My favorite unit I’ve ever done with my students is a Summer Vacation Poetry unit. I liked that it was different from the usual “write an essay about your summer vacation,” that it allowed us to play around with poetry, and that working with poetry is a great way to build students’ word choice skills.
The length of time it ran varies from year to year, depending on how many types of poetry I want the students to try, and the final product was a hand-crafted book of poems.
To begin the unit, I had kids get out pen and paper and brainstorm the things they enjoyed doing during their summer. (I usually timed this: 1-3 minutes depending on the needs of the class.)
Next, I had them circle three that they are most interested in writing about.
The next time we worked, I asked the students to choose one item from the three circled on their list around which to focus their poetry.
I also introduce the various techniques of poetry. I used this handout for the lesson.
At the end of the lesson, I discuss how these can also be used for mood and emphasis in prose writing.
STEP THREE, FOUR, FIVE, ETC…
At a rate of two forms a day, I introduced different forms for poetry and require the students to write a poem using at least one of them relating to their chosen summer activity.
Some of the forms I’ve used over the years are:
- Acrostic (using the name of the destination or activity)
- Free Verse
- Farewell Poem
- List Poem
- Letter/Post Card/Wish You Were Here Poem
- A Sensory Poem (using at least 4 of the 5 senses to describe a particular object or moment
The number of options is tremendous!
For each form, I modeled a poem of my own from my summer vacation experience.
I did this as a writers workshop, and so during our writing time, while students are required to try one of the new forms, they were also welcome to try the other new one, one from a previous day, or revise their poems working in some of the techniques of poetry.
STEP FOURTH TO THE LAST
Finally, I asked the students to select 8 poems they wish to incorporate in their books. (Of course, they were always welcome to select more if they want to. This day is then spent selecting and revising each poem, focusing especially on word choice and the techniques of poetry.
STEP THIRD TO THE LAST
On this day, I had students pair up to peer edit their selected poems.
STEP SECOND TO THE LAST
With plenty of art materials on hand, I shared a book with the class, Making Books That Fly, fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist, and Turn by Gwen Kiehn, which has examples of a variety of ways to make their books. (You can likely find books like this in your school library and most assuredly online.)I encouraged them to consider a way that most interests them and welcome to use their own ideas as well.
I allowed a couple of class sessions for the students to make their poetry books
I instruct the students to write me a letting including the following criteria:
- The strengths and weakness you see in your poetry
- The title of your favorite poem and the reason it is your favorite
- Explain your understanding of:
- Types of poetry
- Techniques of poetry
- Cite examples from your own book.
- An explanation of what was the easiest and the hardest part of writing your poetry
- An explanation of how you helped yourself to overcome your challenges
In addition to the letter, I also ask them to staple together (and label) a copy of their pre-writes, drafts, and evidence of revision and editing.
In addition to scoring using the school’s standards for scoring writing (which count for 40% of the score.)
I also scored for:
- Pre-writes (5)
- Rough Drafts (5)
- Evidence of Revision and editing (5)
- Title (2)
- Table of Contents (2)
- Creativity (2)
- Color (2)
- Illustrations/Graphic Elements(2)
Your school or districts writing rubric = 40% final score
- Discussion of Strengths (4)
- Discussion of Weaknesses (4)
- Most Proud/Why (4)
- Mastery of Types (3)
- Mastery of Techniques (3)
- Conventions (2)
- Examples Cited (3)
- Discussion of what was Easiest (4)
- Discussion of what was Hardest (4)
- How you handled the challenges
The total of points will come out to x/100. You can then apply the percentage to whatever you want this unit to be worth.
First of all this unit was fun. (A great way to start the year.)
Second, each poetry book was totally unique to each student. (A great way to begin to get to know your class.)
Third, word choice skills are highlighted as well as the rhetorical skills in the techniques of poetry that students can draw on in their writing throughout the year.
Fourth,the writing process has been established and practiced.
Fifth, the results were a delight to read.