10 Steps to Planning a Successful Poet Visit

I’m no booking agent, but I have individually planned poet visits to my school, so maybe telling you about my process will help you to give it a whirl as well. And I sincerely hope that you do because it is a remarkably inspiring experience your students will remember for a long time.

I remember reading an edu-blog a couple of years ago about bringing visiting writers into the classroom, and one of the author’s rules was “Do not attempt to plan an author visit by yourself.” I took this as a personal challenge and have since planned classroom visits with poets including José Olivarez, Kate Partridge & LA Johnson (they came together), and RA Villanueva & Kaveh Akbar (also together) by myself. José came for a half day; Kate & Liz came for a Creative Writing class. Ron and Kaveh spent an entire day at my school, and I will focus on this most intensive event, as it required the most planning and preparation.

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Name Poem


Family names, nicknames, going by your middle name, common names, cherished names, meaning of names, unique names–these were all up for consideration as students drafted a poem about their name.


Students wrote their full legal name at the top of a blank sheet of paper and spent a couple minutes making a list of all the names they are called or call themselves, including nicknames, terms of endearment (or other terms), mispronunciations (if applicable), and any information they may possibly know about why their name was chosen for them.  Continue reading

School visit with RA Villanueva & Kaveh Akbar


RA Villanueva, Melissa Smith, Kaveh Akbar                  Lake Norman Charter High School, Huntersville, NC

My white boards cried when I finally erased their notes from the day (or was that me?), and if I try hard enough, I can see a flash of Ron writing them in my memory. Another flash I can still conjure is of Kaveh’s rocking back and forth, as if possessed by language, reading from his book. I try to summon the images repeatedly, try to tap back into the energy and wonder of it all, as I write this post. I know I can never do it justice; I will never be able to explain the magic that happened just a few days ago, but I am certain that the magic I’m speaking of is out there, being carried around inside of my students. The room has lingerings of the energy created by the fusion of Ron and Kaveh and my kids – an energy I want to nurture and sustain as long as possible. I almost want to stop writing, because maybe if I write it all down, it will somehow be over.  Continue reading

Poets with class: L.A. Johnson & Kate Partridge

Teach Living Poets Logo

Last week, following the annual AWP conference, poets L.A. Johnson and Kate Partridge visited my class on their way up the east coast for readings and book tour events. L.A. Johnson is author is Little Climates (2017) published by Bull City Press; Kate Partridge’s book Ends of the Earth (2017) published by University of Alaska Press.

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A Lesson in the Poetic Line

Students need to realize the impact a sweet line break can have in order to truly appreciate the structure of a poem. They need to learn the difference between end-stopped and enjambed lines, and the potentialities of poetic line structure. Parts of this lesson are inspired by poet and educator Nicole F. Tong, who graciously sent me some of her materials, to which I added some of my own, and viola – a scaffolded lesson on poetic line structure.  Continue reading

The rhyme equation: 1 + 1 = 3

Do your students struggle with analyzing rhyme in poetry? How many more times must we teachers hear “it helps to make the poem flow” or the cringe-worthy “it creates a sing-song effect”? Or maybe they avoid rhyme completely because they don’t know what to say if they can’t use the words “flow” or “sing-song.”

I have a solution that will offer remarkable improvement in your students’ ability to effectively analyze rhyme. It’s an equation, actually. Just tell them to think: 1 + 1 = 3. Continue reading

Making Poetry Connections Beyond the Classroom

This week, my Creative Writing students are in serious drafting mode. We’re working on crafting partner slam poems, an assignment given to us by Terry Creech, artist educator and Executive Director and founder of BreatheInk. Watching my students workshop with Mr. Creech and getting messy playing with language, sounds, and performance ideas are the inspirations for this post.

In this post, I am going to share various ways I have extended my students’ learning beyond the classroom or beyond my own direct instruction. I have found that my students’ most meaningful poetry moments rarely involve me as a teacher. I’m just the one who leads them to the door. Continue reading

Color poem

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


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. With instrumental music in the background, students wrote down a list of 6 words what came to mind for 3 different shades of their choice. (I’m old school and still use Pandora. I like Theivery Corporation, Little People, and Trip Hop radio stations). Then, I had students write the best word from their 3 lists up on the board.

Step 2: Pre-write Activity – Mentor poems

Students were placed into small groups by randomly choosing different colored markers. Continue reading

Ink Blot Haiku & POL District Competition

This past week, we were in school a grand total of one day. Due to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and some crazy snowy weather, students got to spend most of the week cozy on the couch. Okay okay, and teachers too. Spending a full week in my house with my 3-year-old and 5-year-old has been… Let’s just say I’m actually looking forward to going back to school this week.

The one day we had in Creative Writing class was well spent. Students made ink blotsIMG_5146 using plain copy paper and permanent non-washable legit real ink. Hence, the use of newspaper splash pads. Check out Mostafa using one as a bib. Fashionable, I must say.

They created their masterpieces by using coffee stirrers to blow around blobs of ink placed on their paper by my ink dropper. Continue reading