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Summer Writing Sure to Get Those Pens Moving: Spontaneous Poetry and Digital Journaling

Summer Writing Ideas Sure to Get Your Students Writing:  Spontaneous Poetry and Digital Journaling!

     I’m joining The Reading Crew for a month of insightful literacy posts during May.  This post will focus on a few of my favorite ideas for summer writing.  We all know about the ‘summer slide,’ wherein students’ proficiencies in reading go backwards because they don’t read enough over the break.  There are many resources available suggesting ways to boost reading over the summer, but thinking of how one might boost students’ writing is also worthwhile.  The more writing they do, the more their literacy skills and attitudes will be positively impacted, thus lessening  the effect of the summer slide.   

Spontaneous Poetry

     My last post was about the powerful effects of including poetry across the curriculum all year long.  I will be returning to this subject, as promised, with more specific instructional strategies.  However, today I’d like to share a particular strategy you can easily start now that can carry students into the summer with more impetus for poetry writing.  I call it “Spontaneous Poetry.”  Here’s how it works.  Something happens in the classroom, on the playground, in the lunchroom, in the gym, etc… a bee buzzes in the window, the bottom of the slide is invaded by ants, the lunch ladies serve a mystery dish, the whole class makes it to the top of the rope climb…whatever—good, bad, inspiring, depressing, frustrating, joyous.  I say, “This is a great time for some spontaneous poetry.” And, if the event occurred in the classroom, we drop everything and write!  Using the shared writing technique (I use chart paper, the document camera, or a word document projected on screen), I have students talk about what happened, what they thought of it, what words came to mind.  I listen in and record some of the key words I’m hearing as they talk together.  For example, once when a bee buzzed into a 5th grade classroom, I recorded this talk:

I hate bees!
Watch out!
It came at Larry
Hit the floor.
Open window
Nature’s surprise
Didn’t sting
Bee wimps

     I then asked students to “phrase around” some of these words…what can be added for detail?  What images do you want to create?  For example, what about “buzz?”  What happened when we heard the buzz?  What did it sound like?  What did you think about? Where did it come from?  Playing with the words and phrases can sometimes go very quickly, other times, we get stuck and come back to the poem another day, sometimes, we leave it unfinished for students to work on if they choose.  This 5th grade ‘bee’ cooperative effort took about ten minutes and ended up like this:
Bee Wimps
Buzzzzz, the sound froze us in our tracks!
In it flew, the treacherous bee
Prisoners in our own classroom.
The fly by—right over Larry’s desk
And he hit the floor.
All this from an open window
Trying to get cool air
Nature came in…
Not what we were expecting
But, out it flew
Stinging no one
Leaving behind
wide-eyed bee wimps.

     I think the students learned something about themselves that day!  More importantly they learned anything can inspire poetry and anytime can be a good time to stop, record some key words or phrases, play with them, and see what develops.  It’s a great deal of fun. 

     Here’s another example, one that happened in my second grade classroom and that I wrote about in my picture book Stella: Poet Extraordinaire.  The event: a simple overturning of a desk.  When it happened a student shouted out, "Let's write about it!"  That's what I love to hear.  The spontaneous poem that resulted—quite a masterpiece!  (Even though we co-wrote the poem, we discussed how we were writing from Tineka's point-of-view.  Great lesson!)
Summer Writing Ideas Sure to Get Your Students Writing:  Spontaneous Poetry and Digital Journaling!
Used with permission from SDE:  Staff Development for Educators

     Once a class and I have had some experience with spontaneous poetry, students start pointing out when something happens that we could quickly try jotting about, just like above.  They love it!  Then, they start to own the technique and use it independently or with a partner—sometimes feeling great about what they’ve penned, thrilled to share, other times discarding their efforts or placing them aside, knowing that’s what writers do. 

     If you start this technique now, writing even just a few spontaneous poems before the school year is out, you’ll give students a simple technique they can use all summer.  Invite them to come back next year and show your their collection!

Side note:  Spontaneous Poetry Across the Curriculum

     I’ve even used spontaneous poetry across the curriculum and for reading response.  For instance, once some fourth graders and I were studying the life of Louis Braille.  When we read about the accident he had with the awl in his father’s wood working shop when he was three, I asked students to take out their “Think Pads” and jot down their reactions.  Sometimes the response comes out poetically, since I model this frequently.  One student wrote:

“At three
A slip of the hand
A sharp tool
Shaped a life of blindness
Destined to open the eyes of others.”

One More Summer Writing Idea:  The Digital Journal

     The other idea I’d like to share today is that of a digital journal.  I wrote about something similar as a summer writing technique last June (that post includes a resource you can download including a list of "Summer Writer's Notebook Reminders.")  Now that students are spending more and more time on digital devices, I thought about inviting them to keep a digital journal starting with something as easy as taking pictures and captioning them.
Since they love taking pictures and spend so much time on related apps, this idea could ease them into the process then lead them to write more.

     For example, my family and I went to an animal fair this weekend.  My son enjoyed interacting with the animals, and, thinking ahead to summer, I had him use some of the photos to start a digital journal.  He’s using the app "Pages" on his Ipad so he can continue to add to the running document all summer. He's just getting started and his captions are short, but I'm sure this idea will inspire him and he'll write up a storm.

Here as an example:
Summer Writing Ideas Sure to Get Your Students Writing:  Spontaneous Poetry and Digital Journaling!
"Too cute to be true. I wuv bunnies!"

     Keep in mind, a second person doesn’t have to be involved, taking the picture of the student, that is.  Rather, the student can just take any photos and caption them in a running log, hopefully leading to more writing or perhaps becoming the inspiration for another writing project.  The idea is to capitalize on what they already love, yet turn it into something more--more writing, more reflecting, more noticing, more literacy.

     As always, I welcome your comments!  Thanks for visiting my blog. 

    Below, you see the links to the other Reading Crew's May literacy posts!  Enjoy!  #Happysummerwriting

The End of Poetry Month? Nah...Think "Poetry Year!"

Blog post featuring video:  Why we should include poetry writing in our classrooms all year.


     There are so many advantages to including poetry in our students’ lives and for augmenting the curriculum, I can’t imagine only thinking about it during poetry month.  I’ve seen how starting the year with poetry can free students to find their voices, explore new topics, and gain confidence in putting their pencils to paper. They like that poems can be very short yet powerful, as well as free of rules or formulas to follow.  One of my favorite aspects of poetry writing is when students surprise themselves by what they’ve written.  Experiencing this hooks writers.  More opportunity to write poetry means more opportunity for a wonderful writerly-life changing event like this to occur.  And, boy, do we celebrate those along with all the little lines and phrases that make up our poetry triumphs.

     A second grade student I had years ago was surprised by how her words coalesced after a brief poetry walk we took outside on the first day of really cold temperatures (see below).  She was delighted with the images she painted with her words and the students and I were equally so.  After this experience, she couldn’t stop experimenting with the genre the rest of the year.  I’m proud to say this has happened to many of my student-poets. 
Blog post featuring video:  Why we should include poetry writing in our classrooms all year.

 In the winter
I can see my breath
and if I blow hard enough
it goes beckoning over the hills
into the snow covered valleys.

     Now more than ever, given the major emphasis on academic writing in our schools, students need a place for poetry in their lives:  a place where they can freely experiment with words, thoughts, feelings.  If you’ve done enough poetry writing, you’ve undoubtedly witnessed how students can work through troubling or confusing times in their lives by mulling them through on paper.  Suzanne, a previous student of mine, had a sister who was very sick with cancer.  Naturally, taking care of her consumed all of the family members’ lives.  Sadly, the sister died during the school year.  Suzanne's mother came to me at the end of the year to tell me she felt Suzanne dealt with the trauma better than any of the other five children in the family.  She attributed this to all the writing she had done about her sister during the school year.  I’ve never forgotten this lesson.  Poetry is a reflective gift we can give students with benefits beyond what we might imagine. 

Blog post featuring video:  Why we should include poetry writing in our classrooms all year.

     Here is a link to a brief video which features my picture book ‘Stella:  Poet Extraordinaire.’  As you watch, note the many ways poetry is infused into students’ experiences all year long.  I’m planning to blog more about how poetry writing can be used to solidify learning across the curriculum, since I only mention this briefly in the video.  Stay tuned!

    Additionally, here is a link to a post I wrote awhile back about three ways to use poetry for three different purposes.  If you'd like a copy of the more detailed work I created, feel free to email me at janielwag@hotmail.com and I'll be happy to send it.

As always, #happywriting!

Announcing: The Official Stella Writes Trailer Featuring 'Stella Writes An Opinion'

If you follow my blog, you already know about Stella Writes.  What you don’t know is SDE and I have been working to create a Stella book trailer.  And, here it is!  It's delightful to see Stella in all her animated glory!  

Naturally, SDE and I hope the book trailer will serve to spread the word about Stella much further.  We want more teachers to get a sense of what these unique resources have to offer student writers-- how they can lift their motivation and help them develop competence and confidence for each text type via the engaging modality of a picture book.  We hope more teachers and students will fall in love with and want to work alongside our writer-extraordinaire:  Stella!

Please help me spread the word by sharing the link to the trailer with anyone you know who teaches young writers (K-4).  Thank you so much!

An Informative Writing Process YOU Can Teach

Video and blog post on an effective way to teach informative writing K-5
Hello!  I'm thrilled to share this next video with you.  In it, I describe the process I often use to write informative texts with K-5 students.  Though I use my book Stella and Class:  Information Experts to talk through this process, you don't need a copy of the book to benefit.

The four minute video briefly touches on:
  • how I stimulate questioning for informative writing
  • how to keep students focused on specific questions
  • how to chunk the task of investigating questions using sticky notes
  • how to use internet resources to clarify information and spark more thinking
  • how shared writing can be used to develop texts
  • how mentor texts can be used to push pass spots where students are stuck
  • how important it is to keep in mind that the shared work we do with students is aimed at moving them toward independence as writers

Welcome to Book Clubs! Lunchtime Discussions to Build Reading Motivation

Blog post on Book Clubs designed to build school reading community and students' intrinsic motivation to read.  Includes download of bookmark with options students can use to prepare for discussions.
Here's another technique we're using to build our school's reading climate and students' intrinsic motivation to read.  Like digital book commercials, we're expecting to see and hear students' excitement rise along with their spontaneous talk about books!

This week, we're beginning book clubs.  These aren't your ordinary, everyday book clubs, they are SPECIAL because students will be invited to attend during their lunch periods!  We're visiting classrooms (the principal, vice-principal, me (literacy coach), and the librarian) doing short book talks on hand-picked titles, asking students to sign up to read and discuss great books.  We're beginning with twelve copies of the titles listed below.  If we don't have enough students sign up from one class, we'll include another class.  If we have too many takers, we'll put names in a hat to draw out for the first club, then include those who were not drawn in the second round.  
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