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

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