Teaching Citizen Illegal: One teacher’s approach

Today’s post is brought to you by guest author Melissa Tucker, Rock Hill, South Carolina’s 2018 District Teacher of the Year. Melissa is an AP Lit, AP Lang, and World Lit teacher at Rock Hill High School. Grateful and tired mom of two handsome sons, her extended Bearcat family is always invited to her classroom. She continually seeks opportunities to learn with and from her students and colleagues to improve. She constantly reminds students “if you’re not reading, you’re not learning.” 

Going into this school year, I made the decision to switch to choice reading. I focused our units of study around six universal themes: identity, journey, gender and class, beliefs/religion, family, and connection versus isolation. Because I knew that my students would not necessarily be reading the same text as a whole class during these units, I needed a way to quickly establish routines for close reading, annotating, and analytical writing. I also wanted a highly engaging activity that could inspire students to think critically. As a result, we studied José Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal poetry collection (Haymarket Books, 2018), ending with a video chat interview with the poet.  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

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

#TeachLivingPoets Stations

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 first announced to my high school freshmen that we will start our poetry unit in class, I was met with groans and scoffs. While I was disappointed by this reaction, it also resonated with me. When I was their age, I felt similarly about poetry. Poetry was old. Not relatable. Difficult to understand. It was because of their reaction, and my familiarity to it, that I was determined to expose students to poetry that they would connect with and to prove that poetry does not live in the past. It is happening now.

Inspired by the Teach Living Poets movement, I was determined to teach students about the brilliant and diverse poets of today.

For this activity, I decided to do learning stations. I love incorporating learning stations in class because they are focused activities, along with kinesthetic learning, to get students moving and interested in a broad spectrum of a particular subject. Continue reading

Poetry Fridays: Making Poetry Part of Your Classroom Weekly Routine

capture9Today’s #TeachLivingPoets post comes from Kristin Runyon, who is in her 29th year teaching with 17 years at Charleston High School in Charleston, Illinois, and the other 12 years in Missouri, Kansas, and other Illinois schools. She has been a co-director and coach for Eastern Illinois Writing Project and a frequent participant with Eastern Illinois University Teaching with Primary Sources. She teaches English 3 (juniors) and Dual Credit Composition 1 and Dual Credit Introduction to Literature (seniors). She spent many years as Student Council adviser and as a soccer and baseball mom and now advises the CHS Press. Outside school, she enjoys reading, running, and traveling, especially to visit her sons.

logoThe amazing Carol Jago was the opening and closing keynote speaker at the Poetry Foundation’s Summer Poetry Teachers Institute. Her goal was to provide us a handful of poetry activities that we could use in our first days back in the classroom, and on the last day, Carol asked us to set a personal goal for incorporating poetry into our classrooms; my goal was to “do” poetry on the 2-hour early out Fridays that we have about every other week (class periods are 30-minutes long).

“Do” poetry; sounded easy enough because it was such a vague idea. In mid-August, about five weeks after the institute, I started the school year with a couple community bonding activities, including one of Carol’s poetry activities. And then, I began my units as I always do. My senior classes are dual credit composition 1, so how would I “do” poetry with them? And my junior classes? I have taught that curriculum for at least 18 years; I defaulted to autopilot. Continue reading

The Envelope Game – easy activity to use with any text tomorrow!

My students are reading Safia Elhillo’s poetry collection The January Children. We’ve had insightful class discussions, students are reading and annotating five poems every night, and today I wanted to do something more hands-on in small groups. Before we started reading the poems, we read Kwame Dawes’s foreword–a must-read, if you ask me. It prefaces her work with information about the allusions she frequently uses, where she draws inspiration, and even some of the main themes and motifs threaded throughout the collection. After establishing a foundation for understanding her poems, we’ve decided to take a closer look into the following while annotating:

These themes and motifs are where I drew from to make my items for The Envelope Game. I’m not going to pretend like this is some kind of innovative activity; it’s really  super simple. But it initiated robust discussion from my students and made them make connections that they hadn’t noticed before. In each envelope, I placed three cards. Each card had a theme, motif, symbol, or image important to the book. I mixed them up the cards to make it random, and handed an envelope to each small group.

Continue reading

How a poem moves – a workshop with Terrance Hayes

I had looked forward to this workshop for MONTHS. Terrance Hayes! A small, intimate workshop! I am going to learn about poetry from one of the greatest poets writing today. AND I get to attend his reading the night before? Get. Out. Of. Town. I was beside myself.

img_8863.jpgLet’s start with the reading. Charlotte Lit sponsored a weekend with Terrance Hayes for their Beautiful Truth initiative. Held in a elegant, aged auditorium and flanked by artwork by local artists, Hayes opened his reading with an explanation of Wanda Coleman’s influence on his book, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. (I highly suggest reading this interview with Hayes written by Hanif Abdurraqib in Poets & Writers magazine if you are reading Hayes’s book.) The first poem he read, which also happens to be my personal favorite, was this one: Continue reading