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Write Poetry to Encourage Reflection in a Hectic World

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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.

"Picnic Rocks, Kennebunk River, Maine." Detroit Publishing Co., c1900.
“Picnic Rocks, Kennebunk River, Maine.” Detroit Publishing Co., c1900.

Today’s post is a companion to last month’s “Read Poetry to Gain Quiet and Reflection in a Hectic World,” in which I proposed that our students would benefit from the quiet in their lives that reading poetry can provide.

Similarly, asking students to take the time to interact mindfully with a space that is important to them offers them the opportunity for reflection. Read aloud (perhaps as part of a quiet reflective moment) examples of poems about a place from the recently updated Poetry 180 collection curated by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. These might include “El Florida Room” by Richard Blanco, “Summer in a Small Town” by Linda Gregg, or “Eddie Priest’s Barbershop & Notary” by Kevin Young.

Offer your students the following prompts for a series of observations in a place they feel comfortable and can relax. This is often a room in their home, a friend’s home, or maybe even the school or public library.

  • Ask them to sit quietly with their eyes closed, without added auditory stimulation such as music or television, in order to allow them to hear “natural” sounds such as the hum of electricity or voices floating in from outside the space. They should listen for a few minutes before stopping to write down what they heard. They should then listen for a few minutes more and add to their initial observations.
  • Next, direct them to survey what they can feel as they sit or stand in their chosen location. They should take time to mindfully explore what they can feel with their hands (the wall, the carpet, the chair’s upholstery) as well as with their feet or backs if they are sitting or leaning. They should try to engage their entire physical body in observing the space.
  • Moving on, what can they smell if they take deep breathes in the space? Are there smells particular to that space such as cooking from another room, lingering perfume, or books?
  • Next, they can take time to write about what they see: a favorite object, or perhaps the way the sun or a light casts shadows in the space.

After recording all of the above, students should read back over all of their observations. Often they will find a theme or motif, which can serve as the basis for a poem that will reflect their experience in the space. They may also decide to explore how they feel when in this special space and record emotions or thoughts they have in it.

Alternatives to this exercise include taking students to a space within the school for reflective observations or asking them to interact with a beloved object.

How do you engage students with reflection and poetry?