My colleague and friend asked me to cover one of her 2nd grade writing classes this coming week. I eagerly accepted. I was given two choices: monitor the winter writing assessment or teach a lesson on winter sensory poems. The decision was an easy one for me. Given the choice, I would pick poetry every single time. And poetry with 2nd graders? Nothing could bring more joy!
I have been introducing young children to poetry for many decades, so I jumped at the chance to teach again and this time try a new approach. I spent the weekend thinking about ways to introduce sensory poems, which would engage these small, curious minds. I know that the best plan of action is to speak briefly, make it visual, and step out of the way. Though, I often want to explain and read example after example, I have found that children have poetry squirming inside of them ready to jump out, and all teachers have to do is invite them to think, wonder, play, and create.
To prepare for the lesson, I sat down and thought about how to construct a winter sensory poem. I summoned my beginner’s mind. I thought about the taste of winter. Images swelled up inside me, and I quickly wrote the last stanza first. Since there were four lines in the stanza and five senses, I then knew the format of this poem would be five stanza with a total of twenty lines. I don’t normally write poems thinking of the structure, but this is the way “First Snow” presented itself to me.
First Snow At the edge of the woods Tall trees stand Ina a swaying silhouette Bracing winter winds. Their boughs creak and thrum Creating a winter rasping rhythm Birds stay silent on branches Muffled by their puffed feathers. The clouds are as gray and thick As chimney smoke. The air is frozen-still And smells like snow. Soon snowflakes whirl, Dancing on noses and fingertips Before drifting to the ground. Flake, upon flake, upon flake. A faint taste of salt Is on my cold, cracked lips. I wrap my arms around myself And dream of the sweetness of spring.
Of course, I wouldn’t expect children to work in this way. However, going through the process again like it was my first time, helped me to better understand how to present sensory poetry to the children. And it reminded me that the process of both teaching and writing poetry should not be rigid with formulas and rules. When poetry is presented as play, then children have a much easier time adopting it and making it their own.
My plan was simple. I will set the mood with a slideshow of winter scenes. Then, we will generate a list of words that express the sights of sounds of winter, which I will write on a chart so the children can reference it during poetry construction. And then, I will invite the children to start writing. Mid-workshop, I plan to invite students to read their poems in progress. I think this helps young writers keep the revision process in focus and playful.
As they finish their poems, they will read them to each other, further revise, and finally set their poems down on fresh paper. Since they are 2nd graders, they will want to illustrate their poems. Indeed, I anticipate one or two reluctant poets will need to draw first and then create a poem from their image. As with the first snow of the season, I wait eagerly in anticipation for Tuesday afternoon with our 2nd grade poets.