About the Genre

Teachers sometimes ask, “Why teach poetry?” particularly at the middle school level when there are so many English Language Arts requirements to attain in order to prepare students for high school. There are several answers to that question

Students are intrigued by poetry. It is the language of the songs that interest them and the spoken word they try to emulate. In fact, poetry is all around them. Addressing the relationships, selfawareness and change that is so fundamental to their being, poetry is often more familiar and relevant than other writing genres.

On the practical side, poetry is frequently shorter to write and read than prose. Many young teens, particularly those who struggle in school, have an immediate sense that this genre is not overwhelming to approach. Students can get through a poem and quickly feel a sense of accomplishment. Within that context, they learn how to generate ideas, draft, revise and prepare for publishing. Studying poetry creates an exceptional opportunity for literary analysis, language study and attention to detail so necessary for writers to be successful in any genre.

Most importantly, poetry provides a vehicle for making sense of this uncertain world. At a time in
adolescents’ lives when they are exploring who they are, writing can be part of a natural process that starts from within and grows – from exposure to ideas written in the poems and lyrics of others, to expression of unique and personal thoughts and feelings.

Unit Objectives

Middle School writers will:

Middle School writers will:

  1. write a collection of poems through which they express their unique thoughts and perspectives
  2. apply a variety of craft strategies and structures to bring out the meaning and emotion conveyed in their poems
  3. effectively execute several steps of the writing process using technology – drafting, revising, editing and publishing their work.
  4. acquire writing strategies that can be generalized across the genres.

How to Approach the Unit

Writing Poetry is grounded in best practice in writing instruction, drawing from the extensive body of research on balanced literacy and the “writing workshop” model as well as the recommendations and concerns of educators “on the front line.” Teachers who participate are provided with a professional development institute, on-site mentoring and a unique set of web-based classroom resources for teaching and learning.

By logging on to the program’s website, teachers gain access to a complete set of lesson plans,
accompanying classroom visuals and the Online Classroom, a user-friendly area where they can collect and evaluate student work and help students publish for a real online audience. Technologybased resources are also provided for students. Their learning is scaffolded with amusing animated shorts, sample writers’ notebooks and other writing samples, and a series of curriculum-based multimedia activities and tutorials that are instructionally on track and, at the same time, highly motivating to high-tech teens.

Recognizing the heterogeneity of today’s classrooms, Writing Poetry offers flexibility. Our most important word of advice to participating teachers is to make this unit their own. To help make the four-week experience successful, the curriculum gives teachers “breathing room” to re-teach, add their own unique lessons and modify those provided here in order to meet the specific needs of their students.

Other important recommendations to teachers for ensuring successful implementation include:

  1. linking the writing workshop to the reading workshop, providing students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the genre by reading poems written by adult and student writers as they create their own pieces.
  2. preparing students to participate in this unit by inculcating good writing practices such as building stamina by writing every day, and introducing standards for using technology in the classroom.
  3. preparing for the project by developing their own poems to serve as models for students.
  4. assessing student progress throughout the process by taking advantage of the activities and strategies housed in the Online Classroom. Lessons offer strategies for evaluating students’ mastery of the particular skills addressed. Moreover, teachers are advised to consistently monitor student progress in individual conferences, via the writers’ notebooks and through the rubric provided.

Using Technology for 21st Century Teaching and Learning

“In truth, we do not have a choice if we want our students to succeed in the world in which they
find themselves. Functional literacy as we know it means that people are able to process print in their environment, whether it be, for example, newspapers, train schedules, or official government documents.”

(Wepner, Valmont & Thurlow, eds. Linking Literacy and Technology: A Guide for K-8 Classrooms. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association, 2000).

A major goal of Writing Poetry is to introduce technology tools that promote learning and are essential to writing for middle school students and teachers – accessing and analyzing online information, sharing ideas with peers and teachers, producing high quality print material through revision and editing, publishing, etc.

Technology provides many tools and supports for writing, particularly writing that is taught through the writing workshop approach. Students do not only share ideas, draft, edit and publish their work easily, but also engage in the same writing venture that their parents and older siblings take part in. This makes their effort worth it – it is truly authentic, professional and important.

Writing Poetry adheres to principles of cyber-safety by housing student communication in a password protected environment in which only teachers and students enrolled in the program may interact with one another. Student work is published online with permission of parents and contains first names only. No last names or other personal information is posted for public viewing.

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