Picture Books and Poems

27 Jan

Alright – teacher confession time: Teaching writing is hard.  Who is with me on this?  While I know I am always evolving as a teacher, writing has been an area I constantly work on and strive to improve.  I was a good writer in school and thanks to some teachers and professors who challenged me, I became an even stronger writer.  However, I have found that sometimes it’s hard to teach students because, well, writing can be hard.  And hard scares us, both teachers and students.

I have really been trying to shift my focus in writing.  There are of course changes in standards and testing, but I have been thinking what skills do my students need?  Making an argument is very important, of course, but what else is there?  That is not the only type of writing.  What other experiences can we share?

Our department has been looking at synthesis the last few years.  This is one of the strategies that work when it comes to reading.  Plus, it is higher order thinking.  We create our own ideas from what we read.  And, as I explained to students, we read literature to learn about the world and apply the messages to our lives. I want to provide opportunities for students to share what they have learned.

A large part of synthesis is using sources to support your ideas.  We know as we have been shifting our instruction that sometimes students have a hard time with this.  I did too at times.  How do you incorporate another’s ideas while keeping the paper your own?  We use these skills in research for all topics, and I know it can really help students.

So, I wanted to incorporate a synthesis essay at the end of the Raisin in the Sun unit to help students with this.  I wanted them to explore the American Dream to discover the lessons they learned as well as apply the lessons to life.  Now, where to start?  How to help them do this?

My assistant principal is amazing to bounce ideas off of and get some advice from.  I want this higher level thinking, but how do we get there.  She suggested breaking it down for them with shorter, simpler texts first.  She recommended a picture book with another text.  Picture books appear simple, but of course, have many deeper lessons that we can apply. I had success earlier this trimester practice Close and Critical Reading Questions with a picture book. I decided to go for it to give the students practice.

After a lesson planning block, I came across some ideas online.  The picture book that really spoke to me was The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson.  Not only is a beautiful books in general, but the story has a strong message about segregation.  I knew my students would have a lot to say about it.

I wanted to do more work with poetry with my students.  We had read “A Dream Deferred” before reading the play, so I turned to Langston Hughes again.  I love his poetry!  His poem “Merry-Go-Round” seemed to fit perfectly with the book and I thought we could not only practice using sources to show our learning, but have some great conversations.

And we sure did!  Friday, we went through the lesson.  I was amazed with what students had to say about both the book and the poem.  I love when students share ideas and thoughts I had not thought about.  I saw more light bulbs turn on as we started to write what we learned.  I felt so energized from such a thoughtful, productive day in the classroom.

I know that students are still nervous about the essay as it is new and different from what they are used to.  But, we continued discussing today and I have been encouraging them to try and take this risk to grow as writers.  I also tell them, we become better readers by reading and better writers by writing (and of course they help each other).  I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

I also appreciate the reminder from my AP about how important it is to practice and to remember the power of picture books in class.  Even though I thought I’d have it all figured out by now (will I ever?), at the end of the day, I love these opportunities to grow and try something new.


One Response to “Picture Books and Poems”


  1. A Great Start! | Mrs. Crawford's Thoughts - March 24, 2015

    […] tough for them because they were not used to this type of writing.  However, we worked through and practiced and they stepped up.  They really showed what they learned on the final exams this trimester, too. […]

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