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How to Make Poetry Writing Awesome With Stations

I received this frantic text from a friend:

HELP!!! I’M BEING HELD PRISONER…

Just kidding. It was

HELP!!! I’M BEING OBSERVED THE DAY AFTER STATE TESTING AND I DON’T HAVE A COOL LESSON TO TEACH!

Same thing, right?

My first thought was why is she yelling? 

My second thought was Wow! That stinks. I’m glad it’s not me. 

Until it was me. Being observed. The day after state testing. Sheesh.

It’s easy to understand why that’s a crappy time to be observed. During testing, the kids have to sit for hours without moving or talking. They’re allowed to breathe, but not too loudly or Johnny in the next row will hear their sinuses vibrate. They spend that silent time trying to sit still while reading passages about carpet fibers, and then they have to write on demand about the carpet fibers.

But the day after testing?

Fiesta time! Arriba, arriba! Andale!

Kids want to have a good time. And they deserve it.

So what’s a teacher to do on that first day after state testing? Or for that matter, what’s a teacher to do when having an observation on any challenging day, like the day before a vacation? Or the day before an exciting field trip? Or the day Justin Beiber comes to town? Fortunately, I already knew what I was doing, which was a good thing because even after teaching for many years, observations make me quake in my Sketchers. We were going to have some creative fun with poetry writing stations. And you can do the same thing when you need a great activity for an observation.

Poetry Writing Stations

Poetry stations allow the kids to move around, share ideas, and think creatively. In short, it is exactly what kids need after testing. In addition, it is a student-centered lesson, so all you have to do is manage the rotations, circulate, comment, and ask the right questions. The rest takes care of itself. Anyone observing will be able to see that the kids have the background knowledge they need to write and discuss poetry. It becomes obvious that students have read poetry. Their eyes, ears, and minds are trained in noticing its nuances.

I’ll show you four easy-to-set-up poetry writing stations that are perfect for middle school kids and don’t require much in the way of extraordinary preparation.

The timing is flexible, as are the number of stations. If you only have one class period to spend on it, use fewer stations, but have duplicates. This will ensure that the kids get to experience every station. (Are you reading between the lines here? Duplicate stations ensure you won’t hear whining about not “getting to go to” every station. None of us speak Whinese.)

Preparing Poetry Stations

This is how to prepare.

  • Supply every poetry station with a sign and one set of instructions. I like to provide one set because it forces the kids to work together to figure out what they have to do. Using old tennis ball canisters (minus the balls- we don’t need that problem bouncing around), I tape the station’s sign on one side of the canister and the directions on the other.
  • Place a basket of writing supplies at each station. Include regular and colored pencils, and any handouts or blank paper needed.

That’s it. Simple. Here are some poetry writing stations you can use.

1. Found Poetry

Whenever you clean out bookshelves, keep some of the books with torn bindings. Then tear out the pages and place the pages in a basket, along with directions for writing Found Poetry.

Station Time in Middle School! I use large baskets, so I don't have a lot of small pieces to pick up. Everything starts in the basket and ends in the basket.

My kids loved this, and yours will too! They love the idea of a teacher tearing up a book. And they’ll write awesome poems!

Found Poetry is an awesome writing station addition. And it's a great way to re-purpose dilapidated books! #poems #writing #stations #poetrylessons #movement #writinglesson #middleschool #poetrytemplates #middleschoolela #blackoutpoetry

 

Found Poetry is an awesome writing station addition. And it's a great way to re-purpose dilapidated books! #poems #writing #stations #poetrylessons #movement #writinglesson #middleschool #poetrytemplates #middleschoolela #blackoutpoetry

2.  Out of the Box Poetry

Choose four random words and have students craft a poem using those words.

I like to use words from different parts of speech. The key is to make sure the words are rich with meaning but are truly random.

You should probably tell students that they can’t string any two words together, or else you will end up with your random adjective describing your random noun… performing your random verb. Sort of like hairy novels strumming… 

And as an added challenge, it’s nice to suggest students use a specific literary device or two. So the station might look like the one to the right.

Sometimes we do Out of the Box Poetry as a creative Do Now, and the kids always beg for more. It’s fun for them, and they learn how to “play” with language.

 3. Template Poetry

Reluctant poets become enthusiastic about writing when they’re at a template poetry station. It’s beautiful to see a student use a template to find their inner Robert Frost.  The template’s confines will help young writers focus on their chosen words and imagery.

Once they have their ideas down, be sure to tell kids that this is their poem and they can alter the template in any way they see fit when they revise.

There are plenty of templates available on the internet. Here is a favorite of ours that you can download for free:

FREE POETRY RESOURCE | Use poetry templates for fool-proof poetry writing that gets kids' creativity flowing!

 

POETRY WRITING | NATIONAL POETRY MONTH | Writing poetry doesn't have to be daunting for kids! Use poetry templates and watch their confidence soar! #poems #writing #stations #poetrylessons #movement #writinglesson #middleschool #poetrytemplates #middleschoolela

4. Object Poetry

Place an object on the table. It can be something lying around the room or something unusual that you bring in from home. Bring in a dog collar, a teddy bear, a brooch, an old pair of glasses, a coffee mug, or any other random item.

Ask students to craft a poem about the object. The poem should be from the point of view of a speaker who feels strongly about the object. The emotion doesn’t matter as long as it is powerful: love, hatred, jealousy, etc…

Point of View Poetry is an easy addition to poetry writing stations. Bring in any object and tell students to choose one of the three techniques to write an original poem. #poems #writing #stations #poetrylessons #movement #writinglesson #middleschool #poetrytemplates #middleschoolela

It’s wonderful to see the wheels turning while kids try to imagine the reasons that the speaker might hate something like a teddy bear. Another option is to write from the points of view of two speakers with opposing feelings about the object. Or the poem could be written from the point of view of the object itself. You know, an old teddy bear speaker writes You cast me off…like dirty gym socks on a damp day… Not my best, but you’ve got the picture.

Kids are insightful. They will surprise you with the depth of emotions that are inspired by simple objects.

Station Logistics

It’s best to rotate the kids every ten to fifteen minutes, but I don’t follow a hard and fast rule about it. You can read the room and get a feel for when the kids are itching to get up and move.

Remember that our goal is to generate ideas and get a “taste” of several different poems. On another day the kids can choose their favorite and work on perfecting it, playing with the wording, and writing another draft.

When you near the end of the period, ask students to stop and reflect on these questions with their group, before coming together to reflect as a class.

Ask these questions:

1. What were the benefits of this poetry writing activity?
2. What were the challenges?

You might hear some of the same pros and cons that I did. This is what my students tell me:

Benefits:

~ The guidelines helped us focus.
~ It was helpful to have a starting place.
~ The ideas we were provided with were fun to work with.
~ It helped to be in a group because we helped each other figure out the requirements.
~ …but there weren’t too many requirements.
~ It allowed us to express ourselves in a way we wouldn’t have thought of.

Challenges:

– It can be limiting.
– Sometimes it’s hard to connect the words and ideas.                                                                                                                                                           -We didn’t have time to finish. (Be still my heart. They want to write more. )

This is when I tell the kids that when they choose a poem to revise, they will be able to free themselves of the constraints originally presented. They can play with the words and alter any template or requirements. They should play with the words until the poem is completely theirs. Their words. Their ideas. Their poem.

I did share the stations idea with the friend who was being held “prisoner.” I’m told it went quite well, as did mine.

Fiesta time!

 If your students think they don't like writing poetry, you've never tried using poetry template stations! My middle school kids love moving around the room and trying different poetry methods. #poems #writing #stations #poetrylessons #movement #writinglesson #middleschool #poetrytemplates #middleschoolela