Reading and Writing in a Winter Wonderland

Hello!  I'm so happy to join this fine group of educators to share the love of winter reading.  If you know anything about me, you know I can't talk about reading without talking about writing.  In this post, I'll briefly demonstrate how to use poetry as a context for: engaging repeated readings (a new, exciting, multi-modal strategy), inspiring poetry writing, and teaching grammar.  The strategies are universal and can be used with any poetry you love.  Today, I'm using Douglas Florian's Winter Eyes as a mentor text.

 I love Douglas Florian's poetry. Winter Eyes  contains forty delightful poems covering varied winter topics students will easily relate to.  For example, examine "What I Love About Winter" and contrast it with "What I Hate About Winter."  Florian's amazing ability to spin a rhyme coupled with his charming watercolors will keep students' interest levels high.  

It's fascinating to realize the range of topics, big and small, one might explore all around the theme of 'winter.'  Poems like "Winter Borrows" teach about a variety of hibernating animals: 
 'Beneath the pond a sleeping frog
Recalls she was a polliwog
Once wiggling wild beside a log...'

Ever thought about "The Winter Sun?"  Florian has:
'The winter sun's a grumpy guy.
He scarcely gets to see the sky.
He doesn't speak.  His rays are weak...'

Popular, more typical topics are also included:
'First you budge 
and slowly trudge
your sled to the top and then
you speed 
you sail
you whiz
you wail
and start 
all over again." 
What fun to read the words as they climb a hill then sail down again in Florian's painting! 
I've created a packet outlining how to use Florian's enchanting poems (or any poems) to accomplish the three goals mentioned above.  Each strategy is explained in greater detail there, but I'll summarize below.  Please note:  This product will only be FREE to download for one week from today (11/27-12/4/15).  

First, as I'm sure you know, multiple rereadings of poetry has been proven by research to increase students' fluency.  How about a new way to engage students in these rereadings?  Try "Poetic Mini-Dramas:"

Students use their upper bodies, arms and hands, facial expressions, and voice to ‘act out’ a poem we’ve enjoyed through shared reading (we decide on the movements we’ll use to act out the poem together). The children receive their own copies which they put in their laps if they're seated on the floor or on their desks if seated there.  The students LOVE this kinesthetic approach to rereading poetry.

To get a better idea of this strategy, you can watch a 14 second video of a second grader doing a very short poetic mini-drama here!  Do note the JOY on this kiddo's face!
Here is an example from Winter Eyes:
‘Figure 8’   (Page 45)

“In wintertime (action: cross arms across chest, shiver as if very cold)

I love to skate (action:  make heart symbol by cupping fingers & thumbs to make a heart)

a great gigantic figure eight.”  (action:  put hands together flat and move them in a figure eight)

Poetic Mini-Dramas are not only great fun, but they are excellent vocabulary builders since students act out a variety of new and interesting words.  Additionally, if you have students perform a few along with reading poetry they've written, you have a simple, yet entertaining, program for families to enjoy!

Second, inspire students to write their own poetry by lifting a line, a sentence (or two) or a phrase from a poem.  Students simply write 'off of' this starting point.  Of course, this works best if you model it several times first while thinking aloud about your process.  An additional scaffold is to write several such poems together as a class.
Here is a student-written example from Winter Eyes:
‘What I Hate About Winter’   (Page 12)

Borrowed phrase:  “Sloppy slush”

Third, teach simple grammar by engaging in a variety of sentence play using lines or phrases from poetry.  You can always make up the language pieces you want students to use, rather than lifting them from a context, but I find it very meaningful and engaging for students to compare their sentences with the language the original author used in a poem.  I engage my students in: sentence completion, sentence rearranging, sentence mash-ups, and sentence expansion.  I model, then we take on these sentence challenges together as a class or with buddies.  The work is very interactive.

Here is an example of just one of these (sentence completion) from Winter Eyes:
From page 24:  “Freshly fallen snow _________________"  

Possible student response:

· “Freshly fallen snow covers the rooftops.” 

Possible Feedback:  “Yes, the noun ‘snow’ and the verb ‘covers’ work.  We couldn’t say ’Freshly fallen snow cover the rooftops,’ could we?  That doesn’t sound right.  Snow is one thing, so the verb needs the letter ’s’ if we’re talking about something happening right now in the present.  Like, a sled slides (one sled is sliding right now), a snowball flies, etc.  (Note: as you read, you could collect additional examples of this on a poster or in a notebook).  Now, let’s read to see how Douglas Florian used the phrase ‘freshly fallen snow’ in the poem ‘Winter Tracks!’  
 (Note:  If appropriate for your students, you can look for examples in the poem of the teaching point you made during the sentence completion exercise.  For example, the last line of this poem reads, “Inside a cubbyhole they spill.”  Point out how ‘they’ is more than one so the verb ‘spill’ does not have the ‘s.’  “Inside a cubbyhole they spills.” wouldn’t sound right, would it?  Additionally, if you’re working with older students or you’ve covered parts of speech with your kiddos, you could also ask them to read the poem again and determine what noun the pronoun ‘they’ represents.)
Students have a great time, AND, they're learning grammar without torture!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  It's 1:00 AM my time, and I'm worn out.  I do so love thinking about reading, writing and teaching with poetry, though.  I hope you find these ideas exciting and helpful.  By the way, I was supposed to use a 'mystery word' in my post--it's not a mystery, but here it is: scarf.  Stay warm & have fun checking out the other great posts and products!  -Janiel
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  1. Thanks so much for linking up and sharing your great ideas! I too love using poetry in the classroom for so many purposes.

    1. Thanks for checking it out, Carla! Yep, a little poetry can go a long way. Heading over to your blog now. :)

  2. I love reading and writing poetry with my students. This is a great mentor text to add to my poetry collection. Thanks for the awesome freebie full of ideas to use with this book!

    1. Hey Jonelle, This is only one book in a series of 4 he did on the seasons. They are all wonderful--picture is in the freebie!
      Have a happy day! Thanks for coming by!

  3. Thanks for sharing such detailed ideas and the poetry mentor text. It's nice to hear about some lesser known poets and authors in this hop!

    Literacy Spark

  4. You are very welcome, Jessica! I'm excited to share the great strategies as well as the great text. Going to check yours out now!

  5. I love using poetry throughout the year in my classroom. Thanks so much for the winter poem freebies. I will have to check out this book to add to my collection.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. I also love using poetry--so many learning opportunities in a small, engaging context!

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  7. Great tips and very easy to understand. This will definitely be very useful for me when I get a chance to start my blog. buy an assignment


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