A #TeachLivingPoets unit

Earlier this week, the third installment of the #TeachLivingPoets Twitter chat dropped. The August 28th chat was hosted by Susan Barber, who teaches in Atlanta public schools. Clint Smith’s poem “There Is a Lake Here,” which is the last poem in his collection Counting Descent (Write Bloody, 2016), was our focus as the common text for the chat.  There were so many innovative ideas brought up by various educators all around the country who participated in the chat, and this post is going to sort them all out into an organized poetry unit you could teach in your classroom.  Continue reading

Teaching poetry collections: 3 engaging activity ideas to get your students thinking

Last year, my students read RA Villanueva’s Reliquaria (University of Nebraska Press) and Kaveh Akbar’s chapbook Portrait of the Alcoholic (Sibling Rivalry Press) (which I am changing to his full collection for this year, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Alice James Books). New this year in AP Literature will be Safia Elhillo’s The January Children (University of Nebraska Press); and in American Literature, José Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal and Eve Ewing’s Electric Arches (both from Haymarket Books).

Last year, while teaching both Villanueva and Akbar’s collections, never did I ever stand in front of the room and “teach the poem.” Instead, we learned through class discussion and group collaboration. Each night, students read five poems for homework. They were to read the poem, and annotate it for things that they noticed, which could entail poetic devices, words that stuck out to them, thoughts on structure, questions brought up by the poem, or anything they felt like making note of on the page. Having read the poems and bringing them annotated to class the next day made sure students were prepared with some thoughts to discuss and engage with their peers. Five poems a night seemed a good number, as it wasn’t too much that they weren’t reading the poems closely, and it kept us at a steady pace working through the book.

Here are three of my favorite activities you could do with any poetry collection: Continue reading

A new year of #TeachLivingPoets

Another school year is upon us, and it’s time for us to think about all the things: curriculum, building relationships with new students, texts, end-goals, et cetera, et cetera. For me personally, I want to continue my inclusion of living poets into my AP Literature and Creative Writing class, but I also want to do a better job this year of including it in my 11th grade American Lit classes. I’ve already added some books onto their syllabus; they get to choose between José Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal or Eve Ewing’s Electric Arches (both from Haymarket Books). I feel really good about having titles on my syllabus as a starting point, but I know I will need to put in some work to get my juniors’ curriculum where I want it to be in regards to #TeachLivingPoets. Continue reading

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

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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