An Evening with Wally Lamb

 It’s Slice of Life Tuesday!  To learn more about what this is, click here: Slice of Life Tuesday on Two Writing Teachers.  Read on for my Slice of Life Story for today.slice of life_classSlice of Life

About two years ago, I attended an author event near my house, at St. Joseph’s University.

The headliner?

Wally Lamb, the novelist and author of She’s Come Undone, I Know This Much is True and The Hour I First Believed.

She’s Come Undone  is one of my long time favorite novels.  I read it years ago on my honeymoon to Europe, across transatlantic flights and early morning Eurorail rides.

So I couldn’t wait to meet Mr. Lamb in person: to hear him speak, have my book signed and listen to him read from his new book: We Are Water.

But when the evening began, Wally appeared and then introduced his son, the poet, Justin Lamb.

My first instinct was one of annoyance.  (Sorry Justin!).  I was there to listen to Wally, not his son.  And although I love poetry, this wasn’t what I had originally planned for my Thursday evening.

But I quietly waited for him to begin performing from However It Turns Out is Perfect.  Like the opening act at a rock concert, I didn’t have high expectations.However It Turns Out Is Perfect

Boy, was I wrong.  Justin opened with Tips for Scaling Barbed Wire, based on his tutoring experience with an adolescent boy named Daniel.

Within moments, I was riveted, on the edge of my seat.

Click here to listen to Justin and see for yourself! 

Live Performance of Tips for Scaling Barbed Wire

Viewer Discretion Note: This is NOT suitable for children

All I can say is that at the conclusion of the evening, I decided to forgo the line for Wally, that stretched out the door and around the corner. Instead, I spent a few moments speaking with Justin.  I told him about my job as a consultant/literacy coach in Philly at Children’s Literacy Initiative.  We shared some stories about teaching and he autographed my CD.

His words stayed with me long after that spring evening.  I played his poem for friends, teachers and colleagues.  But then the CD got filed away in a pile of other odds and ends (as often happens in life) and I forgot about it.

Until recently.

The “Daniels” Out There

I’m in a new role now – teaching 2nd grade in a more suburban setting – but there are Daniels everywhere.  Even if a student doesn’t have a checkered past like him, every child has a story, a road map that brought him/her to today.

I ask you to reflect on Justin’s poem as you work with your students.

Thoughts to ponder…

What factors have influenced your students?  How does that affect their academics/behavior? And how does this knowledge impact the way that you approach your interactions with them today?

Please share your thoughts here on this question or the video itself.

Happy Slice of Life Tuesday,

Lisa

 

 

 

Poems to kick-start the year!

It’s hard to believe that the school year has already begun.  The start of this year also marks the one year anniversary of this blog!  In one of my first posts (Paving the Way with Poetry), I wrote about something near to my heart: poetry.

As I plan beginning of the year lessons for my own 2nd grade classroom, I like to select and read poems as a way to introduce daily procedures and routines.  I do this for several reasons.

First, they are fast and fun to read.  Second, there are many poems written about the school day, which makes it easy to connect them to the students.  Third, reading poems early on (instead of waiting for National Poetry Month in April) helps to foster a love of poetry.  Finally, poetry opens a door to literacy that is not always accessible with other genres.  This is especially true for struggling readers and writers.  Because they are shorter by nature, poems often feel less threatening to these students.  And ALL students can enjoy and be challenged by poetry.

Ready to get started?

Here is a list of some of my favorite beginning of the year poetry books and poems, along with procedures/routines that connect to them.  Don’t have the books?  They should be easy to find in the school library or even online.

1. Almost Late to School by Carol Diggory Shields

Suggested Poems to Read             Routines to Teach  

Word Problem                                   Introducing Math Workshop/Journals

Gotta Go                                              Bathroom Procedures

Almost Late                                        Arrival Routines

After School                                         Dismissal

2. Creatures of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Georgia Heard

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Suggested Poems to Read                        Routines to Teach  

Fishes and/or Frog Serenade                    Partnerships and teamwork

These are “poems for two voices” and lend themselves well to introducing the concept of “working together.”  Let the students decide how to read them together as an initial team building activity.

3 & 4. Chicken Soup With Rice, by Maurice Sendak

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and

A Child’s Calendar, by John Updike

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Suggested Poems to Read                      Routines to Teach  

September (or August)                             Reading a poem to introduce each month

5. Way I Feel, by Janan Cain

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Suggested Poems to Read                      Routines to Teach  

Scared, Shy, Excited                               Beginning of the year feelings

This is a fast read and I recommend reading through the whole book if you have time.  It’s also a great segue into Morning Meeting/Responsive Classroom.  The students can state one feeling that they have as part of the “share” portion of the lesson.

Note: Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis is another great read aloud for discussing feelings.

6. I Like it Here at School, poems collected by Jack Prelutsky

*You can purchase this for $.01 on Amazon! Now that’s a good deal….

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Suggested Poems to Read                       Routines to Teach

Why My Homework is Missing            Daily homework

Look in a Book                                            Independent Reading

7. If I Were in Charge of the World, by Judith Viorst

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Suggested Poems to Read                       Routines to Teach

If I Were in Charge of the World             Creating classroom responsibilities/rules

Apology                                                              Problem Solving/working cooperatively

Summer’s End                                                 Back to school

8. The Mouse Was Out at Recess, by David L. Harrison

*You can buy this used on Amazon for $.084!

This book is chock full of poems that connect to the school day.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Suggested Poems to Read                                                          Routines to Teach 

The Bus                                                                                               Arrival/dismissal

Mystery Lunch                                                                                 Lunch

They Call it Science                                                                        Science

In the Hall                                                                                          Hall procedures

Raise Your Hand if you Know the Answer                              Raising hand

Teacher’s Eyes                                                                                  Staying focused

9. Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield

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Read Things to introduce writing workshop. (Click on the link to for “Things” to see a Brain Pop activity on Eloise Greenfield.  This is one of my favorite poems to read with students so I’m sharing the text here:

Things

Went to the corner
Walked in the store
Bought me some candy
Ain’t got it no more
Ain’t got it no more

Went to the beach
Played on the shore
Built me a sandhouse
Ain’t got it no more
Ain’t got it no more

Went to the kitchen
Lay down on the floor
Made me a poem
Still got it
Still got it

I like to read this poem to introduce the concept that our writing is special, something to be treasured.  It’s also fun to act out.  Give one stanza or line to teams or partnerships.  Let the students be creative!

11. Lunch Money and Other Poems about Schoolby Carol Diggory Shields

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Suggested Poems to Read               Routines to Teach

Pledge                                                  Pledge of Allegiance and/or school announcements

Decisions, Lunch Money                Lunch routines

Far Away                                              Independent Reading

Moonwalker                                        Dismissal

I’m Doing my Homework                Homework

Read this book to hook your students on poetry!

12. Alphathoughts, by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Suggested Poems to Read                                 Routines to Teach

Books and Library                                               Independent reading

Pencils                                                                     Classroom pencil routine

Those are a few of my picks of poems to kick-start the school year.  Please let me know if you try them and/or if you have other favorites.  For additional book recommendations (poetry and otherwise), read:

A is for Musk Ox and a few other good books…

Launching a Love of Reading from Day One

Recommended Picture Books

And for more ways to integrate poetry into your lessons, click here: 5 Easy Ways to Get Your Class Excited About Poetry.

Here’s to a successful start of the year!

Happy reading,

Lisa

 

Just Let Them Write

 

I’m a strong proponent of writing workshop, of letting students choose their topics, of Lucy Calkins and Ralph Fletcher’s  school of thought. But when I recently re-entered the classroom after taking time off to have children and then work as a literacy coach, I forgot how hard it can be to do just this.

I started in January and after a few days of getting to know the students, I immediately felt the pressure of curriculum timelines, district benchmarks, etc.  We were in the middle of a unit on persuasive writing and I struggled to make sense of the lengthy lessons that came with the district’s writing program.  I found that I spent more time actually reading the information than actually teaching the lesson itself.  Not to say that the students didn’t produce good writing but I felt the need to “get things in,” as opposed to just allowing them to discover the wonder of writing on their own.

In short, I didn’t feel like the writing teacher that I imagined myself to be.

But then I attended one of three after school district writing trainings that I had registered for with my district, “Writing in the elementary classroom.”

I knew I was in the right place on the first day. Just by the feel of the room and the way that the instructors greeted us.  They instantly made me feel welcome and at home.

Our first assignment was to write about a “quality.” They shared an old book called, “The Book of Qualities,” which judging by the cover, looked like something from 1982.  As if reading my mind, Sherry responded by saying, “This book is old, but give it a chance.”

She then proceeded to hand each of us a word from the book, asking us to conjure up an image or feeling about what the word meant to us.

My word was patience. Others included, fear, frustration, joy, etc. She read some of the samples from the actual book, where the author writes a paragraph about each one, like this excerpt from Fear:

Fear has a large shadow but he himself is quite small.  He has a vivid imagination.  He composes horror music in the middle of the night.

Then she said, “Think about what this word makes you feel, or whether it reminds you of a person.Try not to let your pen stop moving.

Just write whatever comes to mind.”

Then she got quiet and asked everyone to write.

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Back to the Clasroom

The next day, I felt inspired to try the idea with my class.  We had just finished our persuasive essays and I was ready to move on from the following sentence starters:
“I know you think that I should….but here’s why I shouldn’t”

Or “I know you think that I shouldn’t…but here’s why I should”

And last but not least…”________________ is the best _____.  Here are three reasons why….”

Ugh.

So I wrote several words on index cards, choosing some from the book and others that just came to mind. Patience, frustration, courage, fear, joy, confidence.

We briefly discussed what the words meant and I wrote a short poem  about what joy means to me on chart paper:

Joy

A fresh cup of Starbucks coffee waiting for me in the morning

Waterskiing on glass – calm water at the lake

A game of Uno with Joey and Julia

I had no idea what the students would produce and also worried that they would find the whole activity “weird.”

But I went with it anyway, handing each of them a card to take back to their seats.

They liked the novelty of this, I think, and seemed excited.

As they went back to their desks, the room suddenly became a flurry of:

What did you get?” and “Oh, I wanted that one, can we trade?

(I ended up telling them that no matter what word they got, if they preferred a different one, they could write about that instead).

I started to give more directions but then remembered the words of Roy Peter Clark from his book Free to Write, a text that I had discovered years earlier when I taught in Pinellas County, Florida:

“The most important strategy I learned as a teacher of writing was to be quiet and let the students write.” (Clark, 1987, p.23)

“I want you to write silently for 5 minutes,” I told them. “I shouldn’t hear anything but your pencil moving acorss the page.  Think about what the word means to you and write whatever comes to mind. Just write.”

“And I’ll write too. Now go!

I sat down in the rocking chair in the front of the room, with the new fancy notebook (pink, green and blue flowers on the cover) that I had received at the training, pen in hand. I decided just to write, like I said that I would.  After a few moments of doing so, I looked up at the class.

I did so with apprehension, half expecting a few of them (or more!) to be playing in their desks, staring at the ceiling or reading a book instead. Maybe drawing.

But a magical hush had fallen over the room and they were all writing! Even Kevin, who often struggled to follow directions.  Now his pencil moved swiftly across the page, as if with a mind of its own. And Pete, who left every day for reading with our learning support teacher and often only seemed to complete literacy tasks if I stayed glued to his side.

His pencil also kept moving, back and forth across the page, back and forth.

After 7 minutes, I stopped them. It was time to line up for lunch.

On a whim, I glanced over Pete’s shoulder curious to see what he had written. The language was sparse and basic, but it evoked a clear image in my mind. It was beautiful.

“Did you know that you just wrote a poem?” I asked him.

“No,” he said, looking surprised and also excited. Then, “Can you read it to the class?”

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Sharing our Feelings Poems

Later, I read his, Kevin’s and Sam’s.  Sam often needs extra support with all areas of instruction.  This is what he wrote in those 7 minutes, without any help.

Loneliness

by Sam

In the desert.

Nobody there,

not even a squeak.

Nobody there.

Just you.

So lonely.

Sometimes scared.

At night,

your only buddy is the sand.

 

We soon started calling these our “feelings” poems and continued them for several days.  I eventually asked everyone to choose one favorite to publish and we displayed them proudly in the hallway, for all passerbys to see.

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These poems reminded me that sometimes we forget what our students are capable of accomplishing. Instead of giving them space to write – letting them surprise us – we uninentionally hold them back.

What I thought might be an activity that the students would view as silly or trivial, turned out to be one that unlocked the potential that lies within all of our students. When I decided to trust them and just let them write, they proved that they can and want to do so.

I stayed quiet and let them write.

And they did.

Reader Challenge:

How can you try this out/adapt this idea for your own classroom? Can you connect it to beginning of the year lessons about routines and building classroom community?

Please share your thoughts and anything that you implement in your own class.

*The names of the students in this post have been changed but the poems are original.

Sources:

Clark, Roy Peter. Free to Write: A Journalist Teaches Young Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987.

A is for Musk Ox and a few other good books…

Since I love children’s books – and it’s also the holidays – I can’t help but share a few now.  If you wait until the last minute to shop (like me!), maybe you still need a few gifts for the children in your life.  But even if you’re finished shopping, these books are still ones to consider buying or at least borrowing from the library to use in your classroom (or to read at home).

A is for Musk Ox

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This is my new favorite read aloud and if I hadn’t already finished shopping, I would buy it for my own children.  (Maybe I still will!).  It’s not only an alphabet book, but the story of two characters: a zebra and a musk ox that don’t get along.  The book is humorous, silly and also filled with good tidbits of information about musk oxen, such as:

Did you know that they form a ring around their calves to protect them from predators? And their fur is sometimes called a skirt?

Grab the book today to learn more about musk oxen and also for a few good laughs!

Teaching Idea/Home Connection: After you’re done reading, have your students choose their favorite letter to create their own alphabet page.  See the example here from a first grade classroom:

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

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A teacher told me about this book before but I never read it cover to cover until the other day.  I had goosebumps at the end!  It’s the story of a boy who falls in love with books at an early age. If you want to promote a love of reading in your classroom (or at home), read this book to your students! Also, it inspired a short film that won an Oscar.  Need I say more?

The UnBEElievables

Love insects?  Or great poetry?  Informational texts? Beautiful illustrations? This poetry book is a combination of all these features and more.  Each page has a different poem about bees, along with a short informational paragraph that further explains the content explored in each one.  For example, what is a worker bee, a drone, etc.

This is a great way to expose your students to poetry and informational texts, in a fun, engaging way. It’s also fun to read and like all poetry, can be read in short doses.  For example, keep it out and read a poem or two whenever you have a couple minutes to spare.  And if you haven’t seen any of Douglas Florian’s work before, his illustrations are original paintings.  It’s worth the money just for that!

John, Paul, George & Ben

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Do you teach the American Revolution? Are you a history buff?  Then you HAVE to get this book.  It’s written by Lane Smith, author of Math Curse and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, among others.

This book tells the story of John Hancock, Revere, George Washington and Ben Franklin, in a humorous and engaging way.  I laughed out loud several times.  Trust me, you will too!

Measuring Penny

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A great way to provide context and real life examples of how we measure (and use math) on a daily basis.  This book is the story of a girl, her dog (Penny) and the multiple ways that she measures Penny. Not just in height and weight, like you would think but also in time (how much time does she spend taking care of Penny?), money (how much money does she spend on dog food, etc.) and even volume (how much water does Penny drink?).  As you can see, this illustrates multiple math concepts and can therefore be read and re-read several times throughout the year.

A is for Angry

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Are you looking to improve your students’ vocabulary?

It’s obvious that this book can be used in K and 1st grade classrooms for alphabet recognition, letter sounds, etc.  But what I like about this book is that it also leaves room for vocabulary development.  Alphabet books aren’t just for emergent readers and this book is a great example of that. Could a third grade teacher use this as a way to show examples of more sophisticated language that students can then use in their writing? Absolutely! This book is filled with rich vocabulary like:

T is for tangled

O is for Outraged

Z is for Zany

You could even use it as a springboard to have your students write their own alphabet books.  The possibilities are endless and it’s also fun to read…

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So start your shopping list and grab one (or two or three) of these today!

Happy reading and best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!

Lisa

 

Give the Gift of Poetry

It’s the end of December and you’re still plugging away, counting down the days until winter break and some must needed R & R. Are you looking for some engaging – yet literacy based, authentic and meaningful – activities to round out the end of 2015?  Turn to poems and look no further!

 

Poetic Presents: Creative, Festive and Fun

There are many ways to integrate poetry into your classroom.  (See https://literacywithlisa.com/category/poetry/ for more ideas).

But one of my favorites is to have students give poems as gifts to someone special for the holidays.  There are two ways to do this: the student writes an original poem or the student chooses a favorite poem to share as a gift.

Option One: Student writes an original poem

If you’ve written any other poetry this year, allow your students time to reflect on their work and choose a poem that speaks to them.  Or, they can create a new poem just for this occasion.

List poems are a great place to start because they are just like they sound – a list!  Have a class discussion of different topics/words that relate to the season and create a chart.  Then let the students choose one that interests them.

They can create bookmarks:

 

Or just copy the poem onto paper, glue onto construction paper and illustrate.

Another idea is to make cards and place the poem inside.

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Option Two: Student shares a favorite poem from another author

How special is it to receive a piece of writing that someone chose just for you?  Give your students time to read poems and find one that reminds them of someone special. (Or just a poem that they really love!).  Then, like the example above, they can copy the poem over, illustrate it and give as a gift (on construction paper or inside a card).

Option Three: What other ideas do YOU have?

Be creative and share them below in the comments section.

And for more ways to get started with poetry in your own classroom, read this:  5 Easy Ways to Get Your Class Excited About Poetry. Then choose one idea and get started today.

You’ll be glad that you did.

Happy holidays,

Lisa

P.S. Parents – read the connection below! Continue reading

Write Your Heart Out (at home or at school)

Looking for a way to get your child to do more meaningful, authentic writing at home or school?  Maybe you encourage them to write only to be met with cries of, “I hate writing,” or “I don’t know what to write about?”

Try having them create a heart map.  It’s fun, easy and something that will be sure to foster ongoing inspiration in them (and you). And if you’re a “artsy/crafty” mom (or dad!) or teacher, even better!

What is a heart map?

I first discovered the heart map in the book, Awakening the Heart in 2003.  It changed my teaching and also my view of poetry and writing in general.  I highly recommend the book, especially if you are a classroom teacher.  A few years ago I even heard the author, Georgia Heard, speak and it was truly one of the most memorable workshops in my teaching career.

A heart map is a visual representation of “all the important things that are in your heart, all the things that really matter to you.  You can put: people and places, that you care about; moments and memories that have stayed with you; things that you love to do, anything that has stayed in your heart because you care a lot about it.” (Heard, 1999, page 108).

How do I get started?

Whether you’re doing this at home or at school…

1. Start by creating your own heart map as a model.

Materials needed: construction paper or chart paper for the model, sturdy paper for the child’s heart (consider tracing a heart on a file folder because they are sturdy), colored pencils, crayons, markers, cut-out photographs, tape and other art supplies

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(Map of a 2nd grade teacher’s heart)

2. Share your map with your students.  Discuss why you put each person, memory, etc., in your heart.  Illustrate the importance of choosing items for the heart that are truly meaningful (i.e. really part of your true heart!).  This “thinking aloud” will help the students understand the planning process that you go through as a writer.

3. Have the students plan the components of their hearts.  They can sketch our their heart on a separate piece of paper and/or make a list of what to include.

4. Let them get started! Play some quiet music in the background for inspiration, if that moves you.  Nutcracker (my daughter’s favorite), classical, jazz.  This will help them to relax and let go in the moment.

5. When finished, display the hearts and/or glue to the inside of their writing notebooks or file folders.  The students now have an ongoing list of writing ideas to carry them forward for the school year and beyond.

6. And last but not least, encourage them to choose something from their hearts and start writing!

Center Link: If you use literacy centers in your classroom, consider creating a “Write your Heart Out” center or add this as an option to Independent Writing.

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Let’s all remember the importance of what’s inside of our hearts and help our students to do the same.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Paving the Way with Poetry

It’s the first few days of school and everything is a blur of new faces, forms to complete, and procedures to teach.  The days fly by and as teachers, we often don’t finish half of what we had planned to do each day.

Sound familiar?

Here’s a great idea to fill those spare moments when you don’t have enough time to start something new, yet need to bridge the gap before the students transition to the next part of the day.

Read some poems!

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Don’t wait for National Poetry month in September. Poetry is great for the beginning of the year in so many ways – it builds community, adds humor and introduces students to a genre that they can return to again and again.  This is especially important for struggling students.  With its short format and lower word count, poetry is often less intimidating to those students and more inviting.  So why not introduce it to them now, help them get “hooked” and also keep them engaged?

When I taught third grade, I would keep a one or two poetry books on the ledge below the whiteboard, or on a shelf near the front door.  That way, whenever I had two or three minutes to spare, I could grab a book, read a poem or two and move on.  This resulted in less distractions, more focused students and an increase in interest for this genre and reading overall.

Humor is always a good way to draw kids in, especially in September.  It’s also helpful to find poems that connect to actual parts of the school day, like the cafeteria, recess, etc.   Once you start reading on a regular basis, your students will want to find their own poems to share.  If possible, let them copy over the poems and display them in different areas of the room.  You can even have them sign up for poetry readings or create hand gestures to act them out.

Ready to get started? Here are a few of my personal favorite books for the beginning of the year.

Lunch money and other Poems about School by Carol Diggory Shields

Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield

A Pizza the Size of the Sun and anything else by Jack Prelutsky

Unbeelievables and anything else by Douglas Florian

Falling Up and anything else by Shel Silverstein

The Way I Feel by Jana Cain

The Dog Ate My Homework by Bruce Lansky

If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries by Judith Viorst

Have some of your own favorites? Post them here so we can share ideas!  Thanks and happy reading!