18 April 2006

Teaching Poetry: Lesson 1

I taught my first poetry class today to a fourth grade class. Ingrid Hansen, my eldest son’s teacher, graciously consented to letting me take a crack at shaping future poets. I think things went over well. They seemed to enjoy themselves, both in listening to poetry and in discussing it. Oh yeah, they also had a great time writing some of their own.

The children filed into the room, each taking turns at the water fountain before sitting down at their respective desks. I resigned to the rocking chair in the corner, so as not to twiddle my thumbs while waiting for the last of them to plop into their chair. Mrs. Hansen introduced me, making sure to clarify that I wanted to go by “Kyle” instead of “Mr. Stich,” or some variation.

I tore to the tall chair and planted my butt so as to appear as a bird perched upon high. That’s when the interrogation began.

“Who likes poetry?”
Half the class raises their hand.

“Who doesn’t like poetry?”
Almost the other half raises their hand.

“Why don’t you like it?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s hard to understand.”

“Name some poets for me.”
Jack Pelutsky
Shel Silverstein
Dr. Seuss
Roald Dahl
(From this list, I informed the kids that these are also some of the first names college students say when asked the same question.)

“Who likes reading poetry or hearing poetry read?”
A majority of the class raises their hands.

“Why do you like hearing poetry?”
More than one said they found it calmed them.

“Who likes writing poetry?”
Less than half the class raises their hands.

“Who wrote at least one poem this year… this month… this week… today?”
Around five hands go up…then three… then two… then one from a kid playing the class clown.

“What do you write about and why?”
The answers varied from a get-well poem for a sick mother to being acceptably inappropriate on a boring day (he claimed the poem wasn’t fit for the classroom.)

I reserved one last question for them, one last question to ask after I’d read them a few poems:
“Picture Puzzle Piece” by Shel Silverstein
“Put Something In” by Shel Silverstein
“Bumblebee Hides” by Joanne Ryder
“Black Snake” by Joanne Ryder
“Galapagos Tortoise” by Alice Schertle
“Sonnet XV” by Shakespeare
“Haiku 7” by Richard Wright
“Haiku 57” by Richard Wright
“The Germ” by Ogden Nash
“l(a” by e.e. cummings

Now the last one threw them for a loop. Initially, I experienced difficulties writing the poem on a large piece of poster board, so I ended up printing them out as a size 170 font. I taped them together with the appropriate spacing then rolled it all together. This made it look like a scroll, and much different than any of the other poems I’d read.

The room stirred to a frenzy when I unfurled “l(a”, and everyone wanted to have a crack at deciphering the poem. One kid actually came pretty close.

Then, I popped the whopper of a question, the question I wanted to ask all class:

“What is poetry? Define it.”
One kid said, “Eminem,” to which I replied his rapping could be considered an “example,” but not a definition.

Another kid modified one of Richard Wright’s haikus and said, “Snake, make up your mind. You’re halfway in the tree and halfway out.” I explained that while probably an example, he could use that as an excellent metaphorical definition.

At this point I had five minutes left of the half hour I was allotted. So, I had the kids take out a piece of paper and think of something from nature to write a poem about. I told them I would write about the Canadian geese that had a nest next to the lovely pond down Siskiyou Blvd.

Most of them finished in no time and handed them into me for comments. I glanced over most and was pleasantly surprised at the results. One student even attempted a cummings style piece.

Thursday, I will continue to work with the kids, and hopefully we will have some nice weather. I’d like to get them out into this circular bench seating circled by oaks. Then I’ll feel a touch like Henry David Thoreau or even Socrates.

This poetry module continues every Tuesday and Thursday for the next four weeks. I shall report each session on this blog, and maybe even include some of the students’ work.


Anonymous said...

SPEWS has a new submission catagory that's open to non-SOUers. Maybe some of the kids could submit a poem?

Copme to think of it, I started writing poetry in the 4th grade. Mrs. Hanley thought my poem about Curious George was grand, sweet 'ol soul that she was.


Kyle Stich said...

That's a terrific idea, Robert. I plan on ending the module with a little lesson in seeking out places to publish. As for Mrs. Hanley, I only hope that one day somebody will say something similar about me. In the meantime, I'm just content to interact with them, without too many bored faces resulting.

Anonymous said...

you have made me start writing poetry again, i haven't written in 10 years THANK YOU i had forgotten how much it helps my soul so once again thx bubba quack -j

Kyle Stich said...

Hey Sistah J,

I'm glad to hear that I could help inspire you on to write some poetry. I'd love to read some of it sometime, if you're so inclined to share.