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?

Join Us at ILA 2018 for “It’s Sketchy! Visual Notetaking for Every Classroom”

Original graphic created by Tanny McGregor

I am honored to be presenting with Tanny McGregor and Paula Bourque at the 2018 International Literacy Conference in Austin, Texas this July!  If you are attending, please join our fun and interactive two hour workshop on Sunday, July 22 in Room 18B from 4PM-6PM.   This session is geared for classroom teachers, coaches, and administrators who work with students at any grade level!  Here is a quick overview of our workshop:

This will be an interactive and hands-on session in which presenters will first share the compelling research to advocate for the integration of sketchnoting as effective technique for capturing, organizing, and synthesizing information in all content areas. Then we will share samples of our students’ sketchnotes as well as examples of our personal sketchnotes. Participants will then learn the elements of sketchnoting and create their own sketchnotes to represent concepts and ideas shared in the session or for lessons they plan to teach when they return to their classrooms. Our goal is that all participants walk away with a toolkit of techniques and ideas for implementing these visual notetaking strategies immediately and can share the rationale and research to administrators, colleagues, parents, and students.

A year ago this summer,  Tanny inspired me from afar with her work on sketchnoting, and I incorporated it into my classroom this past academic year.  I am so excited and thrilled to present with her and Paula as we share the reasons for sketchnoting in any classroom, any grade, and in any subject area, inquire into real world examples of sketchnoting from our students, and share strategies to take those first steps for integrating sketchnoting into your instruction and learning with students.   Our session will be full of fun, discussion, sharing, and “can do” energy, so please join us if you can!

Creative Formative Assessments of Independent/Choice Reading

As we were winding down our final week before spring break last week, I wanted to give my juniors a way to compose a creative product as a formative assessment of their independent/choice reading.  Students could create the product over:

  • A book they recently finished
  • A current read of an entire book (great for students nearly finished with a book)
  • A chapter or set of chapters of a current read (especially great for students who had just started a new book or were not terribly far into a book)

For my 3B Honors and 4B CP classes, students got to choose from one of the following options below:

  1.  Think in Threes Graphic Organizer
  2.  Found Poetry
  3.  Blackout Poetry
  4. Mari Andrew Art and Writing Playlists
  5. Two Voice Poems
  6. Sketchnote
  7. One Pager (free form or guided with a template and instructions)

As you can see from the photos below, I created “stations” for students to explore the form and finished examples.  In addition, I created instructions with at least one example for every product and placed those in my hanging files (see last two photos) so that students would have plenty of support, especially since most of the products (with the exception of sketchnoting) were new.


For my other three sections of 11th ELA, they all  were assigned the guided one-pager.  This assignment is essentially like a guided sketchnote and is great for students who may need a little more structure for completing a high quality sketchnote.  Many thanks to Betsy at Spark Creativity for offering her take on one-pagers and the resources she provides at no charge!

Though I usually offer choice to every section, this instructional decision was based on the needs of those learners as well as the reality that two of those classes needed extra class/computer lab time to finish an author research assignment we were working on (blog post on that learning activity soon); as a result, we didn’t have as much class time left to complete our creative products as the other sections did.   However, for these classes, offering only one option worked great for these students as they sometimes are overwhelmed by choice and because of our time frame/schedule.  For these classes, examples were provided in my neon pouches that they could take to their work space; they were also posted online in our online learning management system.

As always, I provided students colored pencils, markers, sharpies, and other supplies for their creative work.

While I have a few students who will finish the Monday we return from spring break, many students finished at the end of the week.  The thinking I heard happening out loud and the dialog between students about decisions they were making about their work were rich and reflected a depth of thinking that other kinds of assessments might not capture.   For example, one of my juniors has blown me away with his two voice poem based on Yeonmi Park’s In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom.  For his two voice poem, he decided to focus on the inner conflict Park felt—one voice is the part of her that wants to defect; the other is the side of her that fears defecting and the unknown.

I was quite impressed with the effort and detail of thought many students were demonstrating in their process and design as well as their finished products.  In addition, my heart overflowed with joy observing many students helping their peers and collaborating when someone was struggling with their product.

Below is a gallery of scenes from our work and the first wave of completed products I received.



I will definitely use this type of assessment with students in the future as we continue our independent/choice reading, especially since their in-class formative assessments/reflections are usually written.   I think there is value in both kinds of formative assessments.  However, as you can see from this gallery of products, these creative options give students an alternative way to show their understandings, insights, and engagement with the book they have selected and gives them different options for showing their thinking.

I continue to be thrilled by the response to our independent/choice reading that has been a major part of our classroom lie this semester.  I hope to finally get a post completed to update you on what that has looked like in terms of structure and time as well as insights from students with their reading goals and self-assessment as well as our weekly formative assessments.

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!