Winter Holiday Literacy Activity: Borrowed Poems

Winter Holiday Activity literatelives.wordpress.comOne of the things I love doing with my students, which you can do either in the classroom or at home for fun, is write what I call Borrowed Poems.

What is a Borrowed Poem?

A borrowed poem is a new poem created by analyzing and playing with an already existing poem or song. The winter holiday season is so jam-packed with so many familiar songs that it lends itself well for this activity.

How to Write a Borrowed Poem

First, select the song you wish to play with. For this exercise, I have chosen a traditional favorite: “Deck the Halls.” If you ou your student do not know the words to the song, you will need to access them.

Observe and analyze the first verse of the song.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly.
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La
‘Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La

What do I notice?

The first sentence is an imperative statement, instructing the listener or an unknown participant to do something. As such, it begins with the verb, “deck,” meaning to decorate.

I also notice this song uses an ABAB rhyme scheme: the two A rhymes are  “holly” and “jolly,” the two B, part of a repeated refrain, repeat the final “la.”

Finally I notice the rhythm of the verse: Dum da Dum da Dum da DumDum. Since I will use the refrain as is, I have no need to analyze this. It may be helpful to select a song that does have some repeated verse or refrain that can be incorporated into the poem.

Plan, Prewrite, Compose

Jot down any ideas you have for your new poem:

  • Who is the narrator?
  • What is the setting?
  • What is the poem about?
  • What are some rhyming words that may suit your intent?

My first thoughts were that I wanted my poem to be about getting all dressed up and doing something fun. At first I considered making it a New Year’s Eve poem. However, my imagination, right now, is rather caught up in brightly colored lights and Christmas fun. The “lights” concept gave me one of my first rhyming words: “glow.” (I love light, especially in the dark days of December!)

Thinking about lights got me thinking about all the decorated houses in my neighborhood. I thought maybe the “fun” activity in my poem can be going out to view all the lights.

However, once I got to thinking about going out–outdoors–the traditional practice of caroling popped into my head. I decided caroling would be my activity.

And once I got to thinking about caroling, I thought about neighbors and all the ways we love and serve each other through the year.

With all those ideas in mind, it was time to write.

Write Your Poem

Prepare yourself with plenty of paper, a pencil, and possibly an eraser (although often in the midst of drafting, I don’t have the patience to erase and just cross words out and go on).

Do not expect perfection the first time out. Initially, I was determined to include a babysitter in the caroling rounds, but discovered the word just had too many syllables. After much switching words in and out, I at last settled on a cat sitter instead.

Even once you think your poem is done, don’t ink out a final copy right away. Set it aside and do something else. The idea for the cat sitter did not come to me until I had washed the dishes and gone upstairs to put away clothes.

Edit and Revise

Go back and look at your poem. Play with sound of the words using alliteration, assonance, consonance, and repetition.

Edit for grammar and punctuation. Don’t be intimidated. A sentence is a sentence whether it’s written as prose or a line in a poem. However, if you wish to get creative with grammar and punctuation, a poem can be a good place to do it.

Publish

Once you feel your poem is done, “publish” it. Publishing can come in many forms–inking out a final handwritten copy, entering it into a word-processing program and printing it out, doing either of the former and decorating the final copy with stickers, borders, zen-doodling, or clip art, or mounting it on some holiday paper.

Publishing also means sharing. Maybe you want to read it to family or friends one evening after dinner, post it on a bulletin board, or write it into a card.

Here is my poem:

Caroling in Oregon

Dress yourselves in clothes that glow,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La,
Tonight, out caroling we’ll go,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La.
First to Jim, who shares his garden bounty,
Fa-la-la La-la-la La La La.
Next, to Sue, best baker in the county,
Fa-la-la-la La,  La-la La La.

Santa songs for little Sam,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La,
Angel’s carols for Mrs. Lamb,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La.
Cross the street to cat-sitter Jayne’s
Fa-la-la La-la-la La La La,
All while hoping it won’t rain,
Fa-la-la-la La,  La-la La La.

Your Turn

Did you try it? Did you and your kids have any fun? Please use the comment box below to share the titles of other songs that have a refrain, or, even better, your own creation. Enjoy this week with the young people in your life and borrowed holiday poems.

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