Don’t you love spontaneous teachable moments? As a class, we were sharing spring poems and had read Bobbi Katz’s poem “Spring Is.” http://blog.lrei.org/ls-poetry-archive/spring-is-bobbi-katz/ The physical layout of the version we read made the reader feel as if they were running in their sneakers down the stairs. As we discussed how the words’ placement impacted the poem’s meaning, my students began to look for other examples of poems written in a shape. It was the perfect time to change the direction I had planned for the morning and introduce the concept of concrete poetry.
A concrete, or shape poem is one whose meaning is told through both the words and its graphic shape on the page. To begin our exploration, I simply googled “image of concrete poems for children.” As the class viewed these images, students quickly ascertained that in a concrete poem a poet conveys his message in two ways, both through the text and through the shape in which he puts the words on paper.
I wanted students to think about a topic for their own poetry before I showed them more examples. Each child was asked to think of a noun about which they were interested and had a lot of background knowledge. After writing their item at the top of the page, they were given three minutes to list attributes and/or what you might do with this object. Once the attributes were gathered, students were asked to put these words into phrases. We quickly reviewed similes and metaphors and looked for ways to add figurative language to the brainstormed list. For example: “spinning bike wheels” turned into:
My bike wheels were spinning in circles like planets orbiting the sun.
Wanting the students’ content to be just as significant as their drawing, I gathered some books with concrete poetry examples. The three we used for examples were Technically, It’s Not My Fault by Grandits, Meow Ruff by Sidman and Outside The Lines by Burg and Gibbon. All three authors write their concrete poems in unique ways. As we read the poems, students identified different ways the poems were put together. Some poems were written in the interior of a shape while in other poems the words were written so the words outlined the shape.
We were ready to write. Two important decisions had to be made. Using their completed phrases, students first chose the format for their poetry. Like the poems we had studied, some chose to write in phrases, some students wrote following a rhyming pattern and others used complete sentences. The second decision was what shape would best convey the message.
As I met with students, I was amazed by their creativity. The room was abuzz with excitement and engagement as students matched their poetic words to a shape. As a class, we had spent an amazing morning learning and creating together.
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