write around

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!

Using the Write-Around Structure as a Collaborative Anticipation Guide

Those of you who have followed my work in the past five years know I am a huge fan of Harvey Daniels’ written conversation strategies.  Today I decided to take anticipation guide prompts/quotes and incorporate them into a write-around with my 12th ELA Honors seniors as a fun way to kick off our first day back from winter break plus introduce some of the major themes of Macbeth focused on power, tyranny, and ambition.  Because I have not taught Macbeth nearly ten years, I used this wonderful set of thought-provoking quotes  as my “prompts” for the write-around.

I printed and taped my quotes into my handy manuscript tablets and then placed them on tables and table groups around the room; there were ten stations in all.  I then introduced the concept of a write-around to my students and reviewed the protocols with them:

Once we reviewed the procedures, students wrote silently and made approximately three passes at every station for about 23-25 minutes.






I then assigned groups of 2 and 3 students to each station.  Each pair or group of three had these six questions to answer:

  • Step 1: What do you and your group members think the statement/quote means?
  • Step 2: Do you and your group members agree or disagree with the quote? Why? If you cannot come to an agreement, record each group member’s response.
  • Step 3: Look at all the responses at your station. If you had to categorize or summarize them into three categories, what would they be?


  • Step 4: What is the most interesting response written at your station? Why?
  • Step 5: What is one question your group has about the quote?
  • Step 6: What is one connection you and group can make between this quote and either modern society/current events or something you have studied or read about?


Students took about 15 minutes to discuss and record their responses to these six questions with their partner or partners.  We then did a large group share out with each pair or small group presenting their reflections to the entire class.

The activity generated some terrific discussion and was a wonderful “re-entry” into the new semester.  After all groups had presented, each student received a copy of all 10 quotes from the write-around silent conversation stations and then completed individual questions using these prompts:

As we move through the play, we’ll revisit these quotes and periodically reflect on how our interpretations of the statements may change based on the events in Macbeth.  As always, I find the write-around one of the most flexible and meaningful learning structures I’ve used in the last five years and in my 25 years of teaching.    If you are interested or want to learn more, you can read Harvey’s book as well as my extensive series of blog posts that feature how I’ve used the strategies across different learning contexts and subject areas.