Friday, April 27, 2018

My Source of Creative Comfort by Deb Day


It draws fear into the hearts of many. But for me, poetry has always been a source of creative comfort. From sappy love poems to angry missives, I loved the way the right words, the right phrases could share so many thoughts and feelings.

My favorite form for writing poetry is free verse because, quite frankly, I don’t like most poetry that rhymes. I think it takes a master to write poetry with distinct rhythm and rhyme and that I am not.  Free verse allows me to choose strong words that share my thoughts. Free verse also allows me to write the lines of poetry exactly how I think them. Putting a single word or a short phrase on its own line emphasizes an idea and lets my reader know I think it’s important.

I don’t always sit down to write poetry or have an idea for a poem. Many times, I sit down to write and that’s just how the words come out of my fingers. Ideas for poetry come from many places--students, grandkids, Chloe. The trigger for a poem could be a giggle, a thought expressed or a line of conversation. This is how my favorite poem came to be.

I love listening to how kids learn language. They use unique expressions to get their point across. They mix up letters in words--baseghetti, anyone?  Or they say things like, "Can I flush the toaster?" (Really. Think about it.)

So conversations with my grandkids are always delightful. My poem (below) When I Grow Little came about from this conversation:

Me: So Tony, how is preschool? Are you having fun?
Tony:  Yep. I learned "Going on a Bear Hunt."

I recited the first line and asked if that was the right one.  He assured me it was and proceeded to recite the whole thing (with actions, of course).

"I like that, Tony!  Will you teach it to me?"

"Well, Gramma, when you grow little, maybe you will learn it at school."

When I Grow Little

When I grow little
I will sing with passion
Even if
I don't sing very well.

I will draw lots and lots
of pictures
And not care
that no one
Knows what I drew.

When I grow little
I will skip down the sidewalk, and
Wear my favorite clothes
(Even if they don't match).

I won't care what I look like
in a bathing suit.
I will take naps when I need them
(With my favorite toy).

When I grow little
I'll eat cold hotdogs for breakfast and
Warm cookies and milk for lunch.
I'll lick the frosting off my cupcake.

I'll make someone else kill the bugs and
take  fish off the hook
(Even if they don't like them either).

I will say
"I love you"
a million times a day
(Just to make sure
they know I mean it)
And I will always start my day with
Morning Hugs
When I grow little.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A More Heightened Sense of Noticing by Joann Snook

I believe that the study of poetry makes me a more heightened “noticer.” One of the reasons that I look forward to National Poetry Month and celebrate it with my students is because I believe that it enhances our way of seeing – of noticing – our surroundings. 

I am not sure why or how this happens, just that it does happen…like a magic trick that I can perform but not explain.

When driving to school, the sun through the clouds is a poem. The stump outside my classroom is more than something to trip over; it is a lonely vestige worthy of description.

During Poetry Month I see “better” and try to get my students to do the same. Their work indicates that at least some of them do.

Has anyone else experienced this effect – the “April effect”? Any ideas why or how it happens?

Joann Snook has taught high school English for forty years and currently teaches A.P. Literature. You can connect with Joann on Twitter at @Joann Snook.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Becoming a Poetry Person by Tori Bachman

I have a confession: I’m not really a poetry person.

Or at least I haven’t been for the first 40-some years of my life. Poetry intimidated me. The time I spent studying it in high school and college felt stodgy, stifled, snobbish. I couldn’t relate to much of what I’d read, so I stopped trying to “get it.”

Just over a year ago, however, with anxiety levels increasing and attention span decreasing, my colleague—who really IS a poetry person—casually mentioned (right after I explained why I’d switched from coffee to chamomile tea), “You know, I have a feeling you’d like Mary Oliver.” Poetry newb here responded, “Hmm, she sounds nice. Could you introduce us sometime?” My dear colleague didn’t laugh. Instead, she laid on my desk two collections of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever encountered. And she was right: I do like Mary Oliver. A lot.

Now I am becoming a poetry person. I have spent hours in the library stacks and piles of money in used bookstores. I ask people, “Who’s your favorite poet?” and I make lists in my journal. I signed up for the Poem of the Day, and my cousin sends me poems in the mail. I devour them like ice cream on a summer day, I savor them like smooth, dark chocolate…and my body has started to actually crave poems like it craves chamomile tea.

I’m not sure I have discovered as much about poetry in these few months as I have discovered about myself – but that’s the point of poetry, isn’t it?

Here’s what I’ve learned (so far):

First, reading poems slows me down and forces me to pay attention. I see the world differently, notice the way raindrops plink against the mailbox and shimmer from bare tree branches. Poetry expands my vocabulary and descriptions of everyday things; instead of curly hair, for instance, my head is covered in voluptuous ringlets. I think in similes, too; my son’s hand in mine is like an anchor, for example.

Second, there’s always time for poetry. Poems are short, for the most part, so even on days consumed by a mile-long to-do list, I can read a poem and quiet my mind. Twelve minutes until the pasta water boils? Perfect time to read a poem or two by Ada Limón. Sitting in the orthodontist’s waiting for the kid’s braces to be adjusted? Pretty much anything by Billy Collins comes in handy. How about that the half-hour spent waiting for an oil change? I whole-heartedly recommend Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. (And, one of the most amazing things about living here in the future is we have access to hundreds of poems at all times right on our smartphones. Even better, if you’re like me and don’t really know yet what poetry you like so you don’t trust yourself to hunt for poems, look here, here, and here first.)

Finally, I notice that my writing changes when I’m in a “poetry place.” I don’t write poetry, mind you, but when I read poetry, the prose I write becomes tighter, leaner, edgier. Poetry focuses my mind on that all-important one-inch picture frame, and it forces me to read the spaces, the words unwritten, the nuances. Good prose does, too.

I’m becoming a poetry person, and you can, too, because here’s the best thing I’ve discovered: Poets write for all of us. There is something for every taste and every interest, something you will read that squeezes your heart or makes you sigh or sing or laugh. It’s not intimidating anymore because most of all, poetry is like wine — it’s okay to like what you like.

Tori Bachman is a literacy editor based in Portland, Maine – which means she’s also a writer, knitter, and jewelry maker in the winter and a hiker, beachcomber, and kayaker in the summer. You can find her on Twitter at @ToriBachman and read some of her random musings at

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

When Context Is Absent, Imagination Abounds by Brett Vogelsinger

Writing poetry from a picture is certainly not a new idea, but sometimes a picture with zero context can take us to fresh and surprising places as writers.

I find that The New York Times Learning Network’s collection of Picture Prompts has helped my students to craft poems about situations and topics that pull from our personal experiences, but go beyond as well.  The images are carefully curated so that they will be high-interest for teens, but since they come from current events, they expand our focus and pull in images that may be foreign to my students’ experiences in suburban Pennsylvania.

Alternately, when our library is discarding old non-fiction books and magazines, or I am purging piles of outdated copies of The New Yorker, abundant paper prompts that can be taped into our writer’s notebooks become available.

This year, I used a Picture Prompt post from September to encourage my student writers to slip into someone else’s skin and see the world through different eyes.  Here is the picture:

First, I invited students to sketch for three minutes, then asked what they noticed.  Here is my sketch:

It is intriguing to talk about what we did not notice until we sketch the picture, and those details may make the best material for writing.

I wrote with my classes, and of course the best part about teaching a writing workshop is having the opportunity to try the activity five different times across the course of my five classes for the day.

First period, I imagined the feet standing apart belonged to a new student.

Later in the day, I imagined that the apparent ostracism was the result of a long-held grudge.

After we all had a chance to draft, I invite the class to collectively be my conference partner, offering some praise and some push to make my work better.  Then they apply that technique to each other’s work in peer-to-peer conferences.

For this activity, it is important to withhold the original context, but if you end up using The New York Times Learning Network’s resources, they do link out to the original article context. This can be informative or sometimes hilariously surprising to consult after interpreting the image in a poetry writing workshop.

Brett Vogelsinger is an English teacher at Holicong Middle School in Bucks County, PA.  He is accessible on Twitter @theVogelman and blogs (with others) annually about ideas for Poem of the Day at . Students from his school publish their work at .

Monday, April 23, 2018

Every Poem Has a Story Behind It by Tynea Lewis

Every poem has a story behind it.

I hate analyzing poetry. I don’t want to guess what the author was trying to say. I want to know for sure. I want to know what inspired the poet to write those specific words. I want to know the person he thought about when he penned it, the pain she was trying to escape, or the location of the beautiful scenery that was captured.

I’m a journaler by nature. I’ve written or typed out an account of my life since high school. When rereading past entries, it’s the smallest details that mean the most because they’re usually the ones that get lost first as the memory fades.

As I’ve written poetry, I’ve tried to capture the moment surrounding the poem. The person I thought about while writing it, the pain I was trying to escape, or the location of the beautiful scenery.

When my memory of that exact moment fades and becomes hazy, I want to know what drove me to capture those words. That’s why I write the story behind the poem. It’s not long. Maybe a paragraph or so. Just enough to capture the backstory. Just enough for me to remember why I needed to share those words from my heart.

No one will ever have to analyze my poems. The meaning will be straightforward, and it’s yet another way to freeze time (just liking journaling).

Give it a try. Write a snippet about what has inspired you each time you write a poem.

Tynea Lewis is a former Title I teacher from Pennsylvania. She was named a 30 Under 30 honoree by the International Literacy Association in 2016 for her work with LitPick Student Book Reviews, an online reading and writing program. When she’s not busy overseeing the program or working for Family Friend Poems, she loves to spend time with her husband and young daughters, write for a variety of audiences, and escape to the quietness of the mountains. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @TyneaLewis or on her blog at

Friday, April 20, 2018

Writing Poetry to Help Readers by Lois Letchford

I began writing poetry in response to teaching a student struggling with reading. Working with isolated letters and sounds was going nowhere, frustrating both my student and myself. In utter desperation, I took to writing simple poetry, finding context to isolated words. Simple poems grew bigger and more complicated as learning went from impossible to “this is so exciting!”

As a literacy specialist, I write to meet the needs of my students. Poems are often written around a particular sound, so my students are unknowingly engaged in many integrated aspects of literacy.

When writing poetry, I start with a specific sound in mind. I find all the words I know with that sound. This is when my mind starts “playing with ideas, words, and sounds.” I brainstorm, and I ruminate. Lots of words are crossed out, and eventually—sometimes even with the assistance of students—I have a poem which can further require illustrations, create discussion, and, above all, is easily repeated by my students.

The Chimp and the Cheetah
A chimp and a cheetah met one day,
A long way away, and far away.
The chimp from a branch, high in a tree,
Said to the cheetah, “Just watch me.
I am a champ at beating my chest,
I am a champ at making a nest.”
The cheetah on the ground looked up and said,
“Chap in the tree, you can’t catch me!
Beat on your chest, make your nest.
I am as fast as fast can be.”
Chimp in the tree and cheetah on the ground,
Chatting to each other would never be found!

Lois Letchford is an educator, author, and speaker. Her non-traditional background, multi-continental exposure, and passion for helping failing students have equipped her with a unique skill set and perspective. Her first book Reversed: A Memoir is now available on Amazon. Connect on Twitter @LetchfordLois and at

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Poetry is a Sign of Hope by Jen Greene

Poetry is a divisive genre.  Some people hate it, others love it. Kids (and adults) moan and groan at the thought of reading or writing poetry.  To get a read on the room, I always start my poetry unit by asking my second graders to complete the sentence, “Poetry is…”  This year, one student answered, “a sign of hope.”  I was astounded by the insight of a kid who is seven years old. It made me think. 

Poetry is indeed a sign of hope.  It is an underestimated form of expression. 

When you write a poem you make the rules.  You decide grammar and stanzas and punctuation. 

Your choices express who you are and how you feel.  That individual expression is needed, maybe now more than ever. With all of the marches and movements sweeping the nation, one idea that rings true is that of voice.  Poetry can be that vehicle that allows you to use your voice to stand up for what you believe. And poetry can be a way to tell children, women, and anyone who feels marginalized that your voice matters. 

If you are a teacher who dreads writing poetry with your students, try this simple task: Ask your students what matters to them.  Maybe your students have thoughts about gun control or who to ask to prom.  Maybe what matters is where their next meal is coming from or how to avoid that bully on the bus.  Maybe they’re worried about struggling to read as well as their friends or how to convince their parents to stop yelling at each other.  Big or small, the thoughts that consume the minds of students matter. Sharing their voice through poetry will help students view their poems as a sign of hope.  A sign that they are not alone. Their voice matters.

Jen Greene is an elementary school teacher in the West Chester Area School District in West Chester, PA.  She is a fellow with the PA Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP) and a doctoral student at Widener University.  You can find her on Twitter @GreeneMachine82

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Plethora of Poetry by Deb Day

When I started teaching Creative Writing at the high school and created my blog, I began writing poetry again on a regular basis, so of course I included a poetry among the genres for students to write. SInce my writing class was always very independent, students had the choice about which order to write in and they just had to write two poems sometime during the semester. I gave them some direction but not much. After all, poetry was short and easy to write.

No wonder everyone put off writing their poetry until the very end of the semester, especially by the boys. They had no clue what to do or how to begin. Oh, I had some sheets with the basics of poetry that they could grab. And I gave little mini lessons, but looking back, they weren’t much help.

And then I found template poems like Where I’m From and I am… They were like fill in the blank for poetry! I also began using short, accessible poems for mentor texts. Poems like This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams gave students success in writing poetry in a short easy format.

We began mimicking many different styles of poems that provided students with success. In my last year, I created Poetry Learning Stations, an idea I found on Pinterest. I used the ideas I found there and added some of my own. We spent a week or so immersed in the writing of poetry. Students had to try them all, but turned in two for a grade. Everyone found styles of poetry that they connected with and wrote some poetry they weren’t ashamed to share.

Some of the poetry stations I used in class were:

  • Blackout Poetry  I had many old books that students could use and I also copied pages from favorite books for them to use for this poem.
  • Magnetic Poetry Students could do this online and screenshot their final product. I also had a tray with magnetic poetry on it.
  • Roll of the Dice. If you google this, you’ll find lots of resources.
  • 10:15 On A Saturday Night A song by The Cure. Great poem to mimic. My example included at the end of this post.
  • Newspaper or Magazine Poetry: Cut the words out of ads, etc and put together to make poetry
  • Where I’m From
  • I Am
  • This is Just to Say (linked above) 

I always tried out poem forms before the kids so I knew what obstacles they would have.  I had fun trying the different forms and so did most of my students. Sometimes results were silly, some philosophical, and some were downright heartbreaking. Some take more thought than others, but all these styles allow students to be successful writing poetry.

And that, of course, was the goal.

8:15 On a School Day

8:15 on a school day
The only sounds are
the buzz from the classroom
next door and
the tapping of my
computer keys

12:15 on a school day
Quiet class
Working hard
or looking like it
Some days
Some days chatting
Always polite and

3:15 on a school day
Locker doors slamming
friends yelling
Plans being made

4:15 on a school day

Deb Day taught many different English classes during her twenty-eight year teaching career. Creative Writing was her favorite class to teach in the last years of her career because she could write and share with her students. She is married, the mother of two and grandmother of six. She is owned by Chloe, seven-year-old Goldendoodle. All of this provides plenty of material for her blog, Coffee With Chloe.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

This Writing Life by Tiffany Rehbein

Last Sunday night, as I suffered from night-before-school jitters, I woke up and jotted down some ideas. A notebook always on my bed stand, I wrote about how I approach writing poetry. In the morning light, the thoughts were virtually incoherent, and only fragments of memory remained:

·    Be mindful of Inspiration
·    Read tons of poetry
·    Think thoughtfully
·    Write every day
·    Listen to music
·    Find a muse
·    Read tons

In a perfect world as I approach writing, I visit my favorite coffee shop, ideas bursting to get written down. The baristas know me by name and have my drink waiting because I never fail to arrive during my designated writing time. I carry a leather satchel – undoubtedly a gift from a former student, aspiring to be a teacher, a writer, a professor. I wear a scarf because on writing days, the weather is just blustery enough to need a scarf.

In yet another world, I have a writing room with natural light, flawless wi-fi, and a view. My view would be an ocean front, the water both consoling and inspirational. The water acting as metaphor, of course, symbolizing all things with love, motherhood, loss, joy, and labor.

In my world, though, I approach writing as I am able. I am a teacher. A mother. A wife. I am involved in my English teacher’s community nationally and statewide. I am involved in my community as a citizen. As we all are.

We prioritize that which we value the most. So, I read as much as I can when I can. I look for inspiration in the day-to-day, and I imagine the types of writing that might come from those perfect worlds. Then I write.

Tiffany Rehbein, a mother of two boys and two German Shepherds, is an avid Colorado Rockies baseball fan and a high school English teacher in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She is an active member of the Wyoming Writing Project and the National Council of Teachers of English where she serves on the Secondary Section Steering Committee. Follow Tiffany @Rehb31 on Twitter and follow her blog at

Monday, April 16, 2018

Before I Was a Teacher, I Was a Writer by Christi Julsrud

Before I was a teacher, I was a writer. Poetry gave me an outlet for what, as a teenager, felt like my tortured soul. As I got older, and realized that maybe I wasn’t so tortured, poetry gave me a way to capture beauty from ugly memories, a way to hold on to what is good in the light of change and chaos. I still turn to poetry to embrace the beauty in everyday life. No matter how ugly things get, poetry gives me an opportunity to make something beautiful out of words.

Many of my favorite poems came from a very dark period of my life, when an important relationship fell apart. I lost a lot of myself. Writing poetry was healing, and as I worked to make something beautiful out of the fragments left of my life, I started to discover my own voice. It makes me smile now to realize how much I gained from a time that seemed so full of loss. This poem is one of my favorites.

Cristi Julsrud is a National Board certified Language Arts teacher at East Alexander Middle School in Hiddenite, North Carolina. She has taught at the elementary and middle school level, but loves teaching 8th graders the most, and has been doing so for fifteen years. Her primary goal is to create readers and writers and students who are comfortable speaking out and advocating for themselves. She has piloted and implemented a feedback-only, gradeless classroom over the past three years. If you are interested in learning more about Cristi's teaching life or about implementing a gradeless readers/writers workshop, you can read more at her blog at The Literate Teacher's Manifesto ( You can also find her on Twitter (@Mrs_J_of_EAMS) or on Facebook (Cristi Lackey Julsrud).


Friday, April 13, 2018

Say the Word by Wendy Chaulk

Say the word

Hear the responses

See the reactions
Scrunched foreheads
Evil eyes
Hunched shoulders
Heads down

Explain the plan
April is
POETRY month
Daily reading
Daily writing

Scan my students
Not happy
Angry even

In my head
Suck it up
Why the hostility?

Begin day one

Day two comes
Just surround them
Change out websites
Find new books

Day three arrives
Students see
Links missing
Books gone
Smug smiles
They think they’ve won

Day four changes
QR codes plaster walls
Moving, scanning, laughing, chatting
30 minutes---time’s up
Let’s move on.

Day five surprises
Rushing, scanning, smiling, sharing
Chimes ring; students gather
What poems stood out?
You mean from earlier?
No; today and yesterday.
Poems? No--they’re songs!
But songs are poems
What? NO! Why? Seriously?!
Smug smile.
I know I’ve won!

Wendy teaches in a fifth and sixth grade looping classroom in Gillette, Wyoming. This is her eighteenth year as a teacher and first year as a Teacher Consultant for the National Writing Project. She loves her husband, reading, writing, cooking, eating, and traveling. You can find her on Twitter at @wluvs2teach and on her blog at

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Poetry is Home by Crystal Kelley

Writing poetry is home, and ever since I can remember, an extension of my being. Poetry saved me as an adolescent; serving as an outlet for emotion and creativity. And yet, poetry continues to feed the artist in me,  I don’t feel right if I am not writing. It is a way to wrestle with questions we have about life without having to come up with one answer.

This is a huge gift as a teacher of young writers and I understand that not all find a love with poetry--or even a like. I ask them what they know, what their experiences have been with regards to poetry.  We talk about how not everyone loves it, how some wish to run in the opposite direction, screaming. Students also share poems they love.

My approach is full of play and I ask students to promise to remain open to possibilities. We play with language, sounds, words, sketches--in our writer’s notebooks. We take sacred time with the page: every day. We write beside poems, using them as mentor texts--and enjoy them for what they are. Immersion in poetry and exposure to poets that walked before us, and those who are voicing now is important.  Pat Mora, Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings, Denise Frohman, Emmy Perez, Juan Felipe Herrera, William Stafford, and Naomi Shihab Nye--to name a few.

One way we enter poetry is through words. Choose a set of words: randomly from the book you’re reading, the dictionary, or a list we all pick. Choose.  Then, see what happens.  Ask questions about the words, check out their history, layers of meaning, and sound and placement on the page. Make sure to share with our writing response groups--get feedback and let the creativity go from there.  This community of writers is crucial. We celebrate the pieces that inspire us and more often than not, most that wished to scream earlier, are with their pencils focused on the page as the bell rings for class to end.

Crystal Kelley is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, has taught there, in Syracuse, New York, and now in San Marcos, Texas.  She currently learns alongside her 9th and 10th grade English and AVID students.  She is a teacher consultant with the Central Texas Writing Project at Texas State University, an affiliate of the National Writing Project.  In 2016, she was named Region 13’s Secondary Teacher of the Year. When Crystal is not doing teacherly things, she is playing outdoors with her three kids, squeezing in time to write, and cooking with her husband. Find Crystal @cryskelley9 on Twitter and student writing at

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Thinking in Poetry by Fran Haley

I recently rediscovered my old journal of poems from middle and high school.  As I re-read the work of my young poet-self, I wondered: Why did I stop? Why don’t I write poetry anymore?

I love to write.

I consider myself, first and foremost, a storyteller. That’s what my blog is all about, stories. I don’t think of myself as a poet, really. As much as I love reading poetry, as much as it pierces my heart and makes it sing, writing poetry was just something I dabbled with, once, long ago.

Then an interesting thing happened.

As I tried to explore the feeling of "almost" for a blog post — as in relationships that almost lasted, how we spend too much time with the ghost of almost — the words came to me in phrases:

A walking shadow,
the thief of Now
and its fullness,
the vacuum of Tomorrow
and all its possibility.

I enjoyed writing the rest of that poem. I didn’t think it was particularly good, as, you know, I am not a poet.

Watching the March snowfall, I thought: Surely this is winter’s death throes. It’s fighting to the last. Instantly, this line came to me: The last of winter this way comes.

It occurs to me that I am thinking in poetry, that the words of Shakespeare, in these cases, having lain dormant in my mind, now arise, stir, and spawn little phrases of my own. (Did you recognize a walking shadow and the hint of something wicked this way comes?)

Perhaps I started writing poetry long ago as a search for what’s beautiful in life. Despite the pain, loss, chaos, even rage . . . poetry is a means of making beauty out of it all.

Fran Haley is a K-12 English Language Arts educator currently serving as a K-5 literacy coach. Writing is her favorite thing to do and to teach; she loves helping others of all ages grow to love writing. She facilitates writing workshop training for teachers in her district and authors the blog Lit Bits and Pieces: Snippets of Learning and Life. Connect with her on Twitter: @fahaley.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sharing Poetry with a Larger Audience by Emily Zuccaro

In my teaching, I work with preservice elementary teachers in a writing methods university course. I believe that teachers who write are powerful writing teachers and I ask my students to complete writing engagements as we learn about the craft of teaching writing.

I believe they are writers from day one, but unfortunately, many students feel self-conscious or inexperienced about personal and meaningful writing. But as a result of our writing engagements, many of my students see themselves more and more as writers and therefore believe they are capable of teaching writing.

One of the engagements we complete is George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From” poem. We listen to her read her poem and discuss what we see she’s done in her writing. Our class has time to brainstorm before I ask them to complete their own poem. I believe sharing these poems with a larger audience will show my students how powerful their ideas and words are, and that they are writers in a writing community. I hope you enjoy their poems the way I have enjoyed working with them this semester.

Emily Zuccaro

Monday, April 9, 2018

"Poetry Midwifery" in Kindergarten by Christie Wyman

“How did you get them to write that?” I am often asked by colleagues and even parents. “I just asked the right questions, I guess,” is my response.

My wise poetry fairy godmother, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, once used the term “poetry midwifery” in a conversation we had, and it has stuck with me ever since. The more I thought about the concept, I realized it is all about asking students the right questions to draw out the poem waiting to come into the world. So, I guess I am a poetry midwife, assisting young writers and poets in bringing their creativity into the world. 
I love conferring with students about writing of all kinds, but I especially love conferring about poetry. There is something magical about engaging in a conversation with a Kindergartener when they are writing a poem, whether they are writing about wearing mittens in winter, a vernal pool animal, or an image given to them for an ekphrastic poetry challenge. Hearing them speak about the way something or someone makes them feel, what they see, or what it reminds them of is a timeless gift.

The time spent listening to my students, and looking for windows of opportunity in their words, is the best part of my teaching day. When a student was recently writing about making crepes with his grandmother in France last summer, I simply asked him what he called her. Without hesitation, and with a beaming smile, he replied, “Grand-Mère.” That one change in his written language added something special to his writing.

And just last week another student wrote a poem about the birds we study through our magical class window. She had written “fly” and so I probed and asked, “How would you describe the way that particular bird flies?” She replied, “Soar, of course.” Again, just that one little word change made her writing all the more powerful, and it was her word, not mine. I just asked the question. 

My goal is to keep the integrity of the writer’s intent, not wanting them to walk away from our conversation feeling like I, the teacher, did all the work. Just gently nudging, coaxing, guiding their powerful words that lie just beneath the surface in to the world.

Christie Wyman is a Kindergarten teacher and Grade Leader in Massachusetts, as well as a Lead Ambassador for When not nurturing her young writer/naturalists, she enjoys exploring vernal pools, marveling at the birds at her feeders, and hiking with her husband wherever mountains meet the sea. You can connect with Christie on Twitter @WymansWonders or on her blog, Wondering and Wandering, where she posts twice-weekly for both the Slice of Life and Poetry Friday communities. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

A Rocky Road to Loving Poetry by Tynea Lewis

I was in 7th grade when I was told by an English teacher that a poem I submitted for an assignment was not a poem.

I was crushed.

        Absolutely crushed.

I received a D on the assignment, a grade I had never seen before. As an A student, I was shocked, and a bit ticked off.

It was in that instant that I was turned off to poetry. I swore I would never write another stanza again. Poems felt pointless, and I created such a hatred for them in my mind.

Fast forward 17 years, and now I work for a poetry website.

Oh, the irony.

So what changed?

It wasn’t until the end of high school that I “opened my heart” to poetry again. It was my heart that drew me back to it. I’ve always been a writer, but it took some hard times for me to ultimately turn to poetry.

Eventually, I found this form to be the perfect way to capture the mess of emotions I felt as an older teenager. I could express my endless angst in short lines.

In my senior year of high school, I took a creative writing course, and half the semester was devoted to poetry. I was a little nervous about that at first, but I found such joy in exploring different forms. Poetry wasn’t just one thing. It wasn’t only about writing Shakespearean sonnets. It wasn’t about rhyming stanzas. It was a way to express myself.

I have now written just over 600 poems. How many would that 7th grade English teacher consider poems? Probably only a fraction, but that’s okay because I’ve enjoyed exploring this form.

My advice for people who approach poetry the way my twelve-year-old self did?

Don’t get hung up on the “rules” of poetry. Allow it to be a reflection of your heart, and you’ll come to love it as well.

It’s not as scary as we were taught in school. When we see that and share a love of poetry with our students, they won’t be fearful of it either.

Sometimes you need to walk away from something for a little while in order to fall in love with it.

Tynea Lewis is a former Title I teacher from Pennsylvania. She was named a 30 Under 30 honoree by the International Literacy Association in 2016 for her work with LitPick Student Book Reviews, an online reading and writing program. When she’s not busy overseeing the program or working for Family Friend Poems, she loves to spend time with her husband and young daughters, write for a variety of audiences, and escape to the quietness of the mountains. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @TyneaLewis or on her blog at

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Hearing Angels Sing by Teresa Greco

I wrote my first poem after encountering a poetry anthology my first grade ELA teacher had placed at a writing station. When I opened that book, light tunneled up to the ceiling; angels sang. “People do this?? This is a job??” I asked her, and the word poet became part of me.

Not everyone hears angels when studying scheme and meter; however, the sinews of poetry connect to every muscle of the modern student. Poems are love letters and hate mail, selfies and group chats. And, in this age of binge-watching, each stanza is an invitation to add another episode of longing, self-reflection, whimsy, angst, or uncharted rhyme. Students inherently understand the anatomy of poetry.

Writing poetry is a metacognitive practice; a poet must carefully consider how his or her authentic voice will shape the voice of a constructed persona. I find it crucial to write alongside my students, to model the struggles and successes writers encounter from word to word, line to line, work to work.

On the first day of class, we write odes together. I offer the subjects of Pablo Neruda’s odes, so we can compare our writing choices with Neruda’s. Students are delighted to discover that a published poet has also pondered the lifecycle of an artichoke, a lemon, a pair of socks, a grain of salt.
My poem, “My Language,” is about the unraveling of a poet who can no longer control the words he entraps in his poems. I often invite students to critique, repair, and reinvent my work: Why did the poet exclude conjunctions and interjections? Which line would you rewrite or omit? How would you write a poem about your language?

Effective writing in a collaborative classroom is a journey of revision and reciprocity – a return to our earliest pages.

Teresa Greco (Tarello) attended The Palm Beach County School of the Arts (now known as Dreyfoos School of the Arts) for voice, received a BA in creative writing from Florida State University, and earned a MAT for English 6-12 at Stony Brook University. She teaches 9 Honors, AP Language and Composition, and Philosophy at Deer Park High School (Long Island, New York). She is the author of The Trials of Nothing: A Soap Opera for Philosophers. She highly recommends the book Writing Poetry: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them by FSU professor and distinguished poet, David Kirby. You can follow her on Twitter @GrecoRoaming or email her at

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Alternative Poetry by Michelle Stein

Our creative writing unit weaves Shakespeare, poetry, short stories, and recitation together seamlessly in an attempt to grab and engage. I want students to feel, viscerally, the power of alternative self-expression. This hook of personal engagement captures both the writer and audience. Because the age group I teach is all about self-exploration and independence, the opportunity to “intentionally” break the rules of grammar hits their sweet spot.

Students get a taste of a wide variety of poetry. For three weeks, no matter what content we cover, I read a poem aloud to begin the class. Sometimes we discuss; but more often, I simply let the poem do the talking. (Click here for my list.)  My favorite assignments are all non-traditional: newspaper black-out poetry (thanks to Austin Kleon), Spine Poetry, Visual Poetry, and our Verses on the Green recitation day. Verses on the Green is a morning in which all students recite a poem from memory before an audience, weather permitting, outside.

Finally, one of my favorite alternative writing projects utilizes the benefits of collaboration and the random nature of Exquisite Corpse. Students sit in a circle of desks, each with a sheet of lined paper. I provide either a part of speech or a topic; each student writes a word or phrase that fits the category, folds the paper over so that entry cannot be seen, and passes the paper to the left. When the paper has returned to the first student, we read them all aloud. The poems can be silly, but more often than not, are breathtaking in their power of the written word. By the end of the unit, students have new outlets for their personal thoughts, beliefs, and creativity. More importantly, they bring a much-needed dose of beauty to our world. 

Michelle Stein has been teaching at the Davis Academy Middle School in Atlanta, GA for over 16 years. She loves to grow her PLN via Twitter @steinatdavis. You can find her class blog at and her professional blog at

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Immersion Through Poetry by Andy Schoenborn

A few years ago I was searching for a way to immerse students into English Language Arts from the moment they entered the classroom on day one - a task not easy to do with seniors.  Most times they would slouch into their seats and wait for the monotonous drill of reading syllabus, sharing the classroom expectations, and grading policies.  I was as bored as they were slogging through the protocol. 

I questioned why I felt the need to begin an exciting course by boring students to death. 

My reasoning, of course, was simple - it was a necessity.  Still, there was this nagging feeling that more could be done.

Not one to wait for the next trimester to experiment, I made my move the next class period. 

As students entered the class, I welcomed them as usual with a handshake as I introduced myself as Andy.  When they were all seated I shut the door without saying a word, turned the lights off, turned the projector on, adjusted the volume and played Shane Koyczan’s poem, “Remember How We Forgot.”

The haunting violin accompaniment and rich words resonated with students who were beginning to look back at what they want to remember as their public school experiences came to an end.  As Koyczan’s word fade, silence filled the room. 

“Wasn’t that great?,” I said and encouraged them to snap along with me, “Come on, folks, you can do it.  Honor the words.  Honor the experience.  It will feel strange at first, but soon it will feel strange not to snap your appreciation.”  They snapped along and we chatted about the power of words.

When someone tells me they don’t like poetry, I don’t believe them.  I ask, “Do you like music?”  Invariably, they do.  I ask, “Do you like the lyrics?”  They do.  “Then,” I say, “you like poetry, you just don’t realize it.”

For some reason, many people associate poetry as some inaccessible and lofty art form that either you are gifted with or you are not. 

As a writer, I know there is play involved and I find ways to incorporate poetry as creative writing into my classroom as often as I encourage independent choice reading.  To appreciate either reading or writing low-stake entry points are a must. 

To that end, we recite poems daily and explore opportunities to write as poets. 

Words bring us together.  Words help us to see we are not alone.  Words empower us to explore the observations we make in the world. 

Poetry is a way to immerse students in language while they learn about themselves and others.

Andy Schoenborn is a high school English teacher in Michigan at Mt. Pleasant Public Schools.  He focuses his work on progressive literacy methods including student-centered critical thinking, digital collaboration, and professional development.  As a past-president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English and National Writing Project teacher consultant for Central Michigan University’s Chippewa River Writing Project he frequently conducts workshops related to literacy and technology.  Read his thoughts on literacy in the and follow him on Twitter @aschoenborn.  View his students’ poetry on

Monday, April 2, 2018

Welcome to a Month of Poetry Ponderings by Jennifer Laffin

"And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest."
-  Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Sensitive Plant 

Ahhhh....spring is in the air!

April is the time that Old Man Winter heads back to hibernation and Nature comes back to life.

It's no wonder, then, that April is also Poetry Month. Poetry calls on us to look around and notice the life going on around us. Our senses awaken and start to buzz and we want to find a way to pay tribute to this awakening.

Hence, the poem takes center stage.

Here at the #TeachWrite Chat Blog, we are dedicating this space this April as a place to share the thoughts and words of our teacher-writer community's ponderings about poetry. Some of our writers will share their own poetry with you. Others will write about how poetry inspires their writing life or how they bring their love of poetry into their classrooms and the teaching of writing.

We are excited for this month as we rise from our "dreams of wintry rest" and find inspiration among us!

Happy Spring!

If you would like to write a guest post for our Poetry Ponderings gathering,
please click here for more information.

Jennifer Laffin is a teacher of teachers, the owner of Teach Write LLC, and a co-moderator of the #TeachWrite Twitter Chat. She is committed to helping teachers and their students grow as writers because she has seen how writing can transform you both personally and professionally. You can find her learning with others on Twitter at @laffinteach and @TeachWriteEDU or at

Write for Us!

The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing. We are looking for guest bloggers who would like to blog on topics related to being a teacher-writer. Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here.