Sunday, May 07, 2006

Poetry Poker

Writing poetry can be daunting for everyone. For some, like my youngest sister, it comes naturally, but for most, being told to write a poem on command can bring about delightful visions of acquiring a debilitating disease that will leave you without the use of your hands until the deadline passes.

As a teacher, I feel underqualified to teach on how to write poetry, but I enjoy reading it and feel that I must do a unit on how to write it; I don't want to create students who are frightened of it because of underexposure. I've read many journal articles on this subject and have discovered some great lessons that have been used successfully in my classroom.

There is one exercise I especially like to use as an introduction. It introduces students to poetry in a non-threatening way and is called Poetry Poker. The teacher prepares in advance by creating word cards and directions for play. I like to use actual playing cards with words or phrases typed on the card, as they're a nice size and offer more stability and durability than unlaminated paper. Plus, there's something great about getting to pull out a deck of cards in class (although I have blank decks on hand for those that are more interested in the "poker" part of the exercise!).

Students are dealt cards that they must then arrange in an enticing order to form a line of poetry, and they can add some additional words as necessary to help the flow. After a day or two of playing, students look at the lines they have created and they can do some rearranging or minor editing as necessary. Then students rewrite their poems and decorate them accordingly. We display them in the classroom, and students are drawn to the walls, reading what their peers have written.

It's great to see them get into the exercise. They enjoy the word play and you end up with some poetic lines. I've done this with ninth graders and seventh graders. The only difference I've seen is that my middle-schoolers sometimes encountered unfamiliar words. When this transpired, they were more likely to discard than use the available dictionaries. Nevertheless, I was delighted to read what students had as finished products. Here are two for now:

Then she felt that fond
Yet dreadful rage coming on
Again and suspected people
Would throw streamers
At her

My rage will smother
Me with a stale piece
Of cake over the
Telescopic cliffs of

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