endlessly creating

teaching, books, projects, & other things i love

Leave a comment

Excision Poetry

I love excision poetry. I think it’s gorgeous and often haunting because it’s like a secret story within the page it was taken from. I wasn’t really able to incorporate it into my poetry unit this year, but when I was looking over past test results in preparation for the STAAR I realized that many of my seventh graders had scored low on the standard for graphical elements, specifically how capital letters, line length, and word position contribute to a poem’s meaning. I wanted to do a low-intensity review activity to help solidify this concept, and had a great idea using excision poems!

First, I had students choose a page from a book they’d read, randomly or one with a specific scene they liked. I didn’t want to have them all lined up by the copier forever, so I ended up capturing the pages by just freezing my doc camera and then copying the image into a word document, where I cropped/resized so the book page filled the paper. This way I was able to have a few kids choose their pages at a time while the rest of them were doing classwork.

The next day, I showed the kids a poem I’d written by excision (see below) and we made observations, then discussed how “the poet” had made certain decisions about how to arrange the words on the page. After that I showed them the book page I had used (the original example just had the words I chose underlined, but later I added the doodling), pointing out how the formatting on the page forced me to NOT have significant capitals or line length in my original draft – I changed those things later to add to the meaning of my poem.

I purposely included some significantly longer/shorter lines and unusual capitals to make sure they'd have things to comment on :)

I purposely varied my line length and used unusual capitals to make sure they’d have things to comment on :)

After that, I had students make their own poems using their pages I’d printed out before class. We also looked at some examples of artistic-looking excision poetry (thanks, Pinterest!) and decorated the pages. Some of the kids did a really incredible, creative job – one student took a love scene and managed to excise it until it sounded like it was about murder!

Left: Her page described a creature hissing and crawling. I LOVE how she made her words slither down the page like a snake! Right: Blood splatters on a zombie page. Isn't the last line chilling?

Left: The page described a creature hissing and crawling, so she made her words slither down the page like a snake!
Right: Blood splatters on a zombie page. Isn’t the last line chilling?

The one thing I would change in the future is to allow more time for the “art” portion of this lesson. For my purposes, it was just a quick review activity for state testing, but I would rather encourage students to decorate their page in a way that relates to the tone or content of their final poem and then share it with the class.



Liebster Award!


Thank you to Dawn-Reneé Rice for nominating me for the Liebster Award! I’ve mostly been off blogging in my own little corner, so I’m honored to have been noticed and excited to do the same for others :) The Liebster Award is intended to recognize up-and-coming blogs with fewer than 200 followers. There are some rules to follow when you get nominated:

  • Post eleven facts about yourself
  • Answer the questions posed by your nominator
  • Pass the award on to eleven new recipients
  • Post eleven new questions to your recipients
  • Post a copy of the badge on your blog (Google image search “Liebster Award”)
  • Notify your nominees and include links to the originating blog as well as the new recipients

My answers, questions, and nominees are below.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Poetry Activities

I looooove poetry and have so much fun teaching it, even though most students tend to hate it. I’ve been planning to share some of my more successful poetry activities for months now, so here they are!

Kisses & Kiwis

Sadly, I can’t take credit for coming up with this awesome activity – a coworker demonstrated it at a PD session over the summer (he uses kumquats, but my grocery store didn’t have any) and I had to try it. It’s a fun way to emphasize sensory details and produce some impressive writing!


Each student received a Hershey’s Kiss and each table group got half a kiwi (which I cut into individual pieces when we got to touch/taste). We created a chart including columns for each of the five senses, then spent 30 seconds per sense jotting down our observations. It’s important that these 30-second sessions are silent so kids can focus on their observations, and I encouraged them to explore their subjects in detail – crinkle the wrapper, peel back a bit of the kiwi’s skin, try to squish/tear/break it, etc. It can get pretty silly, especially when we’re thinking about how the objects sound, but the students enjoyed coming up with weird ways to make observations. After the charts were complete, they used their observations to write brief poems full of sensory details. I also encouraged them to try to include metaphors or “deeper meaning”, which led to one excellent-but-inappropriate poem (they’re talking about putting things in their mouth, what did I expect?), so be careful to frame the assignment more specifically than I did.

Scavenger Hunt

One of the great things about poetic devices, especially similes and hyperbole, is that they’re everywhere (not even intentional! POINT PROVEN). Students don’t realize that poetry can pop up in songs, stories, advertisements, and even casual conversation, so this activity is designed to help them understand poetic devices by identifying them in the real world. I had students try to collect examples that appeared naturally in their daily lives, then write them on notecards and post them on the wall, creating a kind of bar graph of poetic devices.


Terrible picture, but you get the idea.
Hyperbole came up so often in conversation that students still point it out sometimes!


Students put the quotation and source on one side of the card,
and their name and the poetic device on the back.

The student who found the most examples in each class received extra credit on the final, but making the assignment optional led to a disparity in how much everyone participated (the reason it was optional was because I wanted them to pay attention to their surroundings and naturally find examples – not just google “examples of personification” and print out a list). I think next time I’ll give students a “bingo card” type of thing so they can keep track of how many examples they find and be more motivated to find a variety of poetic devices.

Haiku Posters

I’ve done this assignment a couple of times and find it to be a good way to teach the emphasis on natural subjects in haiku, as well as providing a break from our usual writing routine. You could also go outside and find a place to make observations on your campus, but if you don’t have a very pretty area to do this you might get a lot of haikus about gravel or something, haha. Instead, I had students choose an image of nature from a magazine to write about. Many public libraries have old magazines you can just take, or you can find old National Geographics for pretty cheap at some used book stores. Luckily for me, I was given a subscription to Smithsonian Magazine as a gift and that had tons of great images for my students to use as inspiration! After choosing an image, they wrote three haikus based on what they observed, then created a poster featuring the image and their best haiku. They had to get their haikus “approved” before starting the poster, which ensured that they’d written the proper number of syllables and made an effort to write a quality poem.




Ed Tech! Ed Tech!

I have to start by saying I’m not always thrilled with the push to get technology into the classroom. It often feels like tokenism or trying too hard to connect with “kids these days” – oh, hey, they like Facebook, so I guess if we do some computer stuff in class they’ll learn better? Technology for technology’s sake is not a magic solution for motivation/engagement/whatever you’re trying to accomplish, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful and fun… and I finally found a way to use it that has been super effective so far!

My sixth graders just finished a unit on feature articles, and since most of our mentor texts came from news sites and blogs, I decided I wanted their final draft to be published in blog format as well. A coworker had suggested Kidblog a few months back, so I decided to check it out.

It’s pretty simple, and one thing I loved right away was that students don’t need an email address or any other Internet “presence” – which has been a real problem in the past since many of my students are still too young to sign up for accounts without lying about their age. You create the class blog, and students can edit their password and profile from there. You have access to their accounts, which came in handy when several of them immediately forgot their passwords :) Only members can view blog posts, so you don’t have to worry about information becoming public, although we still discussed internet safety and protecting your privacy before getting started.

I posted a blog entry with the assignment details so students could check the expectations without needing to dig through their folders for a handout, and I used my own blog to teach them how to format their work and provide an example to refer back to as needed.


Not pictured: a great way to show that sentences should vary. Yikes.

My students loved posting their feature articles online. Many of them actually went and read each other’s posts when they were finished, rather than playing games or other “when you’re done” computer lab activities, and they had a lot of fun commenting on each other’s work. I randomly assigned three classmates to each student, and they had to read those three articles and post positive, constructive, and meaningful comments (we’ve gone over how to do this during other publishing activities throughout the year), but beyond that I allowed them to more casually interact with one another. Of course, I still moderated all the comments so I was able to make sure students were behaving and expressing themselves appropriately, even if they weren’t particularly academic about it.

Two things really sold me on using Kidblog in my class. First, a few students asked if they could use the blog outside of class to post other things (writing for fun?! I’m not sure if I should allow such a thing!). Secondly, some of the students who didn’t publish before the grading period ended actually went back and finished the assignment later, knowing they wouldn’t get a grade for it – they just wanted their classmates to see what they’d written!

Our next unit is drama and I hope to go on a field trip to a movie or play, so I’m thinking we’ll use the blog to write reviews or advertisements for the show. I’m also considering finding a way to use Kidblog for reading responses or book club discussions!


Brag Wall

I’ve been using the book Teaching for Joy and Justice as a resource for writing and community-building in my class, and will probably share some thoughts about it here eventually. I was thinking about the author’s use of read-arounds (which I started last week!) as well as the use of graffiti walls and realized I could combine both strategies for a quick, easy way to get students pumped about their writing. Here’s the result:

This was the first day of using the brag wall. Two weeks later, it’s almost covered!
Most students did sign their writing, but I’ve blurred out their names in the picture.

I thought of this in the car one day and had a good long self-laugh about that terrible title. Then I used voice-to-text on my phone to record a reminder of my own cleverness so I wouldn’t forget… probably not the proudest moment of my life :)

Brag wall rules:

A teacher or a classmate must suggest that you share something you wrote – no self-nominating!

You can choose not to share your work. If you do post something, you can sign it, initial it, or leave it anonymous.

You can use other people’s “brags” for inspiration, but never steal their words!

I’ve found that most students are excited about the opportunity to post their writing, even if they don’t sign their names. I’ve had students come up and ask me to read their work so they can find out what to post, and it’s a great way to encourage them to share their work with classmates as well, because if they want to post something they have to convince someone else to recommend it first. When I do journal checks, I try to highlight one or two words/phrases for them to post, and they don’t let me forget to give them time to post! If we end up with a few minutes of down time at the end of class, students often wander over to the wall to read each other’s writing.

I have several objectives with this wall, and so far I think it’s been very successful:

Make students feel awesome about their writing. I might suggest they post a few lines from a poem, a funny comment in a journal entry, or even just a really cool word they used – it doesn’t have to be intentionally well-written or perfect (misspellings and poor grammar do NOT prevent kids from getting nominated for a brag).

Get students comfortable sharing their writing. I originally thought about letting them nominate their own work but decided against it to encourage them to let others read/hear what they have to say.

Encourage them to give each other positive feedback. Knowing someone’s looking for the good in your work makes it less scary to share, and seeing your peers as talented writers plants the idea that maybe you’re a good writer, too!

Teach them that I’m not the sole authority on quality writing. Probably about half the brags posted on the wall were recommended by classmates, not me. I explained to students that I might not suggest a post every time I read their work because everyone has different taste in writing, and that’s why it’s good to have multiple people read it and give feedback. They can suggest my writing for the wall, too, and I try to write with them and ask for their opinions as often as possible.

We’ve been using the wall for about two weeks and it’s almost completely full. Whenever it fills up I plan to just add a layer of paper and start over again!

1 Comment

Flippable Journals

At a recent PD workshop I learned how to use (and make my own!) flippable ELA journals. The idea is to help your students organize their notes and responses into categories and subjects so the journal can be a resource for them throughout the school year. One side is devoted to reading while the other side focuses on writing, and students get to decorate the covers however they want – which can make it a great ice-breaker activity at the beginning of the year! Here’s mine:

Isn’t that a classy little arrow?

It’s made from a standard composition book, treating both sides as a front cover when decorating.

The sticky note tabs indicate various categories  recommended at my workshop; you could easily modify this part depending on what kinds of skills you want your students to focus on.

Much as I love this concept, right now I don’t plan to have quite such a detailed structure to the writing students complete in class, and I want them to have a space for personal writing as well. I had originally planned to just have two tabs (class writing in front half, personal journal in back) but I’d much rather do these flippable journals! I’ve modified my covers so it can still serve as a model:

I wish I’d realized I would want to do this before making the original titles, but I guess it still looks cute :)

For the inside covers, I glued down the first page on either side. On the personal side, I plan to have them write down a list of things they love and things they hate, so if they’re suffering from writer’s block they have some quick topics to choose from. I’m thinking the academic side will become their own little word wall with vocab terms.

One concern I have about combining class and personal journals is that I’d hate for my students to lose drafts/notes/etc because I let the journals leave the room, but I’m trying hard to keep my expectations high. I might have some disasters early on, but my hope is that I can help my middle schoolers learn to be organized and responsible for their materials, and the natural consequences of losing work and being unprepared will help them keep better track of their writing in the future!