Naughty Caps and Student Poetry

Naughty Caps and Student Poetry

Literature is not written with the teenage audience in mind.

Macbeth’s comic relief is a drunken porter who talks about how alcohol increases the desire but takes away the performance.

In Antigone, King Creon loses his temper and tells his son to forget having Antigone for a wife and that there are plenty of fields he can plow.

See what I mean?

I get the naughty humor, but most of the time, there are only one or two students in the class who do.

When this happens, I tell my students to “put their Naughty Caps on” to get the adult side of the writing. I also remind them that the literature they’re reading was not meant for a juvenile audience. And then we take metaphorically take our naughty caps off and move on.

And because teenagers often wear their Naughty Caps when they’ve not been told to, I often have to take a step back and ask myself, “Is this really what that child meant to write?!?”


And this kid?  He/she might win the naughty cap award. Or therapy. Or both. This is a double tanka poem written by one of my students in 10th ELA.

Here’s what lead to this.  Each student was given an abstract concept to contemplate and personify; there were abstract nouns like patriotism, success, determination, etc, that can’t be physically touched, but we know they exist. I asked them some creative thinking questions about their concepts, to get their brains up and running and to try to see their concept as a person, with likes and dislikes. Would your concept prefer tacos or pizza?  Flip-flops or athletic shoes?  Sports car or pick-up truck?  Which abstract noun is your worst enemy?  What’s your concept’s favorite color?

I love this activity.  Listening to the kids figure out how they have to think in order to do this is entertaining, enlightening, and rewarding.

Then I taught them about the Japanese poem called a tanka, which is a five-line poem that follows a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count per line; like a haiku, but with a couplet on the end.  There’s a group of poetry contests I’m having them write for that includes a double tanka, so they had to write a one using their concept. No, they don’t have to use everything they just wrote down during the questions; however, they should consider those things as they write.

When we first started poetry, I told my students that there are three kids of teenage poets:

  1. I will only write a poem if I have to for a grade.
  2. I write great love poems and sad-mad poems.
  3. I love poetry and creativity and might be a writer “someday.”

After reading this poem, I may have to add a category:  Most Likely to Write for Late Night Television.

I have to admit that I keep my naughty cap on all the time—I never said this was a high-class kind of blog—and when I first read this student’s writing, I started off shocked and appalled, and then ended at chagrined and impressed.  I bit that hook: worm, line, sinker and all.

When you read the first two lines, where did your mind go?  Admit it.  Go on. Raise your hand.  You went there too.  And then you laughed, both at the fact that you went there, and that a tenth grader’s poem made you do it.

Now here’s the funny part:  I know this was intentional.  This writer did not want you to know what he/she was writing about because the topic wasn’t taped to the top of the page, like every other kid’s in the class was—because I passed out strips of tape so they could do it.  This kid WANTED us to read this with our naughty caps on.  And wanted us to NOT know what he/she was talking about until the end.

And while there are some syntax issues that need to be addressed for clarity’s sake, it is not a bad first effort.

The sad part is, this kid didn’t put his/her name on the paper. So I don’t even know who to thank for the humor.


I’m starting a new “thing” that I have named Teacher Wisdom Wednesdays.  Every Wednesday, I’ll post about something that has or hasn’t worked for me in the classroom, or at home with my kiddos that relates to education.

So, for those of us who love bullet points, here are my first ever Teacher Wisdom Wednesday Take-Aways:

  • The Naughty Cap is a part of my teacher tool box. You can ham it up and have everyone pretend to put on hats, or you can just say, “Guys, this is a naughty cap moment.”   Also, there’s Naughy Cap Kid in every class.  Enjoy it.
  • Creative thinking and tanka writing: The assignment covers vocabulary flexibility, critical thinking, writing process, figurative language, working in groups, and (eventually) public speaking.  I threw in the requirements that there be at least one simile, metaphor, or hyperbole, and that there be a discernable tone.

PS–If you want the handouts that go along with this assignment, shoot me an email, or leave yours in the comment box, and I’ll send it to you.  I haven’t figured out how to post a pdf here yet.

One thought on “Naughty Caps and Student Poetry

  1. “After reading this poem, I may have to add a category: Most Likely to Write for Late Night Television.”
    At least you can say you knew them when… :’D


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