Keeping Students Engaged: Reading and Writing Winter Poetry

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

This time of year, students’ thoughts turn to winter break, snow, and holidays. In some places their eyes glance to the window searching for snowflakes. At these times keeping their attention on learning can be difficult. One idea to maintain sanity when students get distracted by the season is to engage them in reading and writing poetry related to winter.

Offer a poem like Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” or Emily Brontë’s “Spellbound” to prompt students to think poetically about snow and wintertime. Both are brief poems, offering opportunities for performance in a poetry slam or more rehearsed performances.

Ask:

  • What emotions does the poem evoke?
  • What lines or words evoke these emotions?
  • What poetic devices are used in the poem?
  • How are the speaker’s thoughts and experiences with winter and snow similar to yours?
  • How are they different?

Another possibility is to engage students with writing poetry related to the season. Offer visual prompts such as:

Winter days. Chromolithograph print published by Gaylord Watson, 1881

Winter days. Chromolithograph print published by Gaylord Watson, 1881.
//www.loc.gov/item/2012649747/

or:

In the Italian quarter - Mulberry Street on a winter evening / drawn by W.A. Rogers. Print (wood engraving) published in Harper's Weekly, Oct. 18, 1890.

In the Italian quarter – Mulberry Street on a winter evening / drawn by W.A. Rogers. Print (wood engraving) published in Harper’s Weekly, Oct. 18, 1890.
//www.loc.gov/item/94507778/

First, invite students to spend time observing one of the pictures. They may want to jot down details they see or questions the picture raises. Next, ask students to place themselves in the scene and brainstorm a list of nouns, verbs, and adjectives related to what they might feel, see, hear, smell, or taste if they were there. This list is now the basis for a poem. Three short poetic forms that lend themselves well to sensory poetry are diamante, haiku, and tanka. Ask students to read their poems aloud. Also offer time to create drawings or other visuals to accompany the poems. Hang these around your classroom or library to share with others.

For elementary students, pair them to play hide and seek in the picture. One student in each pair chooses a hiding place. The student gives a series of sensory clues to help the other student “find” him. Encourage students to record their sensory clues to compose a poem to share.

How do you keep students engaged during difficult times of the school year?

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