Friday, February 6, 2009

Telling Tales

Time for a Poetry Break!

Module 1, Poetry Break 1

A poem about school, the library or books and reading:

Telling Tales
by Hope Anita Smith

The teacher said,

“Just for fun,
everyone make up a story
using your wildest imagination.”
I chewed on my eraser
for a long time before I
started to write
about a boy
just my age,
who wore pants that
covered his ankles
and shoes that didn’t
hurt his feet.
He lived in a
three-bedroom apartment
with his mom and dad.
And the heat worked.
And the water ran clear.
And when he heard
loud popping sounds at night
he knew that it must be
the Fourth of July.
Oh, yeah,
and he lived happily
ever after.

Although this poem, by Hope Anita Smith, is a series of poems about an African-American family going through difficult relationships, this particular poem is about a young boy in school who has been asked by his teacher to “make up a story using your wildest imagination.” If I only had a dime for the number of times teachers have actually spoken those words in a classroom, yes, I would be rich!

In our school, February is writing month, and all seventh and eighth students are required to write in every subject at least once each week. Teachers must “warm-up” and prepare their students and this poem would make a wonderful introduction to writing month. After presenting the poetry book and reading the poem, the teacher could ask the students to think about why the young man in the poem wrote about what he did. I would have them brainstorm for a few minutes. In advance, I would write the poem on a huge piece of paper with enough room for students to write a personal response to the poem. I would ask volunteers to write their responses beside the poem. Is the boy the writer? What does he mean about his pants covering his ankles and shoes that don’t hurt his feet? I would ask the students to ponder the last line, “and he lived happily ever after.” Can they imagine what this boy’s life might be like? Do they believe he lived happily ever after?

The extension exercise would be the actual writing assignments for the month of February. The poem would help the students open up their imaginations as they begin their essays and compositions and realize that drawing from personal experiences makes for interesting reading, and many times, easier writing.

Smith, Hope Anita and Shane W. Evans, illus. 2003. The way the door closes. NY: Henry Holt and Company. 33.

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