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


  1. I love these ideas. I especially like the spontaneous poetry. Poetry usually intimates my students but that is such a fun way to work on poetry! Thanks for sharing! ~Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa, I'm so glad you found this post helpful! Poetry is such a great way to free students to have some fun with writing. I wish you and your poets the best! -Janiel

  2. Thank you very much for sharing the better idea for summer writing to make us able to have all things managed before the competition starts.
    Emma Charlotte |

    1. Hi Emma,
      Glad to hear you think this post will inspire some summer writing!

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