lesson plan

Smell This Story, Taste This Poem

The following lesson plan was written by Gabriela Pereira for Don't Forget to Write: for the Elementary Grades (Jossey-Bass, 2011), a collection of lesson plans compiled by 826 National, a network of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping students, ages six through eighteen, with expository and creative writing, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. This lesson plan is intended for five sessions of ninety minutes.


 

YOU WILL NEED...

1. Poems

We used the following ones. The Collins, Prelutsky, and Stevens poems are available online at www.poets.org, and the others are available in various anthologies and poetry collections. 

Collins, Billy. “Introduction to Poetry.” The Apple That Astonished Paris. University of Arkansas Press, 1988.

Merriam, Eve. “How to Eat a Poem.” In Stephen Dunning (Ed.), Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle. New York: Morrow, 1966.

Prelutsky, Jack. “Bleezer’s Ice Cream.” The New Kid on the Block. New York: Greenwillow, 1984.

Stevens, Wallace. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” In Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (2nd ed.). New York: Norton, 1988.

Wilde, Oscar. “Symphony in Yellow.” In Richard Ellmann and Robert O’Clair (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (2nd ed.). New York: Norton, 1988.

2. Songs

Create an MP3 playlist or a mix CD featuring the following pieces:

  • A small selection of movie theme songs
  • Copland, Aaron. “Fanfare for the Common Man”
  • Saint-Saëns, Camille. “Aquarium” from Carnival of the Animals
  • Holst, Gustav. “Mars”
  • Ponchielli, Amilcare. “La Giaconda: Dance of the Hours”
  • Saint-Saëns, Camille. The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals
  • Mussorgsky, Modest. “Night on Bald Mountain”

. . . or substitute the songs you like best.

3. Sights

Put together an image file with various pictures of faces. One great resource is a book called Faces by François and Jean Robert (Chronicle Books, 2000). Alternately, you could just cut out some face pictures from a magazine.

Go to a local paint store and collect a variety of paint chips in different colors. Make sure you have at least one for each student in them class.

4. Things to Touch

Assemble props for the “Monster in my Lunch Bag” exercise. Take random objects (bottle cap, small stone, ball of yarn, and so on) and place them each in a paper bag. Assemble enough bags so that each student has one.


 

Session 1 Materials

CD player and the songs you prepared ahead of time.


 

Session 1: SOUND

Part I—Soundtracks

Play a selection of soundtracks (1 minute of each) and have the students guess what movie the music is from. This is to help students warm up their ears. (You’ll want to choose themes that are easy to recognize but also set a mood. Suggestions: Harry Potter, Jaws, Indiana Jones, The Simpsons Movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

Part II—Music Paints a Picture (Handout Page 1)

Play segments (1-2 minutes) from the mix you made ahead of time. Assign each segment a number to help the student keep track of them.

After listening to 1-2 minutes of each piece, discuss the mood established by the piece. What specific sounds inspired a given image? What story is this piece of music telling?

Part III—Music Tells a Story (Handout Page 2)

Ask students to choose one of the pieces they listened to before and write a story that goes with that music. Go around the room and let kids listen to the music again if they wish. (It helps to break students into groups according to which piece they selected, then you can move from table to table and play the selected piece for each group.)


 

Session 2 Materials

A copy of Oscar Wilde’s poem “Symphony in Yellow”; face pictures; paint chips in a variety of colors.


 

Session 2: SIGHT

Part I—True Colors (Handout Page 3)

Have one or two students read “Symphony in Yellow” aloud, then discuss the poem and the symbolism of the color yellow. Some questions to help kick-start the discussion:

  • What picture is the poet painting with his words?
  • How many places do we see the color yellow in this poem?
  • What does yellow mean to you and why?
  • What is the symbolism of the color yellow in this poem?
  • What do other colors make you think of?
  • Anything else that strikes you as pertains to the poem or the color yellow.

Hand out paint chips at random. Ask students to write a poem or story that evokes the mood of that color. The only “rule” is that the title should be: “Symphony in _______.”

Part II—Creating a Character (Handout Page 4)

Tell students to take a face picture and examine it in detail. They can give the face a name, a job, a backstory, even a family if they want. Now ask students to write a story about this character. 


 

Session 3 Materials

A copy of Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”; lunch bags with “monsters” inside (crayon, coin, eraser, and so on each hidden in a paper bag).


 

Session 3: TOUCH

Part I—Warming Up

Play Zip! Zap! Zop! to get warmed up and to shake the sillies out.

Gather students in a circle. Start the game by pointing at one student in the circle and saying “Zip.” That student must point to another player and say “Zap.” This player must, in turn, point to another person in the circle and say “Zop.” And that last person must immediately point to someone else and say “Zip.” Continue in this way until someone says the wrong word or hesitates for too long.

Hint: It helps to do one or two rounds slowly until students get the hang of the game. Then speed it up to make it more challenging.

Part II—Ways of Looking (Handout Page 5)

Discuss “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” One way to start the discussion is by asking the kids which stanza they like best and why. Let each student share his or her favorite. Also, be prepared to answer questions about vocabulary (“bawds of euphony”) and to share your own favorite stanza as well.

After the discussion, have each student write one stanza for the workshop’s very own “Ways of Looking” poem. Start by choosing the object that will be the subject of the poem. A good way to do this is to ask the kids for suggestions and make a list on the board. Then, have students vote for their favorite, and the topic with the most votes wins.

            “X Ways of Looking at a ___________”

            [Replace X with the number of students in the class.]

            Compile all the stanzas into one collaborative poem written by the whole class.

Part III—Monster in My Lunch Bad (Handout Page 5 continued)

Hand out the lunch bags containing everyday objects (pencil, paper clip, eraser, coin, and the like) and ask students to study the object using only their hands and sense of touch. They are not allowed to look inside the paper bag. Now students must describe the object in as much detail as possible. They cannot say what the object is or make assumptions about the object; they must focus on describing how the object feels.

Afterwards, students will read their piece aloud and the class will try to guess what the object was. Notice how the sense of touch allows everyday objects to become extraordinary, much in the same way as the blackbird becomes so much more than a blackbird in the poem. 


 

Session 4 Materials

A copy of Jack Prelutsky’s poem “Bleezer’s Ice Cream”; Billy Collins’s poem “Introduction to Poetry”; and Eve Merriam’s poem “How to Eat a Poem”


 

Session 4: TASTE

Part I—Bleezer’s Ice Cream

Read the Jack Prelutsky poem “Bleezer’s Ice Cream” and review topics like consonance, alliteration, assonance, and rhyme. Make up some wacky ice cream flavors using these figures of speech.

Part II—Feast of Words

Discuss “How to Eat a Poem” and “Introduction to Poetry” (which are both poems that talk about how to interact with and take in poetry).

Some things to consider:

  • Why do we read poems?
  • Why do we write poems?
  • What is a metaphor?
  • How does the metaphor of reading-as-eating work in the Merriam poem?
  • What are some of the metaphors in the Billy Collins poem?
  • What effect does the metaphor have on the reader? On the tone of the poem?

Part III—Writing a Delicious Feast (Handout Page 6)

Write a short piece where eating is a central image. The title is: “How to Eat a ______.” The only trick is that the subject of the piece cannot be food. It can be anything else, but not food.


 

Session 5: SMELL

Part I—My Life as a Dog (Handout Page 7)

Imagine you’re a dog (or other animal that experiences the world through scent). Write a piece from this point of view, describing the world a way a dog would see it: through its nose. Note: You can make up words for scents, but you shouldn’t have to explain them. The scents should all be self-explanatory.

Part II—Collecting Words

Have students collect the handouts from the entire workshop (total of seven) and assemble them into booklets. If students finish Part I with enough time before the reading, they can decorate their booklet covers.

Part II—Sharing Words: A Reading

Have students select one or two pieces they wrote, ones that they liked best from the workshop, and ask them to share these poems or stories aloud. A fun way to end the reading is to read the “Ways of Looking” poem that the class wrote together in Session 3 (Touch). You can either read the whole thing or have each student read the stanza he or she wrote. 

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