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Teaching Poetry: Week One

By Brooke Davis, Spring Program Intern

What’s more nerve-wracking than making a first impression?

Making a first impression in front of a group of tired, hungry eleven-year-olds, of course.

My name is Brooke Davis, and I am the Spring Intern for Arts for Learning.  One of my duties included participating in a program called Notes to Notes, during which I observed a poetry residency conducted by experienced poet, Julie Patterson, and then conducted one of my own.

Years of babysitting and working at a daycare gave me lots of experience talking to kids, but trying to teach them something and keep their attention at the end of a long school day?  I knew that would be something entirely different.

When I learned about creative writing in elementary school, it was through a series of monotonous exercises with acrostic poems, haikus, and sonnets.  When I expressed my doubts to my mentor, Julie, about teaching the kids and holding their interest at the same time, she gave me this advice: “Let them see your enthusiasm for poetry.  When they see it, they’ll start to feel it, too.”

Taking this idea into consideration, I thought that a good place to start would be with my favorite aspect of poetry.  I’ve always loved the sensory details, and the way poets can conjure images and feelings that readers have never experienced themselves.  So, for our first session, we focused on the five senses and how writers use the senses to express their own unique perspectives.

My mentor, of course, was absolutely right.  Instead of worrying about covering all the basics and cramming their heads full of what they needed to know on tests (the things about poetry that have always bored me to death), the kids responded much better to exploring the world through sensory details.  The ideas that surfaced were as varied and unique as the group of students I worked with.  One girl wrote about her pet unicorn that she liked to ride through a valley of potato skins, while another student wrote a rich description of a day at Mrs. Curl’s Ice Cream Shop.

I won’t say I wasn’t terrified when I walked into my first teaching session at Northeast Elementary in Greenwood, but I left feeling inspired and hopeful for future sessions.  Focusing on the five senses allowed the kids to express the way they saw the world, which made their work personal and unique.  Their eagerness to create once they were given a little freedom was more than I had ever hoped for, and their energy sustained us throughout the remainder of our five-week residency. I tried to inspire my students by letting my passion for writing shine through, and my students, in turn, inspired me with their creativity and refreshing willingness to share ideas.  As my mentor said, enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm.

 

June 16, 2014

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