Poetry Behind The Scenes – 6th through 8th Grades: A Four-Part Series

6th Grade Poets: Evidence, Not Conclusions

POETRY IN MIDDLE SCHOOL builds upon all the elements of the previous grades, reinforcing the same principles with greater sophistication and then expanding upon them.

Poetry is taught as part of the art curriculum, so Susannah, our upper school art teacher, and I collaborate for three double-block sessions.

In sixth grade, we give students a chunk of time to create without prompts. They have 10 minutes for a Brain Sweep (free write) and then either further writing or doodling. Sometimes the process elicits a list of random thoughts; many times a poem fully emerges.

Here are some lines from a 6th grade Brain Sweep:

Hiding is what we’re best at.

We hide from the truth.

We hide from ourselves.

We hide from others.

We steal the truth, then we hide it.

– 6th grade poet

As we move into reading model poems, writing and sharing, we discuss the difference between evidence and conclusions—and aim for discovering “evidence,” the details which help keep a poem fresh and alive.

Here are first-draft excerpts from another poem:




– 6th grade poet

Over the course of these three double blocks, we explore the powers of memory, imagination and observation. I love to bring in prompts that challenge the eye, the ear, the mind and the heart.

Finally, students choose one poem for the anthology and we conference and edit their work together.

7th Grade Poets: Words and Intention

This year, seventh grade poetry develops out of the weaving curriculum in art. Once again, we use movement warm-ups, Brain Sweeps, reading model poems and writing with—and without—specific forms.

The following piece is inspired by Evie Shockley’s “color bleeding.”

One year, I carried purple with me, like that one part of the sunset, you can see a hint of purple.

Purple has meaning, it’s like an outcast, foreigner, or misfit, never at its best by itself, better with others, the most visible stain.

Purple lightning, one of the 3 main colors of lightning, which has its sound delayed, just like purple’s popularity. Like x or z, seen but never utilized much.

Treated like the math test when it’s actually the fire alarm, it’s a hidden hero.

Purple: beautiful and abstract. Nice light and dark, saturated and edited, the most meaningful color – purple.

– 7th grade poet

This year, these students have also imagined the potential impact of their words on others. Check out the forthcoming Willows 2019-20 Poetry Anthology to see how seventh graders responded to a model poem called “What I Want My Words to Do to You.”

8th Grade Poets: Beginnings and Endings

Everything gleams like rhyme

Images going through my mind

Past future present

They’re mine

– 8th grade poet

As in the lower grades, eighth grade poetry lessons take inspiration this year from the weaving curriculum in art. Each of these students also has the chance to reflect on themselves as a unique individual leaving The Willows (and, in a sense, childhood) behind.

I never knew I loved the tricycles I trip over on the yard

The frigid temperatures of Brian’s classroom

The sink that spatters on my shirt

And the sound of the bullhorn at carpool…

– 8th grade poet

In eighth grade, we still use Brain Sweeps, model poems and a variety of forms. We still incorporate movement warm-ups.

We also play with rhyme, rhythm, and the visual impact that fonts and formatting make on a typed piece.

Eight graders leave us with a lot to remember when they leave The Willows.

Poetry Night in Middle School

In Middle School, participation in Poetry Night is optional. And so, a “company of Willows poets” performs at the end of the schoolwide presentation in the gym.

This year, our company of poets is a mix of sixth, seventh and eighth graders who have been deeply (and playfully) engaged in developing and writing our piece. What a joy to be in the presence of such accomplished writers and delightful humans!

We’re also lucky to work with Liza, our theatre teacher, as we rehearse the piece and get ready to share it with all of you!

After the performance, more middle school students—and alumnae—gather in the Art Room for an Open Mic poetry reading that is a fun and special way to cap an evening full of words, ideas and inspiration.

Join us in the gym at 7:00pm on February 19th for Poetry Night at The Willows… and then afterwards for the Open Mic in the MS Art Room.

To learn more about what Deb does, feel free to check out her website at: www.debstudebaker.com

You can follow her on Twitter: @mindbodypoetry

Poetry Behind The Scenes– 3rd through 5th Grades: A Four-Part Series

3rd Grade Poets: Ordinary Magic

IN UPPER ELEMENTARY, Poetry continues to be an interactive experience. As children develop their reasoning skills, I give them increasingly challenging forms and techniques. The poet, the scientist, and the detective all share similar traits: they observe, they find clues, they experiment. Bit by bit, the pieces come together.

By third grade, students are familiar enough with poetry to start putting words together in surprising combinations. The results are often fresh and fascinating.

connected sentences

green moment

blue apartment

small life

fly, world

– 3rd grade poet

The idea of painting word pictures takes on a deeper emotional resonance now. We reach inside to feel our feelings and express our thoughts. Movement helps us wake up the brain and encourage such mindful awareness.

We take time to ponder where poems come from: what do we hold inside us that sources our ideas? Is it a place, a color, a particular landscape, a type of weather? Something else?

Third graders explore this notion and then write; under the guidance of Kristy, their art teacher, their words become calligrams, also known as “shape” or “concrete” poems.

After my five lessons with these students, they continue to write with their classroom teachers. Soon we’re getting ready for Poetry Night and working to create a whole-group performance piece! It starts with an original script, based on a style or form we used in class.

Creating the script is literally a hands-on writing and editing process. Third grade poets take their original words, lay them, out rearrange them, and piece them back together!

Poetry Night in third grade involves collaborating with specialists. This year, we’re working with Kristy and Susannah (art), Liza (theatre), plus the third grade classroom teachers on a piece inspired by the fall art curriculum: weaving.

We’re in rehearsals right now. Come see the finished product on Poetry Night!

4th Grade Poets: Exploring Different Voices




the mind

wants to make

– 4th grade poet

In fourth grade, we look closely at patterns, and how to compress ideas into a certain arrangement of words or syllables. Movement helps us feel the beat of the syllables.

We pair random words to see what new images they generate. This student happened to choose “inspire” and “universe” and wrote this poem:

Inspiring the Universe

don’t tell me what to do / says space. I have my own / ways. how about some stars? / NO! how about some light? / NO! how about a night sky? / NO! how about a life or a / heart? I don’t know? NO? YES? / then how about those stars? / share them. how about that / light? give it. how about the / night sky? open it. how about / a heart? show it. how? let / me free! stars, light, night sky / and a heart.

– 4th grade poet

As Poetry Night planning gets underway, we build the group performance piece on one of the forms we’ve already studied. This year it’s the lanterne style, a simple format with a specific syllable count.

The entire fourth grade builds the foundation of the poem, connecting it to their curriculum by writing about the environment. Next, a smaller group collaborates to edit and fine-tune the piece.

Soon we’re ready to work with Kristie (music) and Marissa (movement/dance) to stage a performance piece filled with speakers, movers and musicians.

We couldn’t do such a big production without the creative involvement of the fourth grade teachers!

We hope you’ll be in the audience on Poetry Night, February 19th, at 7:00pm.

5th Grade Poets: Free to Write

In fifth grade, I introduce the “Brain Sweep.” It’s a timed free-write; students have three minutes to put words on the page in whatever manner they choose. Some compile lists of bullet points. Some jot down what they observe in the classroom. Some reflect on what they’re going to do after school. Others pour their hearts onto the page in poetic style.

The only rules are to keep the pencil moving, to avoid editing, and not to think too hard. One more important element: we always begin with one minute of silence: it’s a time for daydreaming and settling the mind.

This year, without any prompting or coordination, a handful of fifth graders wrote frequently about the writing process.

I’m anxious. I’m scared. I have so many thoughts. I’m stuck. But there you are, you’re the thing that brings me up… I can write about anything, an alligator, a bee, but I choose to write about you. My love for poetry. You free my mind and I thank you for that...

– 5th grade poet

Before we know it, it’s time for Poetry Night planning! Our talented young poets contribute ideas, short poems, and editorial suggestions; the spirit of camaraderie and collegiality among these students is truly refreshing.

Soon we’re ready to put it all together with Marissa (dance/fifth grade teacher), Mike and Greg (music), plus Dakota, Liz, and Debbie, the rest of the fifth grade teaching team.

Fifth grade Poetry Night is quite the theatrical experience! This year, we’re going for a Beat Poets vibe with musicians, movers, and speakers, so come along and be prepared to snap your fingers…

Join us in the gym at 7:00pm on February 19th for Poetry Night at The Willows!

To learn more about what Deb does, feel free to check out her website at: www.debstudebaker.com

You can follow her on Twitter: @mindbodypoetry

Just About Boys? Girls, Too.

Monday evening I attended an event about boys, body image, identity development, and puberty in the digital age titled: “A Common Sense Conversation with Peggy Orenstein & Dr. Cara Natterson moderated by Steve Goldbloom.” The authors spoke about their new books and provided practical advice regarding navigating these topics with our children – advice that I intend to bring both to The Willows Life Skills Program and to my own parenting.

Sarah Bowman, from Common Sense, summarized well what I found most salient:

The conversations we have with our children are important, and they are, in fact, indelible. What you say counts. At Common Sense, we believe media literacy is a staple of parenting today, and our panelists did an excellent job of describing how to slip these conversations into your family’s daily life. Cara and Peggy urged us to initiate these chats earlier and surface these issues frequently, and to do it with humor. We instinctively teach our kids manners by gently prodding them to say “please” and “thank you” over and over; frank conversations about the body and a consciousness about media literacy likewise must become part of your parenting mindset. This past week provided two oversized examples of topics for conversation: Kobe Bryant’s death (men expressing grief and emotion) and the Super Bowl halftime show (body image).

The best advice of all? Trust your gut and remember to explain why you feel what you feel. This is what is unique to you and what your kids will cherish most.

While this talk and their books focused on boys, much of Orenstein and Natterson’s parenting advice and these conversations can resonate with girls as well.

These strategies may be used by families with both boys and girls.

~ Wendy Amster, Dean of Educational Technology