The Intersection of Poetry and Informational Writing + a Giveaway
It’s been awhile since the Common Core State Standards were released. However, I’m still shocked that the CCSS writing standards overlook overlook poetry. While I still advocate for poetry units of study and the infusion of poetry into all parts of the school year (e.g., poetry circles, poetry stations, poetry walks), I have worked with a handful of teachers whose administrators are talking about getting rid of poetry units of study in writing since they don’t fit with the CCSS. I cannot even imagine a classroom where poetry isn’t written, can you?
I’ve been thinking about ways teachers can teach students how to write poetry within the context of one of the three types of writing the CCSS writing standards include (i.e., argument, informational, and narrative). When I recently cleaned out my basement, I uncovered a book I purchased when I was teaching fourth grade. Faces of the Moon, by Bob Crelin is an informational text, written in rhyme. It is a book that teaches, through pictures and poems, about the phases of the moon. If one is teaching a science unit, then this book can surely be a mentor text that can offer up another way for students to convey information about a topic. Rather than writing in prose, students can use a book like this to write about their scientific topic poetically.
When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders, written by J. Patrick Lewis, is a collection of poems that informs readers about men and women who fought to eradicate injustice based on ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, and sexual orientation. When I received a review copy of this book, I initially thought it would be an excellent book for teachers to reference when studying the civil rights movement.. Then I chastised myself for allowing myself to be so one-dimensional in my thinking. I came to realize this book could be used in content area writing. It can be used as a mentor text to teach many qualities of good writing. Young writers could study the poems and instead of crafting biographies or writing informational reports about leaders whom they researched. Rather than the traditional type of content area writing, writers can take what they’ve learned and mentor themselves after one of Lewis’s poems from When Thunder Comes. (Obviously teachers will have to help students appreciate the poems in the book first through read aloud. Additionally, teachers must provide some minilessons for crafting poetry.)
I reviewed the grade four informational writing standards in an effort to determine whether or not one could have students write content poems about a content area and have it meet some of the year-end goals for informational writing. Specifically, I examined ELA W4.2 to see what I could accomplish, if I were still in the classroom full-time, if I wanted to try informational poetry writing with a group of young writers. The standards follow below in green, while my commentary appears in orange:
2. Writer informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey information clearly.
a. Introduce a topic clearly and group related information in paragraphs and sections; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension. | Stanzas could equal “sections.” Students could draw a relevant illustration to enhance the meaning of their poem. Headings would have to be taught during a different unit of study.
b. Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, and other information and examples related to the topic. | I think all parts of this standard can be achieved through writing informational poems.
c. Link ideas within categories of information using words and phrases (e.g., another, for example, also, because). | While some transition words can be taught, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time emphasizing this if I were teaching students how to craft informational poems. I would save this for another type of informational writing during the school year.
d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic. | This is important to target in minilessons when teaching students how to craft informational poems. Strong word choices are key to writing powerful poems.
e. Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented. | Poems need to wrap-up, but they rarely include a concluding statement or section. Hence, I do not think this part of the standard could be met with this type of unit.
Teachers (and their colleagues who share instructional responsibilities in other subject areas) have an entire school year to make sure kids are meeting the grade-level writing standards. Therefore, if I were still in the classroom, I feel I could justify taking the time to teach my students to write informational poems within the context of science or social studies (writing).
Before I share some of the poems from When Thunder Comes with you, I want to be clear that I still believe of informational writing, such as articles, nonfiction books, reports, must be taught in writing workshop. However, if I were in the classroom and if I were teaching in a school where I was no longer going to be allowed to do a month-long poetry unit of study, then I’d be pitching informational poems to my principal as a way of teaching poetry by still working towards the year-end goals of the CCSS. However, I must admit, I think I would have-a-go with a unit like this even if I were teaching a traditional poetry unit since I think it could be valuable for young writers to convey information in poetic form.
There is a four-page long author’s note (of sorts) that comes at the end of When Thunder Comes. It provides readers with additional information about the people behind the poems. Here are two of the paragraphs about two of the poems above.
Mamie Carthan Till: When fourteen-year-old Emmett Till made a trip from his home in Chicago’s south side to visit relatives in Money, Mississippi in 1955, he had no idea what awaited him. He and his friends stopped to buy candy at Bryant’s grocery store. Accounts differ as to what happened next. Emmett either said, “Bye, baby,” or whistled at the store owner’s white daughter—a “crime” evidently punishable by death in the Deep South. His executioners beat him, shot him, and left his body in the river to swell. They were acquitted by a white male jury in 67 minutes. Emmett’s mother insisted that her son’s body be shown in an open casket as a symbol of Southern brutality. Thousands attended Emmett’s funeral in Chicago. Resource: http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/emmetttill/a/emmetttill.htm.
Josh Gibson: Josh Gibson is a legend wrapped in a myth surrounded by a mystery. He died at the young age of thirty-five and never made it to the white major leagues, but in his career, he hit “almost 800 home runs,” according to his posthumously awarded plaque in baseball’s Hall of Fame. The stories about him run up to the edge of belief and sometimes beyond. “I played with Willie Mays and against Hank Aaron,” Hall of Famer Monte Irvin once said. “They were tremendous players, but they were no Josh Gibson.” Jackie Robinson received credit deservedly for being the first black American to play in the major leagues. But Josh Gibson, though little-known today, would surely have been the first had it not been for the rampant racism that engulfed America at the time of his prominence. Resource: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/05/05/SPGQNIL8UR1.DTL.
This giveaway is for a copy of When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders (http://www.chroniclebooks.com/titles/kids-teens/subject/nursery-rhymes-poetry/when-thunder-comes.html). Many thanks to Chronicle Books for sponsoring this giveaway. To enter for a chance to win a copy of When Thunder Comes each reader may leave one comment about this book and/or poetry in the classroom in the comments section of this post. All comments left on or before Saturday, December 8th, 2012 at 11:59 p.m. EST will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Sunday, December 9th. I will announce the winner’s name at the bottom of this post by Tuesday, December 11th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Chronicle will ship the book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field.)
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It’s Tuesday, 12/11/12, and I’m a couple of days late posting the giveaway. I had to go out of town to Washington, DC for a couple of days and completely forgot about this giveaway until early this morning.
Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. I used a random number generator with the commenter numbers and kdrex’s comment was selected. Here’s what kdrex said:
I like to assume that Common Core people “forgot” about poetry in the same way the National Reading Panel “forgot” to include writing. That said, I have just started a short poetry unit before going into informational writing so I am going to mesh the two for a few weeks. This is the perfect book to use as a mentor text!