Color poem – writing prompt using mentor text poems by living poets

End goal: Students will write a poem about or inspired by color

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Step 1: Pre-write Activity – Shades of Green

Across the top of my front board, I hung a row of sheets of paper of different shades of one color. I got the sheets at my local craft store in the scrap booking section for a dime each. It was important to me to get various shades of the same color instead of a rainbow FullSizeRenderpalette so that students can consider the nuances of color and shades. Students wrote down a list of 3 words that came to mind for the different shades of their choice. I encouraged them to not simply describe the shade, but to make associations with objects or actions that come to mind for each color. Then, students wrote what they felt like were their best, most unique words, for 3 of the shades up on the board.

Step 2: Pre-write Activity – Mentor poems

Students were placed into small groups by randomly choosing different colored markers.
Find your color, find your group. I taped 6 different mentor poems from living poets into the center of a large poster board and gave one to each group. I also included brief biographical information about the author and a picture so students could literally see who they were reading, and maybe get more insight into their poem from reading a little bit about them.

Choose mentor text poems for groups:

Green Means Literally a Thousand Things or More by Matt Donovan

Variations in Blue by Lauren K. Alleyne

off white by Nate Marshall

Why is the Color of Snow? by Brenda Shaughnessy

Spoken For by Li-Young Lee

Shell White by Melissa Range

Triple Sonnet for Black Hair by Dorothy Chan

The Electric Blues by Logan February

La suavecita by Lupe Mendez

Synesthesia by Mahtem Shiferraw

Sorrow is Not My Name by Ross Gay

Instructions of Not Giving Up by Ada Limón

Blue by Carl Phillips

application for the position of abdelhalim hafez’s girl by Safia Elhillo

Sonnet 12 by Victoria Chang

Glossolalia by Eugenia Leigh

In their small group, they first read the poem out loud. I asked them to discuss their first impressions of the poem. What surprised them? What is their emotional reaction to it? In a corner of the poster board, one of the group members recorded their group’s answers. This was Round 1 of 6. For each round, students switched poster boards and read a new poem, along with the previous groups’ notes. Each time we switched, a IMG_5225different person read the poem out loud, and the recorder also switched to ensure that all group members put forth an equal amount of work.

Round 2: Underline words you don’t know and define them. If you do know all the words, find words that are particularly specific, heavily connotative, or surprising and explain why.

Round 3: Paraphrase the poem. What is it about?

Class was already over by the time they finished Round 3, so we ‘to be continued’ the activity into the next day.


Step 3: Pre-write Activity – Shades of Blue 

Repeat same activity from yesterday, but this time with blue.

But I added on an extra step this time to get them thinking like a poet. After the students had all written their words on the board, I had them look over all of the words and write down 3 interesting, unexpected word pairs – words that normally wouldn’t go together, such as “shy blueberry” or “electric sleep.” Once it looked like most students had at least 3, we each wrote an unexpected word pair on the board that we felt was the most interesting of our 3. I was super impressed with this part of the lesson.

Students invented amazingly creative and surprising word pairs. I asked them why they thought I had them do this extra step today, and their responses aligned with my intentions:

We discovered new ways to describe something.

We created cool metaphors.

We are looking at something in a different way. 

Step 4: Pre-write Activity – Mentor poems continued

Students returned to the groups they worked in yesterday. For each new round, we continued switching poster boards, orators, and recorders.

IMG_5231Round 4: What color is the poem about? Circle words/phrases that involve color. In the margin – how does the poet use the color(s) in the poem? Why is the color appropriate?

Round 5: Identity the main shift in the poem. Draw a line to indicate where it occurs. In the margins, explain how the poem is different above and below the line you just drew.

End of class.


Step 5: Pre-write Activity – Finish mentor poems

Today, we started with finishing up the rest of the mentor poem rounds. Same groups, same procedure.

Round 6: Put brackets around uses of figurative language. In the margins, identify the literary device being used. Also, write a final thought about the poem that you don’t already see written.


Finish the last round with group and whole-class reflection: Besides the literal use of color, what did these poems have in common? Is a poem ever really just about a color?

Step 6: Paint Swatches and Prompt

Time to write! I lay out a mess of paint swatches (free from any hardware store) and encourage students to choose one that speaks to them to place next to their paper as their draft their poem. The point swatches are optional – some students took one, some didn’t.

Prompt: Write a poem that is inspired by a color. Include multiple references to the color in your poem.

Extra step: if you have an art hallway or somewhere in your school where student art is displayed, go take a field trip and make these poems ekphrastic!

Thank you for reading! Do you have a story, lesson, activity, or something else to share with Be a guest author! Email me at 

If you want to order a #TeachLivingPoets shirt, check out my awesome sister-in-law’s Facebook store Megan’s Makes and support a small business owner! Shirt options are: gray/blue/black/white/red/green/purple unisex crew-neck S-XXXL and white/black women’s v-neck S-XL. All shirts are $20, PayPal accepted.

You can follow me on Twitter & IG at @MelAlterSmith and please tweet all the awesome things you are doing in your class with the #TeachLivingPoets hashtag! 

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