Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Using Manipulatives with Poems



This past week, our school decided to hold our annual Winter Carnival festivities and NWEA testing the same week. As I started the week, I had no idea how I was going to make an sort of teaching or learning happen with such huge distractions. So, for our weekly Poetry Friday celebration, I decided to embrace the spirit of Valentine's Day and my love for all things poetry and Shakespeare.

I've played around with the idea that using manipulatives helps students to think through problems and express themselves in a more abstract manner. Inspired in part by magnetic poetry and a beautiful heart-shaped concrete poem by Guillaume Appolinaire, I thought that it would be interesting to see if students could take love-y poems and use them to both create their own concrete poems and to experiment with language. I thought that I could observe their process in playing with words and see what happened. Here are the instructions I gave to my freshmen students:

Step 1: Go to this poetry site and choose a line or two that make sense on their own.
Step 2: Grab some candy hearts and write the words from your line(s) of poetry on them.
Step 3: Arrange your lines of poetry in a shape that's meaningful to you.

Step 4: Snap a picture of your concrete poem creation for your blog.
Step 5: Trade your candy hearts with a peer. Have the other student use your words to make their own poem and a new shape.
Step 6: Take a picture of the new poem(s) and post them on your blog.
Step 7: Write a blog entry with your pictures. Explain what was hard about creating poems using these materials & what was easy.


What I saw was pretty amazing. I saw students work to take the meaning of the original lines of published poetry and try purposely to make a whole new or opposite meaning from the original. I had not anticipated that students would want to think so critically. I also witnessed students who are typically very easily frustrated with poetry having tons of fun with it and not getting upset that I wanted them to use all of the words given to them. Awesome. I used this activity with freshmen.

With seniors, we're transitioning toward reading The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. I did not want to start the play the day before break, because I knew that would lead to confusion when we returned. I did want to hold a Poetry Friday activity, though, because these seniors get upset when we do not hold Poetry Friday. Here are the instructions I gave to my senior students:

-Choose two or three lines from a sonnet that you feel like you understand and/or connect with -Write the words of those lines on candy hearts -Shape your words into one of the letters in S-H-A-K-E-S-P-E-A-R-E (exactly as many students as we have in English 12!) -Take a picture of your poetic lines -Write your understanding/ why you like this poem on the post-its provided to you -Go around to others with your post-its and add to the appreciation


The seniors did an amazing job. I was worried that some would just go for any old couplet to just get this done. What I did not foresee was their want to choose lines that they not only understood but agreed with. Maybe this is related to the fact that they are all in serious relationships or have been in the past. Whatever the reason, I was happy to see them taking this exercise seriously and working to understand all of the lines of poetry offered.

Here is the final product from the senior group:

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