Tag Archives: writing

Tried and True – Parallel Poetry

an example of Parallel Poetry done by one of my 4th grade students
an example of Parallel Poetry done by one of my 4th grade students

On this blog, I tend to post about a lot of ideas that I find, and some readers don’t always get a chance to know if I ever tried them – or if they were complete flops.  This week, I want to feature a few past ideas that I did try and that were successful – and that I definitely want to do again.

If you teach a poetry unit, I strongly urge you to check out this post that I did on Parallel Poetry.  It has definitely been one of my “Tried and True” lessons throughout the years for me, and I am always delighted by the results from my students.  I felt so strongly about the power of this activity that I submitted it to Ian Byrd for his Byrdseed TV.  (You need a subscription to view the full lesson.)

While we are talking about poetry, I would also direct you to Newspaper Blackout Poetry if you have never tried it.  This past year was our first attempt, and I definitely plan to do it again.

Newspaper Blackout Poems

A newspaper blackout poem by Austin Kleon
A newspaper blackout poem by Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, also has a book called Newspaper Blackout.  He recently participated in a Twitter chat, #edbookchat, co-moderated by Chris Couch (@the_explicator), which found its way into my Twitter stream.  Austin, who lives in Austin (fancy that!), has posted some of his poetry on his blog here. He creates one of these each day, and posts them on Instagram.  I find this method of creating poems so intriguing.  To take a piece of writing that is meant to be informative and light on figurative language, and make it into a work of art that speaks deeply and lyrically really appeals to my appreciation for irony, I suppose.  I want to try this with my students, but I’m still working out the logistics (which grade levels, how much to scaffold, etc…)  And then there’s the newspaper.  Do I limit it to certain sections and/or articles?  Or maybe I should start with a Scholastic Weekly Reader, or a website, or a picture on the iPad of a textbook page.  So many possibilities!

Regardless of the educational implications, it’s Phun Phriday, so you don’t have to stick this in a lesson plan.  Just read, and appreciate the talent of Austin Kleon!

(Strangely, right after I saved my draft of this post, I saw a tweet from @PrincipalOgg about a great writing blog.  I followed the link, and found a recent post on “Erasure Poetry.”  I highly recommend you visit “Two Writing Teachers” for some more awesome ideas!)

UPDATE:  After this post was shared on Twitter, Mr. Theriault (@davidtedu) shared this link to a Slideshare about creating Novel Blackout Poetry by Sean Ziebarth (@MrZiebarth).  Thanks for the tip, Mr. Theriault!  And, one of my Tweeps, @ArinKress, was inspired to create her own Newspaper Blackout Poem and share it.  The pic is a bit difficult to read, but it says, “Enough with worrying when falling because we all stumble.”  Love it!

Parallel Poetry

I don’t often repeat lessons from one year to the next.  But this has been one of my favorites to use with my 4th grade GT students during my career.  The only change I made this year was to integrate it with some technology lessons on using Google Drive – specifically the Presentations.

In 4th grade, we read Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt, which is rich with wonderful examples of figurative language.  It’s truly one of the most poetic pieces of prose that I have ever read, and I delight in the author’s descriptive phrases each year – though I’ve read it over 14 times.

I’m not sure if it’s the age or the GT-ness of my students, but I always have a high percentage of reluctant writers in 4th grade.  The Found/Parallel Poetry lesson on ReadWriteThink, however, seems to bring out the most amazing ideas from nearly every one.

After going over the figurative language in the story (here is one Haiku Deck lesson we did at the beginning to practice), I ask the students to pick one of their favorite paragraphs from the novel.  They write the paragraph, and then I tell them to take it apart – get rid of extraneous words and punctuation.  Then they “move the words” to create lines that have a rhythm.  The result is their “Found” poem.  You can see an example here from the ReadWriteThink site.

Then, it’s time to create a “Parallel” poem.  Mimicking the rhythm of the “Found” poem, but writing about a completely different topic that is relevant to them, the students compose something in their own words.

Here are some of this year’s examples (Click on each slide to enlarge.):

Plane Ride



If I Lived in a Snow Globe, I Would Wear my Bike Helmet to Bed

Screen shot from BumbleVille
Screen shot from BumbleVille

Earlier this year, I posted about a short video called, “BumbleVille.”  This cute animation would be fun to show your students at this time of year.  You might want to show them part of the film, then stop and ask them what they think is going on.  Chances are they will respond like mine did: “earthquake”, “aliens”, “volcanic eruption”.  You will enjoy their reactions when they find out the true cause – that the characters are inhabitants of a snow globe which just got shaken.

In my first BumbleVille post, I gave some suggestions for incorporating Kaplan’s “Multiple Perspectives” into a lesson using the film.  Since then, I’ve also thought that it might be interesting to think about the “Rules” that might be important for living in such an unpredictable environment:

  • What special rules would they have for buildings in this community?
  • What do they tell the students to do at school when such an event occurs (similar to earthquake or tornado preparedness)?
  • Are there certain objects that should not be allowed in this community?
  • Are there certain actions that should be against the law?

When I first posted BumbleVille, I happened to be reading Not Just Child’s Play, and came across a recommendation in the comments to read The Snow Globe Family, by Jane O’Connor.  This book ties in very well with the BumbleVille video – giving perspectives from both inside and out of the snow globe.  I found this free Snow Globe Family packet on Teachers Pay Teachers by Anita Bremer that asks the students to make a text-to-self connection, which is great.

There are tons of “Snow Globe” resources on the internet – including Pinterest ideas – for crafting your own.  You can create real ones or facsimiles.

If you are interested in a digital version of a snow globe, there is a free app, called “iSnowdome” (available on iTunes only) that allows you to place a photo of your own inside a snow globe, then e-mail the video of it.  (From what I can tell, this is the only app that will e-mail a video instead of just a screen shot.) This could be a cute combo writing/augmented reality project – have students write about what it is like to live in a snow globe, use iSnowdome* to make videos of themselves in the snow globe, and upload the videos to Aurasma Studio with the screen shots as trigger images.  Voila – an interactive, winter-themed bulletin board for your classroom!

*(The iSnowdome video includes an instrumental of a Christmas song in the audio, which some families may not prefer.  You could easily mute that in a video editing program, though.)

BumbleVille from The STUDIO on Vimeo.

Here We Come to Save the Day!

I love how this student posed for his picture!
I love how this student posed for his picture!

My gifted 2nd graders study the theme, “Structures,” and begin the year with animal structures.  I recently saw this fabulous article on Edutopia, “Superhero Science” by Autumn Ware, that inspired me to leverage student interest in superheroes as a route for researching interesting animals.  Experience has taught me that scaffolding is particularly important with these younger students, who have limited exposure to research skills.  So, we started by doing some research together on Jeffrey, the tarantula we have on loan for two weeks.

The students made Thinglinks with their research.  Then we discussed some of Jeffrey’s amazing abilities – throwing barbed hairs at predators, re-growing limbs, using multiple eyes, etc…  I asked them to pretend they had one or more of Jeffrey’s abilities, and to think about how they could use it to help people.  They wrote short stories about their imagined adventures.

Yesterday, while I conferenced with each child about his or her story, the other students worked on their iPads to make themselves into bona fide superheroes.  First, they used the free app, “Superhero Yourself” to take their pictures and add masks, capes, and other accessories.  They saved their pictures.  Then they opened the “Comic Book” app (which we had fortunately downloaded during a limited time period that it was free).  They imported their superhero pictures to a one-panel layout, added the comic effect (from the FX in the top right), a title, and word balloons if they wanted.

Each student seemed very proud of his or her results.  The only glitch in this process was that the free “Superhero Yourself” app saved their pictures with ads at the top and bottom.  But those were easy to crop out once they were saved to the camera roll.

Now the kids have some tools for presenting their information when they research the animals of their choice.  And, now that their imagination has been jumpstarted, they can bypass the iPad completely if they want – drawing themselves as amazing superheroes that only they can create.

Rules of Storytelling

photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection via photopin cc
photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection via photopin cc

I recently saw this article on Boing Boing that shares a tweet from Emma Coates, Pixar’s Story Artist, in which she relates the 22 Rules of Storytelling.  I am regularly trying to encourage my students to do #12:  “Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.”  That rule could apply to many enterprises, not just storytelling.  Perhaps if my students see that it is advice from the studio that produced Up, they will find it more trustworthy!

One of my favorite bloggers, Sonya Terborg, also posted about this list.  The following day, she produced her own, modified, version, called “16 Rules for Sharing Your Story”.  She made an excellent graphic to accompany it.  You can download the PDF here.    I think it would be an excellent poster to put in your classroom, or to print for students to use as a binder or notebook cover.

Storybird (Reblog)

For the summer, I have decided to use my Tuesday and Thursday posts to reblog some of my favorite posts that some of my readers may have missed the first time around:

As a teacher, do you ever have a moment when no one needs your help, and you are standing in the middle of your classroom wondering what you should be doing?  In my twenty years of teaching, I think that’s happened twice:  when I was student teaching and had no idea what I was supposed to be doing anyway, and today.  I showed my students Storybird, which allows you to choose sets of art to illustrate a story that you write.  I meant for it to be a station on some computers in my classroom, but the students who started at that station didn’t want to leave.  So, I started pulling out laptops until everyone was working on their own stories.  For over an hour, there was silence in my room, and every child was engaged in creating his or her own story.  We had been studying Figurative Language, and the assignment was to create a story with a winter theme that used at least 4 different types of figurative language.

After lunch, I thought the students might be weary of sitting in front of computer screens.  I began saying, “Okay, you have a choice.  You can either continue working on your Storybirds or – ” I didn’t even get to finish.  They unanimously agreed that they wanted to continue.

Storybird is free.  Register as a teacher, and you can add a class of students easily.  The students do not need e-mail addresses to register or log in.  You can view their work at any time, and they can also view the work of other students in the class by clicking on a tab at the top.  They can comment, as can the teacher.  It’s online, and easy to share, so they can show friends and family.  The teacher can post specific assignments or the students can just create.  Collaboration on stories is possible, and reading the stories of others is inspiring.  The art work is charming and lovely.

Here is a sample from one of my 4th graders: (I apologize if some of the words are cut off – WordPress does not “play well” with embed codes!)