Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Metaphorical Expressions About Feeling Left Out: A Prompt that Inspired Nods and Thoughtful Poems

     Some writing prompts spark clever, analytical responses or thematically related verbal art; other prompts spark emulations based on emotional/personal connections that shine through the student's original words. My poetry prompt, "Squishable," uses my own poem about the feeling of being left out by "more popular" people to elicit an emotional and metaphorical response from students. Here is the prompt:

One student, a 10-year-old girl called Lisa, wrote a vehement analysis of the feelings conveyed by the poem (Prompt 1), then chose Prompt 2 and composed her own poem, in emulation of mine. Clearly, she understood the metaphor both intellectually and emotionally, as this poem (below) illustrates. I considered her poetic response worthy of sharing here on my blog, and I hope you will share it, too!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Poem Inspired by Reading About the Power of Resilience

Consolation Surprise
By S. L. Lipson

You’re coping surprisingly well!
The epitome of resilience!
I so admire you.
I mean, losing someone you love,
After so many years together,
That has to be devastating.
And yet here you are,
Powering through grief,
Holding it all together,
Moving forward with so much strength—


What do you mean, you don’t know what I’m talking about?


Wait, whaaat?
I was there. I saw what happened.
Even I was on the verge of tears.
I mean, you put up a tough façade,
But everyone knows—


Yes, everyone. Why are you denying that?
We all felt so bad for you….


Why? WHY?!  
You’re messing with me, right?

                        Note to self:
                        Wow. Never mistake denial for resilience.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Short Essays Responses To Elicit Critical Thinking and Concise Writing

     Brief essay responses to poetry and short fiction (or sections of longer works) make up the bulk of my academic writing lessons for ages 10-17. I do not believe that students always have to write the standard five-paragraph essay to convey their understanding of a piece of literature, or other art form. Quick "thematic paragraph responses" (as I call them) exercise students' writing skills by enriching the powers of conciseness and clarity of expression, and students who write these short analyses on a regular basis end up better prepared to take on full essays about longer forms of literature. While I never advocate "cookie-cutter" essay writing, I do provide my students with a mnemonic device--a silly musical allusion to "Old MacDonald Had a Farm"--to ensure a thorough, yet concise analysis of a theme (a format that is also applicable to each body paragraph of an essay): "E I-E-I O" or "E I-E-I, I-E-I O" (the longer version is for more experienced students and deeper analyses, with its repetition of the middle I-E-I section). Here is an explanation of that musical memory-jogger:

 E=Establish topic/theme

 I=Illustrate with a quotation or specific example (introduced in its context)

 E=Explain what the illustration (above) shows the reader

 I=Interpret the Implications of that illustration (why it shows what it shows)

 O=Overall statement related to theme in a broader way 

     To illustrate this kind of lesson prompt, I am sharing, below, a fifteen-year-old young man's paragraph response to a poem that I wrote. I will share the actual poem that he analyzed AFTER the paragraph, to further illustrate something I emphasize with my high school students: write essays about literature as if the reader is unfamiliar with the subject work. That ensures the clearest analysis. Here is the student's written response:

Essay Paragraph Response to “Behind the Armor”
by Enan, age 15

            In the poem, “Behind the Armor,” author Susan L. Lipson describes two different kinds of people through the use of knights and wrestlers. The author writes, “Knights... they battle insecurity loneliness, and weakness.” Knights often wear armor in battle, and when knights face a problem, they deflect them with their armor. Previously in this poem, the author talks about how arrogance is like a faceguard and how meanness is their shield. Through this metaphor, she is trying to convey the message that some people are too cocky to ruin their image. So instead of confronting their problems, they deflect them, and therefore put others down so that they can forget about their own problems. Later in the poem, the author transitions to talking about wrestlers: “Wrestlers engaged in hand-to-hand combat with emotions, building thicker skin through baring it.” When wrestlers fight, they have no protection; they use their bare skin. Although it may be more painful, in the end, the wrestler will grow to deal with the pain better than a knight would. The author is telling us that confronting your problems will make you a tougher person. Rather than be knights who deflect emotions out of their lives, we should be wrestlers who deal with emotions and therefore become stronger.

     And here is the poem he was writing about:

     Behind the Armor
     by Susan L. Lipson

Such clouded knights,
        with their vision obstructed
        by the arrogance they wear as faceguards, 
        the aloofness they don as protective suits,
        and the meanness they carry as shields;
        they battle insecurity, fear,
        loneliness, and weakness— 
        unlike wrestlers engaged in 
        hand-to-hand combat with emotions,
        building thicker skin through baring it,
        from struggle to truce
        from pain to healing,
        from sweat to sigh to 
  enlightened daze.

     Were you able to understand Enan's analysis before even reading the poem? And now that you have read the poem, does his analysis seem credible? (It does to me, and since I am the poet, that should have some weight!)


Thursday, April 27, 2017

5th Graders Write About Stylistic Techniques in Nonfiction

           It's important to point out to students that writing style is as important in nonfiction as it is in fiction. Simply providing facts is not enough to compel readers; the nonfiction author must provide memorable "word pictures" with sentences that show, rather than tell. Young writers who learn to notice and analyze specific word choices in everything they read will not only have a greater appreciation of the art of writing, but will also have a heightened awareness of the intentions behind words. Such an awareness enriches reading comprehension as well as writing skills.
          The following two short essay-style paragraphs by 10-year-old students used my "E I-E-I O" format* to examine the stylistic choices in a passage from the nonfiction book Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly.    
                                       *Establish, Illustrate, Explain, Interpret, Overall lesson/theme


Monday, April 3, 2017

Celebrating Spring with a Student's Poem

If We Lived Like a Bee
By Emma
Age: 10
(Written in response to the lyrics of my song, "If Everyone Lived Like the Tree")
Oh how sweet our lives would be,
If everyone lived like the bee.
Their whole life’s work they give away,
just to brighten up your day!
Bees spread pollen, make flowers grow,
buzz around, and create honeycomb.
We under-appreciate them every day,
so greet them with, “Namaste!”
If you take the time to reflect,
you will see the bees deserve respect.
After reading you’ll conclude,
We should thank the bees for food.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Faultless Personification: A Poetry Prompt

     After sharing a poem from Creative Kids magazine, "It's Not the Iron's Fault," by 15-year-old Joe Block, I asked 10-year-old Nathan to write his own personification poem featuring an object blamed for a person's errors. Nathan  immediately thought of a basketball getting blamed for a player's mistakes. I asked him to emulate the structure of Block's poem, which began with an iron pointing out its many attributes ("took the wrinkles out of your clothes"; "gave your clothes that special warmth"; and "made the clothes look as if they belonged to royalty") before the object poses questions to the human user of the iron about why she/he yells at the iron for ruining clothes, burning fingers, etc., when those problems arose from the user's misuse of, or neglect while using, the iron.

     Here is Nathan's poem, featuring a talking basketball:

It’s Not the Ball’s Fault
 by Nathan, age 10

So the next time you scream at me,
think about all that I did for you.

When there was a fifty-fifty chance to go in
in a tight game, I decided to go in.

I was also the one who gave you enough backspin to make
that basket you thought you would make.

So why do you scream at me when I don’t go through the net?

Remember, you were the one who passed the ball
too hard to your teammate.

And remember when you lost control of the ball
and someone stole it?
That was you who dribbled too hard.

You’re also the one that controls me,
who gives me backspin,
so when you make a bad shot, don’t expect it to go in.

So why do you scream at me every time you lose the ball,
Or you don’t make a shot? All of that’s your fault.

So remember, it’s not the basketball’s fault,
If anything, it’s your fault.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Halloween Painting Prompt

     One of my favorite prompts to use just before Halloween time is this photograph of a watercolor painting by the late, great Steve Hanks. (Click on his name to see a magnificent collection of the most realistic, emotional watercolor paintings you've ever seen!)

     I showed this picture of the little crow boy to Alyssa K., age 11, and asked her to write a multisensory scene, using description, action, and dialogue (my "D.A.D. technique for vivid writing") to show the boy and how he feels in this memorable moment from childhood. Here is the lively piece she created during today's writing class:

Little Crow Boy
by Alyssa, age 11

            Whoosh! The wind howled as the yellow and red leaves blew into Tommy’s face. The sun was shining, and it didn’t help that he was wearing a black crow costume.

Caw! Caw! His fellow crows called at him. He giggled. Dumb crows, I’m a human, he thought. He stood up and chased them off. He tripped, spread his wings, and fell into a big pile of raked leaves. He laughed and made leaf angels. “Mom! When is Halloween? I’ve bween waiting in forever!” he yelled toward the house.

            “Tommy, first of all, you used your grammar wrong, and second, it’s three p.m! There’s three more hours! Tommy, also please get off of Mrs. Johnson’s lawn. She just raked those leaves!” His mom went back into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Tommy rolled his eyes, skipped away, and resumed his spot on the stairs.



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