one section crafted “commercials” to pitch their project and orient their peers using the Seesaw app.

And here are some scenes from our project gallery walk (another blog post forthcoming soon) we did in our media center last week:



If you want to learn more about sketchnoting, these resources are my starting points, and I think you’ll find them helpful as well!

Last but not least, the video recording of Shawna and Tanny’s presentation:

Tanny has been such a wonderful supporter of my work with my students this academic school year, and I am thrilled to share that I will be presenting at ILA (International Literacy Association) 2018 in Austin, Texas with the amazing Tanny McGregor and Paula Bourque! Our hands-on workshop is “It’s Sketchy! Visual Notetaking for Every Classroom” and will take place this July. I’ll post more information once I know our session date and time. I am truly honored to be presenting with these two incredible literacy educators. You can learn more about the conference here.

Are you sketchnoting with your students?  If so, I’d love to hear about what you are doing!