Poetry writing is a standard for most grade levels, but what happens when you combine it with an outdoor experience, an art project, and avatar creation? Kids engage, excite, and create! Don't be scared away by the technology... there are several layers to this lesson idea. You can omit or change the technology to fit your available tools!
One of my favorite times of the year, fall offers the opportunity for children to use their senses to observe change. Sensory writing, like poetry, is best when it is based on actual experiences. I liked to take my second graders outside on the perfect day. (Some spontaneity is required to make this happen as weather and nature do not always follow a lesson plan book!) The first frost, the appearance of color in the surrounding trees, the angry cloud morning, worms on the playground escaping the rain in the grass, or any other notable outdoor event make for fabulous descriptive vocabulary development! With pencils and notebooks in hand, we took our learning out to the playground to gather ideas and words for our poetry. Our school was fortunate to have an arboretum where the kids could observe a variety of trees and shrubs, but any outdoor setting will do! Children rarely stand silently still on a playground. Asking them to do so almost always leads to big ah-ha's! A bit of silence with eyes closed allows children to notice sounds and smells they may not otherwise notice. Still bodies feel the wind or chill on exposed skin. Eyes take in great detail when bodies and voices are quiet. After each experience, we took time to share what we noticed and jot down some ideas in our notebooks, stretching to move beyond simple words like wind and cold, to more specific descriptive words. Brainstorming together helps build everyone's vocabulary.
In addition to descriptive sensory words, we practiced the use of poetic devices. In second grade, we worked with metaphor, simile, personification, onomatopoeia, and alliteration. After learning and practicing in the classroom, we moved outdoors to try out the devices when describing nature. Working with partners, the kids took time to sit quietly, touch, and experience nature while writing poetic phrases in their notebooks. At the end of the time, we gathered in a circle on the grass for sharing. Stretching them a bit further, I would point to something like a bird flying by, or a seed on a bush and ask them to think of an example for each poetic device. They were as delighted with themselves as I was when they realized how beautiful and descriptive their words could become!
Back in the classroom, poetry writing was ignited as they could not wait to paint a picture with their words! Although it often feels like there is never enough time at school, it is critically important to allow enough time for children to brainstorm and build thoughts and ideas. The time spent outdoors practicing, led to engagement within the class. I would never leave that part out!
Here are some samples of the resulting second grade fall poetry:
It is almost impossible for children to spend time outdoors in the fall without collecting leaves! In first grade, we had a scavenger hunt for specific colors and types of leaves. While gathering details for our poems in second grade, we also gathered colorful artifacts to bring back to the classroom. Once poems were written, we used leaves to make pictures based on the marvelous book, Look What I Did With A Leaf! by Morteza E. Sohi:
I frequently used art as an incentive for writing. When students looked forward to artistic creation, they willingly worked hard on their written creations as well. This project was a favorite! I have to admit, that over the years, I found a way to make this much easier! Although the children collected bags of colorful leaves, we did not use the actual leaves for our artwork. That inevitably led to dry crumbly pictures that would not last. Instead, we scanned the leaves on a color copier and printed out pages of paper leaves for the children to use in their artwork. The results were fabulous and long lasting:
The lesson could easily end right there! Adding one more element, however, takes this lesson over the top for kids and ensures they remember the learning for a long time! Using an Xbox 360 Kinect in my classroom, they children were able to record themselves reading their own poetry as an avatar! I had a Kinect system permanently in my classroom (I will share other uses in future blog posts!), but we also had one in our school that could be easily moved from class to class. If your children have one at home, it can also be brought in for a project as well.
Avatar Kinect is found on Xbox Live online. Click on the links to find the download for the game. As always, it is important to remember that you, the teacher, do not have to know how to do this. I will never forget struggling to teach my second graders how to create the avatars while they listened patiently. Just before the moment of frustration overcame me, I realized my huge error! Turning to the children, I asked if anyone knew how to do it. Hands shot in the air and I, chuckling to myself, quickly turned that part over to the kids. They helped each other with the game and recording of the poems. I turned my attention to children who needed help with their writing. We do not need to be the experts at technology! The kids need to be the experts!
The final result? Here is the work my second graders completed that delightful fall: