Spring is always an interesting time to be a teacher. The weather warms up, students are starting to see the end of the school year right around the corner, and assessments are in full swing. Sometimes we need a moment to get out of the classroom and try something different.
One of the ways we wrap up our spring poetry unit is with a Poetry on the Patio event in the courtyard of our school. For this event we invite classes from all around the school to come together and enjoy many different aspects of poetry. My students host various stations relating to poetry, and everyone else comes out to enjoy everything we have to offer. We recently held this event, and here I’d like to highlight some of our great poetry stations.
Sidewalk Chalk Poetry
Students can write their favorite poems or quotes on the sidewalk in chalk. They also enjoy drawing pictures and finding other ways to express themselves creatively with the chalk.
Step Up to the Mic
We set up a microphone and giant speaker so students can read their own poems or a famous poem for all to hear. Stacks of poetry books are placed near the microphone so students can find a great poem to read. We also have an MC to keep the crowd energized and interested in the readings, and to keep the microphone moving on to the next person.
Students write their favorite quotes or poems on a dry erase board and take a selfie with their iPad. We share these selfies on the class Twitter feed, Instagram feed, and website.
We provide markers and photocopies of pages from books and magazines. After taking a page, students black out words they don’t want to use and create a poem with the remaining words. Some of the most inventive students create images relating to their poem in the blacked out portion. We hang the finished poems up on the wall. By the end of the day, we have a wall filled with original poetry.
Poem in Your Pocket Challenge
This station is based on a national event hosted by the Academy of American Poets—a yearly challenge to share poetry with as many people as possible. I challenge my students throughout the day to do just that. I give them a checklist of people to share with (e.g., a student from each grade level, a teacher from each subject area, someone from the front office, etc.). Students who complete the checklist are entered into a drawing for a prize. Next year we’re hoping to partner with area businesses to offer discounts to students who share a poem with their employees. Learn more about Poem in Your Pocket Day.
Illustrate a Poem
We hang several poems on the wall, colorful poems like “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” by Tupac Shakur, “Oranges” by Gary Soto, and “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost. We then place markers and paper next to the poems and encourage people to draw pictures illustrating one of them. This gives some of the more artistic students an outlet to interact with poetry.
Students are invited to vote on the final two poems in our Poetry Smackdown. This wraps up our month-long poetry bracket challenge. For the Poetry Smackdown, I create a bracket with eight poems on each side. During the last week in March, I pass out a bracket for the students to fill out with their predictions about which poem will be voted the most interesting, creative, and well-written. I also have teachers and parents fill out the brackets. Each day two poems enter a head-to-head battle. We read the poems together and debate which one is the most interesting. Sometimes we look at figurative language. Sometimes we look at the imagery. Sometimes we discuss which one has the most successful rhyme scheme. It all depends on which skills I want to tackle that day. Then we vote. It usually takes 10–15 minutes, and then we move on to other things. For the Poetry on the Patio event, the students vote on the championship round of the bracket. By this point the students are extremely familiar with the final poems and share their opinions with everyone who might be voting. They love it when they have better brackets than the teachers.
The week before the event, students submit original poems for our poetry contest. My classes narrow the list down to the top three poems. At Poetry on the Patio, there are copies of the three poems, and visitors can vote on their favorites. The winning poem gets published on our literary magazine website, earns a prize, and gets bragging rights until next year.
Overall, the Poetry on the Patio event is a great way to get kids engaged in poetry and get them outside enjoying the sunshine, and it breaks the monotony of the school week.