Stirring the Senses – Part 2

Last week, I planned a winter sensory poetry lesson for out 2nd graders.  I decided to start with a slideshow of winter photographs and then brainstorm words that they might use in their poems. My goal was to quickly set them off to write so they’d have plenty of time to compose their poems and share them.

This week, I executed my plan.  As I presented the slideshow, the girls looked intently at the photographs, which were a mix of nature scenes and people and animals in the snow. After watching silently, they shared their ideas as I wrote them down.  We were collecting sensory words from what we had seen in the photos.  The words would act as a jumping off point to create images for their poems.

Before they began to write, they asked some questions.  One girl asked if she could use rhymes and I nodded my head.  She sparked an idea in my head because I don’t normally compose rhyming poems.  Since I always write when the children write, I decided to challenge myself and write a rhyming sensory poem. I think it is an important part of the writing process for children to see adults writing alongside children.  I made sure the girls were all actively thinking and writing, and then I sat down with my own ideas. One student came over to see what I was writing, but I quickly redirected her to her own writing and told her that I would share at the end of class.

As the children wrote, I circled the room looking at their poetry and making observations that I thought would nudge their writing further.

  • That’s an interesting idea! You’re making an acrostic.
  • Wow! You are using such strong verbs.
  • Oh, you are including lots of sound words.
  • Like each child, like each snowflake, each poem was different, exquisite in its creation.  They took their experiences of snow and thought about how it looked, smelled, sounded, tasted, and felt. They thought hard, they experimented with words, and they formed meaning to share with others.  This time to play is necessary and important for writers. It connected what they have been reading, to what they have experienced, to what they have learned about composing a poem.

2nd Grade Poets: Stirring the Senses

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.