Tone Bottles: explore tone in poetry with this engaging hands-on activity for all grade levels!

Today’s post is by guest author Valerie A. Person. In her 25th year at Currituck County High School, Valerie teaches honors and academic English II as well as AP Literature and Composition.  She agrees passionately with Virginia Woolf’s “teaching without zest is a crime,” striving to find engaging and meaningful ways for her students to learn.

One of the tenets of AP Literature and Composition is helping students recognize, understand and explain complexity in literature.  Students often hear me instruct them to “peel that onion, baby. Peel it.” With poetry playing a prominent role on the AP exam, I’ve found myself revising my lessons for sophomores, scaffolding for them to do more work with abstraction, particularly as it features in poetry.  Get comfortable in the gray, folks. In this journey to guide students to move from the unknown to the known, I find using concrete, hands-on lessons to illustrate that gray provides tremendous benefits for students.

Exploring complexity, students track tone shifts in poetry and pull from their tone vocabulary to name the tones and justify them with textual evidence.  

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Shared Success: Video Conference with a Poet

Today’s post is a collaboration by two guest authors: teacher Kelly Herrera and poet Nicole Tong. 

Kelly teaches English at Buena High School in Ventura, California and has been an English instructor for 20 years. She has a passion for helping students of all levels find their voice through writing. Outside of school, she enjoys cooking, gardening, and spending time with her family. You can follow her on Twitter at @HerreraKM1

Nicole Tong is the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Sundress Academy at Firefly Farms, and George Mason University where she received her MFA. In 2016, she served as an inaugural Writer-in-Residence at Pope-Leighey House. She is a recipient of the President’s Sabbatical from Northern Virginia Community College where she is a Professor of English. Her writing has appeared in American Book Review, CALYX, Cortland Review, Yalobusha Review, and Still: the Journal among others. Washington Writers’ Publishing House announced Nicole Tong’s debut collection How to Prove a Theory as the 2017 Jean Feldman Poetry Prize Winner. How to Prove a Theory is currently available at Politics and Prose, Scrawl Books, and on Indiebound. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @NFTong and visit her website

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Kelly’s story

When I first learned about #TeachLivingPoets, I wanted to immerse myself and my classroom in poetry. Through a grant from the Ventura Education Partnership, we purchased poetry collections from many of the authors featured on this site. I also wanted to provide a video conferencing experience with a living poet for my students, but I wasn’t sure how to make it happen.

I had many questions and apprehensions. Continue reading

Why teach living poets?

Today’s post is by guest author Angelina Murphy who teaches high school English in Los Angeles. She has her Masters in Education from University of California, Los Angeles where she focused her research on trauma-informed teaching and community of care. When she is not teaching, she also manages her blog about engaging teaching, technology, social justice, and teaching strategies at Magical Ms. Murphy.

logoWhen I was in high school, I distinctly remember reading and learning poetry–and I hated it. This may surprise my students today because I talk about poetry with such love and passion, but it wasn’t always like that. It was evident that my students typically felt similarly about poetry: it was old, it was boring, it was confusing, not relatable. And when we look at the poets that mainstream curriculum or the canon really values, it’s not surprising why. The famous Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, W.B. Yeats, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley and the other poets that dominate our textbooks are overwhelmingly white, male, straight, and for lack of a more graceful word, dead. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we shouldn’t teach these poets, I personally love teaching transcendentalism and Edgar Allan Poe, but these poets limit how we define poetry. Continue reading

Introduction to Spoken Word & Slam Poetry

Today’s post is a collaboration brought to you by guest author, Joe Paris, and me, Melissa Smith. You can follow us on Twitter @ParisBMS and @MelAlterSmith.

Joe has curated this amazing list of spoken word and slam poems to get your class started! He also wrote a post about organizing a slam at your school here.

1) What is Spoken Word?

Spoken Word is poetry intended for onstage performance, rather than exclusively designed for the page. While often associated with hip-hop culture, it also has strong ties to storytelling, modern poetry, post-modern performance, and monologue theater, as well as jazz, blues, and folk music. Continue reading

Student Podcasts Using The Slowdown as a Mentor Text

I love The Slowdown Podcast with US Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith. Listening to it has become part of my morning routine. If you’ve never listened before, it’s a five-minute long podcast in which Smith introduces a poem with an anecdote, personal story, historical or current event, or some explanation that eventually leads in to what the poem she is reading on that particular episode is about. Then, she reads the poem. It’s a relaxing, thought-provoking, poetic five minutes very well spent. I recommend subscribing if you haven’t already. Continue reading

Building a Classroom Community Through Narrative Poetry

Today’s #TeachLivingPoets post is brought to you by guest writer, Matt Brisbin. Mr. Brisbin teaches English at McMinnville High School in McMinnville, Oregon, and has been a high school English instructor for 12 years. Aside from reading and writing, his passions in life include spending time with his family and cheering on various sports teams at the high school, college, and professional levels. You can follow him on Twitter @Mbrisbin11.

logoFebruary is always the time of the year that my students’ energy starts to fade. There is something about the long winters, when the sun goes down early that tends to take a toll on all of us slogging through another school year. I usually save this activity for just these times, because it has been a sure fire way to not only increase my students’ morale and give them some seeds for writing, but it’s also is a great way to continue building a community of learners. This year, I added two spoken word poems by Phil Kaye to add another layer to this lesson, and I was really happy with the way it worked out. Continue reading

Promoting Choice and Voice with Poetry Zines

Today’s #TeachLivingPoets post is brought to you by guest writer Dustin McConnell, an ELA teacher at Timberland High School in St. Stephen, South Carolina. This is his sixth year teaching, and he teaches English IV (11th-12th grade) and Creative Writing (9th-12th grade). He is currently working towards a masters in Library Media. Outside of school, he enjoys reading, writing, running, and spending time with his wife and dog, while awaiting the birth of his daughter in May.  You can follow Dustin on Twitter at @D_W_McConnell

logoIn an effort to provide my Creative Writing students with a culminating project for our poetry unit that gave students choice and voice, I had them create poetry zines.

If you are unfamiliar with zines, they are essentially self-published “magazines” that you can make out of an 8.5×11 inch sheet of printer paper, whatever craft or scrapbooking supplies you have on hand, and the artwork and/or writing you want to put inside of them. Once made, all you need to publish them is a photocopier or a scanner with a printer, and voila, you have a published piece of work to share with whomever you please. Continue reading