Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saving Things

Brian Christianson Photography, Taken from Mt. Sentinel in Missoula, 8/17/17
Saturday, July 15th at around 2:35 p.m. lightning sparked a fire about 10 miles southwest of Lolo, Montana. The fire burned at above 7,000 feet where the terrain was sparse, rugged and alpine in nature. My husband and I made note of the thin spiral of blue smoke from our front porch in Missoula , MT, twenty miles away. We find out later, from a friend, that it's a small wild fire, probably not a big deal. It's deep in the wilderness, too steep and inaccessible for the fire fighters to tackle so it's a wait and watch situation. The fire is mildly annoying to all of us. It means smoke in the valleys when the wind blows in a certain direction. It obscures our views, stings the eyes, makes outdoor recreation hard on the lungs, but we aren't too worried. We'd been lulled into security by the record snow pack in the mountains last winter. There had been plenty of moisture, we thought no fire would really take hold.

Fast forward to August 15th, 2017 when many in the Bitterroot Valley, many friends, students, and fellow staff members from my school got a knock on their door at 10:30 p.m. It's a mandatory evacuation. A hand of fire, as my friend and fellow teacher, Leanne, described it, was reaching over the mountain ridge and making a run towards the valley and houses below. Leanne, her family, and around 400 other families in homes in the area, had a matter of minutes to grab what they could and get out. What did Leanne grab? It was one of the first questions I asked her, and she seemed rather surprised by her own answer. She took some clothes, her children's baby books, her dogs, and her flute. It's amazing what really matters when it comes down to it, and how little we really need. Most other staff members, parents of students, and students mentioned grabbing similar items: a few pieces of clothing, pets, and photographs.

August 17th, the Lolo Peak fire explodes. A massive smoke plume rises up. This is the view from my front door in the Missoula Valley.

The idea of only being able to save a select number of objects reminded me of a Saving Things Poem I have done in my classroom. These poems center around the idea of saving things. There have been several different mindsets that my students have gone into when writing these poems. The first idea was really about objects that are special to us, and what students would save if they could only choose a few, select items. However, as we wrote these poems in class, it quickly became obvious that the things students want to save wasn't objects or things, but memories, family, friends, and pieces of nature.

 The scope of the poems evolved into saving things that were more intangible. I had one student tell me that he thought about the idea of the world being destroyed, and what he would most want to save when he wrote his poem. A 4th grade girl wanted to know if it was alright if she saved one of each of the five senses in her poem. Since I felt like both these ideas were more powerful and creative than the original premise of the poem, I encouraged them all. Let's be honest, this is the moment all teachers really strive towards when students take an idea and make it their own. It's when the spark of creativity takes hold and comes to life.

What I Would Save
By: Cyrra, 4th grade

I would save the smell of my father's spearmint tea,
and the taste of my mother's homemade, raspberry cheesecake.
The smell of purple lilacs on the tall, green bush in my backyard.
The sight of the sunset over the mountain tops: red, orange, blue, pink, gray and purple.
The feeling of my cat, Minki's, soft, smooth fur.

The sound of the bird singing outside of my window.
The feeling of the wind against my cold cheeks.
The feeling of teardrops dripping down my face when I am sad.
The smell of soft, silky hair that's just been washed.

The taste of cold water going down my throat.
The sound of a beautiful, tall waterfall running down rough rocks.
That is what I would save.
What about you?

I have always been fascinated by the idea of preserving things physically that cannot really be contained. I love the magical idea of keeping something like ocean wind, or a mother's lullaby in a mason jar. Since I was a child, I was captivated by the way the BFG captured children's dreams and nightmares with his net in the novel The Big Friendly Giant by Roald Dahl. Grandma Dollop in the book Savvy by Ingrid Law saves special songs like wedding songs in jars that can be listened to at any time if the lid is slightly unscrewed. Now when I introduce the Saving Things Poem to my classes the sky is the limit, anything and everything is encouraged to be saved.

Saving Things
By: Desi, 5th grade

I want to save fluffy, pink clouds from the sunset in Alaska
in a clear, glass jar.
I would save the sight of fog in the early morning.
I would save the fresh smell of my mother in the pine-filled forest.
Maybe the feeling of my not-to-fluffy cat's fur against my cheek.
I would save my mother's voice so happy and cheerful with a mind of it's own.
I want to remember the taste of a tomato fresh from our summer garden.

The Lolo Peak fire is still being courageously fought in Montana. Precious, irreplaceable things, and people have been lost: two houses, and a fire fighter's life. There are still many people who have been unable to return to their homes. Writing a Saving Things Poem won't really save anything, but it can provide an outlet to reflect on what is truly important in our lives, and all of the things that we should and can be grateful for.

I'm going to end this post with a poem written by a former student of mine, Derek, when he was in 6th grade. Derek was a bright, energetic, intelligent and creative student. He always had a smile on his face, and his humor and wit cracked me and his fellow classmates up on a daily basis. Sadly, when he was only nineteen years old he was killed in a car accident. After hearing the devastating news, one of the first things I took solace in was Derek's poetry. I was so grateful that I had saved many of his poems. The following is the first poem I found of his. I still read it often, share it with my classes, and am astounded by its wisdom. It reminds me that we all need to appreciate the many wonderful things, people, and experiences we have in our lives right now, because in the blink of an eye they can be gone.

By: Derek, 6th grade
If the world was to go,
I would sift through all
the bitter hate and pain
and watch it float away.

I would keep all of the love
and all the true joy.
I would save what is clear
and let go of what is unpure.

I would save dreams
silently slinking through the night.
If I could, I would save
the whole world.
But then again,
only one has that power.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

List Poems

Things that are Dusty. Karli, 6th grade

I think either you are a list person, or you are not. My husband loves lists. He wakes up, makes a list of things he is going to do that day, and then happily crosses off each task as he accomplishes them. He loves lists so much that I have even seen him do something which was not on the list, like mowing the lawn, and then go back to his list, write the task on the list, and then cross it off. If that sounds as weird to you as it does to me, then you are probably not a list person. I have spoken to other list makers and most admitted to doing the same thing as my husband. I guess it's the thrill of crossing something off of the list that excites them. It's the written proof of what one has accomplished during the day.

I am not a list person. My husband tried to make me a list person when we were first married. My problem with lists is that I don't ever think about making them, I lose them, and according to my husband I don't make logical lists. Yes, he has rewritten my grocery lists because I usually list things that we need in each separate recipe. He makes grocery lists by the department in the grocery store. All dairy products will be found in the same part of my husband's list, all the produce items in another. Needless to say after having a few of my lists rewritten, I stopped making lists altogether.

In poetry, however, I do like making lists. Maybe it's because I get to take something, which for me personally is rather boring, and try to rework it into something creative and interesting. Maybe it's because poem lists can be totally imaginary, humorous, or just notice tiny details in life and make them beautiful in their accounting. Whatever the reason, whenever I plan a poetry unit List Poems are at the top of my list.
Things That Are Squishy C:\Documents and Settings\KiffeS\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\7WZNDXLT\MCj04345690000[1].wmf

The top of a jellyfish where you don’t get zapped
A latex ball when it’s in your hands
A piece of gum when it’s already been chewed
A sponge when you feel it
A marshmallow over the fire on a cold day
The comforter on a chair
Stuffed animals when you hold them
A puddle of mud when you step in it

Makayla, 6th grade

When we talk about List Poems in class, we first discuss the different reasons people usually make lists: groceries, chores, things to do, bucket lists. We list ingredients in recipes, we list the directions of a science experiment, we list homework assignments, dates we want to remember, and celebrations. Some of my students are natural list makers, but even those who are not usually like writing List Poems.

In poetry it is fun to make lists that account for little details in our lives like: Things that are Beautiful, or Things that Make Me Happy. Students have come up with incredibly creative lists that I never would have thought of like: Things that are Dusty, or Things that are Sharp. Little brothers and sisters usually get quite a bit of focus on lists like, Things that are Annoying, or Things that Make Me Mad.

Things That Are Round C:\Documents and Settings\KiffeS\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\WFCAEE5E\MCj04363170000[1].png

Bubble of soap flying right out of the bathtub
Sumo wrestlers, pale, round orbs
The blazing sun burning our skin
The world turning, twisting, and whirling
A sombrero on Cinco de Mayo
A squished piece of gum on the sidewalk
A tropical coconut hanging from a tree
The rings to your binder pinching your fingers

Carl, 6th grade

My only requirements for students on List Poems is that they do not write an ordinary list for groceries, or chores, and that the lists have at least five items included in them. I always encourage thinking about the images and messages we create when we write, and last for the students to be creative and have fun. Whether you are a list person or not, give a List Poem a try. You might be surprised by how creative and interesting a list can be.

Meteor - Free images on Pixabay

Things that are Destructive
Chance, 6th Grade

A rifle locked and ready to fire
A group of scientists producing the next state-of-the-art weapon
A ticking sound next to your feet
The next World War
A meteor crashing at high velocity into an innocent planet
A black hole sucking all light out of space
A fist, angry and full of hate
A hurricane destroying entire cities

Friday, August 4, 2017

Color Poems

Google Slide by Myla and Sarah, 6th grade

What's your favorite color? It's one of the first questions we ask when we are getting to know someone. At least it's a question we often ask when we're young. It helps us figure out who someone else is, and by contrast or commonality, who we are. Sometimes it's a question my 5-year-old asks me 3 to 4 times a day. Color is important and personal. We are both enchanted by it, and identify with it. For most of us color atuomatically evokes emotion. We are tickled pink when something pleases us. We feel a gray cloud wash over us when we are down. We are green with envy. We feel white hot anger, or see red when we are upset.

Color inspires pride. Did you know that in the 17th century the Dutch actually cultivated white carrots to be orange in honor of William the Orange? Today people paint their faces and wear school, team or national colors to show support and unity.

Blue by Daniela, Charlie and Madalyn, 6th Grade


Blue is the feeling of misty ocean breeze and the soft petals of forget me nots.

Blue is the taste of a freshly baked blueberry muffin.

Blue is the sound of seals barking in the deep, blue bay.
Blue is the sight of a giant whale soaring through the sky, and a little baby following behind.
Blue is the smell of freshly steeped blueberry tea.
Blue is the taste of a dense fog rolling into the shore and the taste of freshly fallen rain water.
Blue is the sound of water splashes while the silent heron snatches a fish.

Daniela, Madlyn, Charlie

Color also changes our mood. Red and yellow are supposed to increase appetite. Think about all the popular food chains that use red and yellow for their logos. The color blue gives the impression of authority and trustworthiness. Knowing this, it makes sense that police officers and doctors don blue scrubs or uniforms. Color also sends a message to others. We stop on red. We have a green thumb if we are good at growing plants. We wave a white flag when we've given up.

Because of its strong emotional appeal color is an easy subject for students to write about and discuss. Usually on the first Friday of a new school year, I have my students write a group color poem. First, we discuss color meaning,  why our favorite colors are favorites, and what we associate with certain colors.

Then I share the poem "What is Brown?" by Mary O'Neil. It is from her beautiful poetry book  Hailstones and Halibut Bones. I ask my students to close their eyes while I read so they can hear the images that stand out to them. When I finish reading, the students share with me the images from the poem that painted the best pictures in their minds.

What is Brown?
By: Mary O'Neil

Brown is the color of a country road,
back of a turtle, back of a toad.
Brown is cinnamon and morning toast
and the good smell of the Sunday roast.
Brown is the color of work and the sound of a river,
Brown is bronze and a bow and a quiver.
Brown is the house on the edge of town
where the wind is tearing the shingles down.
Brown is a freckle, Brown is a mole.
Brown is the Earth when you dig a hold.
Brown is the hair on many a head.
Brown is chocolate and gingerbread.
Brown is a feeling you get inside
when wondering makes your mind grow wide.
Brown is a leather shoe and a good glove--
Brown is as comfortable as love.

Mary O'Neil writes about almost every color you can think of in Hailstones and Halibut Bones, but I always share brown. There are a couple of reasons why. One, most students don't graviate towards brown when picking their color to write about. Two, I love how gorgeous her interpretation of the color is in her poem. Thinking of brown being, "as comfortable as love" and "the feeling you get inside when wondering makes your mind grow wide" is a new perspective, at least to me, on the color. It would be easy to only think of the color brown as things that are actually brown, but a poem where brown is only dirt, mud, and the color of wood would probably be pretty boring, and wouldn't really do the color justice. This is what I love about writing and poetry. This is where the catalyst for the color poems really takes flight.
White by Chris, 6th Grade

I tell students that one of my favorite things about poetry is the opportunity to look at the world in a new way. Writing color poems gives students a chance to look at colors in a new way. The students will give their colors the five senses: a taste, a sound, a sight, a feeling, and a smell. They can also give their colors movement. If the color yellow moved how would it move? Would it be a flurry of canary feathers? A spark of lightning zipping across the sky? The notes of a lullaby wafting down on a sleeping baby? The fun thing is, there is no real answer. You can't tell someone that yellow doesn't sound like the thud of your toe being stubbed. Everyone interprets, and is allowed to see, yellow in her own way.

I've done the group color poems in several different ways. First, I divide the students into groups of two or three. You can divide students any way you want. At the beginning of the year, I usually pull sticks. Then I have the students pick their color. It doesn't matter if more than one group chooses the same color because the ideas will always be unique. I pass out colored markers and big pieces of butcher block paper and have the students start brainstorming and writing.
Pink, Maya, 6th Grade

If you just want to have them do an easy Friday activity, then have them write the poems and present them in a group at the end of the period. I like for the students to draw a simple picture next to each line, and if we have extra time, make up a movement to perform with each image. If green flies like a parrot through the Amazon Rainforest then the students can start flapping their "wings". It gets them moving and laughing, especially if I act out a couple of silly lines of my own first.

If you want to extend the activity, have your students create a poster of their color poem with carefully drawn illustrations and writing. Or if you want to add a tech element, have the class create a Google Slide Show with all of the poems on separate slides. Then the class can come up and present their poem as you move through the slide show. If you add the slide show to Seesaw the students could add an audio recording of their poem.
Colors by Angelica, 6th grade
Whatever your favorite color is, you probably have an opinion on how that color makes you feel, and images that come to mind whenever you think of it. If you are looking for a fun, collaborative, and interactive poem to try during your first week back at school, or any time for that matter, give a color poem a shot. It might make you and your students see color in a completely new light.

Color Poem Activities and Directions
Example of Color Google Slide Presentation

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