Introduction to Poetry

Introduction to Poetry


Part of the frustration of any literature teacher is the groaning chorus of poetry haters who are not excited about the poetry unit. To help this, I try to introduce poetry via song lyrics and fun poems.  One of my favorite fun poems is Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry” which presents the problems of teacher expectations running into students.

It is perfect for teaching assonance, metaphor, and free form structure.  And it nails #thestruggleisreal feeling teachers get when trying to get students to read beyond the surface of a poem.

I’m in the process of creating a worksheet for this poem geared toward high school students.  I’ll email the first five requests in the comments a free PDF copy of it when it’s done!  Everyone else will be able to buy it from my Teachers Pay Teachers store when it’s done.


Introduction to Poetry


I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Seven Reasons to Celebrate National Poetry Month

Seven Reasons to Celebrate National Poetry Month

NPM-Poster-2016Started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry month is a special kind of nerd thing.

Many people are nerds for science fiction, gaming, cosplay, computers, coding, music, musicals, TV shows, fan fiction, etc. Those of us who nerd for poetry get pretty excited that we have a whole month dedicated to the thing we love that so many other less fortunate people don’t.

If you don’t love poetry, you might want to come back in May.

If you love poetry, or love someone who loves poetry, this spot will be the place to be, as in the next 29 days, we’re going to look at the world of poetry. Where it came from, how we study it, why we study it, and why more people should stop and love it. So, in true modern blog fashion, here are some reasons you should celebrate national poetry month.

  1. You remember something about poetry because a poetry geek pounded it into your head.That geek was probably one–or four–of your high school English teachers.  Each of mine were amazing women who pushed me to write not just for grades, but for passion.  That they cared enough to make me remember that sonnets have fourteen lines and haiku three, means something. And that you remember it means something too. 
  2. You might admit to having a favorite poem if forced to.  We all have a favorite book, and if we’re the smart educated sort, we might even have a favorite poem.  I do. I have several actually, but the one that will always top the list is Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabelle Lee.” I memorized it in middle school, and have tucked my kids into bed with it, despite its depressing story.
  3. You have actually liked a song for the lyrics and not the music. There are some performers whose lyrics are just gut wrenching.  I bet you can name a few songs whose lyrics were the perfect backdrop for an event in your life.  Like it or not, those lyrics are poetry. Everything from sappy country to hard rock and rap are, at their heart, poems.
  4. You want to impress your significant other. Every romantic wants someone to think they’re beautiful enough to have a sonnet written for them.  I had a student once who, as part of his poetry memorization project, recited one of Shakespeare’s sonnets to a girl in his class, gave her a rose, and sat down.  I’m pretty sure they’ll both remember the absolute amazingness of that two minutes for the rest of their lives. I don’t remember the student’s name, but I can see him, on one knee in front of her, one hand on his heart and one holding out that rose.
  5. Educators could use the support. There are poems about everything.  Find some, and encourage your children, your friends, your family, to read them.  Teachers can use all the help we can get to encourage our students to dig a little deeper, and not be embarrassed to embrace something like poetry.
  6. Poetry is a living, beautiful thing that grows and changes and demands that you pay attention to it.  I stole this from a teacher at a training years ago: Good literature is like a good girl. She doesn’t kiss on the first date.  You want something more than company? You’re going to have to work for it, earn it.  With poetry, that work means you may have to read a piece several times to really “get it.” My favorite poem for this lesson is William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” which my 10th grade literature teacher made us memorize the last stanza of.  In her honor, I make my juniors memorize it too.
  7. The Academy of American Poets has it all planned out for you. They have a “poem a day” email that will bring you cool poetry you’ve likely never read before straight into your in-box on the daily, so you don’t even have to go looking for it.  They have lesson plans for you teachers, and poems for every event and occasion you can imagine.  Some of the best poets are represented on their website.  You should check them out.

Don’t be embarrassed.  Poetry is a really cool thing.  Trust me.  Celebrate it.  You won’t regret it!

Goals In Progress: Camping Gear and Graphic Design

Goals In Progress: Camping Gear and Graphic Design

So, it’s official.  I’ve become a tiny entrepreneur in a very large pond of them.  I opened a Teachers Pay Teachers store.

And I have to admit, when I saw my Walden worksheet pinned on Pinterest, I felt a happy little twinge. You read that right.  My worksheet on Walden has been pinned. By a stranger. On Pinterest.

I feel a little famous.

So many cool photo quips could go here.  Choose your favorite. 
It’s not a huge thing, but I made it, someone pinned it, AND someone paid $1.50 for it. Hooray for a new pack of gum!

It’s a close reading practice worksheet that I made for use in my classroom–nothing too snazzy, and believe me, some of the teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers have serious addictions to snazzy.

I made a series of these close reading practice worksheets because even in honors classes, my kids are struggling with Walden.  Thoreau loved long, complex sentences, and for kids who are used to Textspeak, it’s a whole new level of comprehension, analysis, and interpretation.

You can see all seven of my items for sale here.  Go on. You know you need some Walden close reading worksheets in your life.  There will be more posted as I sift through my older stuff and refresh it for my marketing staff.

AND!  I’ve sold a couple of printables to some bloggers in the past few weeks, money that is going to be used to finish collecting camping gear this week for vacation next week.  Two camp chairs and two hammocks later, I’m feeling pretty good about my new hobby.

I’ll post links when those items go live, because if people like the work I did and download it from the blogger who bought it, then maybe that blogger will buy more, which will allow me to eventually save enough money to maybe someday afford a trip to Disney.

Seriously.  Have you seen their prices?  Hopefully the kids will be able to come home from college so we can go.


Seven Ways I’m Recharging Over Spring Break

Seven Ways I’m Recharging Over Spring Break

Five school days left until my favorite week of the year: Spring Break.  Great weather, great friends, great family plans–It’s all mapped out in my head and I can’t wait! Like usual, I have probably over scheduled it, but there’s so much refreshing that needs to be done. I need to sleep in a bit, recharge, and re-energize for the last nine weeks of school.

Part of the week involves a much-needed family getaway, but the rest of the week?  All mine!

Easier said than done, right?  Here are my plans to make the most of this precious week.

  1. Get a babysitter.  If you have small children, treat yourself to a day off from everything.  I am planning to hire a sitter for one whole day, in which I will attempt to do as many of the other things on this list as I can.
  2. Spend time with some water. The beach, the lake, the river, a creek, a pool–any
    Lake Michigan.  Yes, it’s really that blue.

    largish or moving body of water will do.  There is something magically meditative about water, whether it has your feet wrapped in a cool hug or is holding you up on a float, it is hands down the best way to spend a few hours and unwind.

  3. Take a nap. During the school year, I don’t get to do this much, but I am convinced that an entire continent and part of Europe cannot be wrong about the restorative importance of an afternoon siesta.  So one afternoon, there will be a large fajita-filled lunch to get me in the mood, followed by a faceplant into my pillow.  It already feels amazing.
  4. Go junkin’. I love thrift stores. I do not, however, love thrift stores if I have to take my children with me.  They are 4, 6, and 7. I love them, and they can suck the joy out of a 50 cent Goodwill sale like no little people I’ve ever met. It’s hard to dig through a pile of wallets or a rack of clothes when you are fussing at your son to stop wearing the pink heels, catching your 6 year-old before she manages to hang upside down off the clothing rack, and before your 7 year old launches into a “Why Smoking is Nasty” lecture at the lady she saw stubbing out her cigarette outside.   There will be either a flea market, auction, or thrift store afternoon–without the kiddos– so I can relax and enjoy the hunt.
  5. holyhellcoverRead something for fun. Because I teach English, the only reading I get to do during the school year are student papers and the literature I’m teaching. And there’s only so
    many times you can read about Scout and Jem before even they lose their appeal.  (This year was an exception though–I got to read my husband’s first novel.  Check it out here!)  This spring break, I have a few brain candy murder mysteries lined up, and I’m planning to take them to the beach with me.  Two birds and all that.  Plus I just bought folding rocking chair, so I am all set!
  6. Have a big afternoon out!  I am going to kidnap several of my friends and we’re going to sit at an outdoor table and tell stories and save the world over drinks and appetizers.  You’re all invited!!
  7. Explore your artistic talents.  As far as DIY addictions go, mine is small but mighty. I have the materials to make a dozen (really cute) birdfeeders, a set of letter canvases to paint for the entrance, an area taped off to sand and paint into a hallway chalk board, the fabric for the Christmas pajamas I was too tired to make in December, and the fabric to redo my dining room chairs waiting in my cart at  My goal is to finish at least one of these projects over spring break, so I can say I accomplished something on my to-do list. And because I promised my husband I wouldn’t buy any more project stuff until I actually finished a project.
    coloring books - Copy
    The top ones are all Thaneeya McArdle’s work.  I *LOVE* her designs. I even bought her color a picture a day calendar.  So awesome.

    I also have a significant collection of adult coloring books and a small set of colored pencils and Sharpies that I plan to spend some quality time with.  I was super excited to find that my co-op order will be here in time for Spring Break.  Check this out and be jealous!   If you haven’t checked out Thaneeya McArdle’s coloring books, you are seriously missing out. They are the perfect combination of large and small designs and I am addicted.  (Remind me later to write about using adult coloring pages in class!)

  8. And just so you can say you accomplished something really important, purge your junk drawer.  This is actually at the top of my to-do list, if only so I can say, without lying, “I did some clutter purging over break, and you’re right! It felt great.”

As a teacher, fighting burnout is one of the most important things you can do.  This year I have a plan, and I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready to go!  Who’s with me?  What are your plans?  Do you have any great ideas that I’ve missed?  Share them in the comments!

GMAS Scores Returned: Teacher is Angry.

GMAS Scores Returned: Teacher is Angry.

If you pay any attention to education news and politics, you know that the newest version of high stakes testing has been a big deal.  As teachers, they told us that we should expect our test scores to plummet because the tests were much harder, especially because they included four writing assignments.  My students’ pass rates have consistently been between 85-95%, depending on the grade level, the make-up of the class, family and health situations the night before and the morning of, the status of the moon, and the weather.  I am not making that up.

We have been waiting anxiously on our scores since December 2014.  I got my individual student scores back today, nearly 11 months to the day since my students took the test. 

About two weeks ago, I had been warned that I only had a pass rate of about 40%.  I kept thinking in the back of my mind that my scores couldn’t have been that bad; our school only offers honors classes, and most of the kids take their grades very seriously.

What I found out today is this: Each student’s score was mathed into three different  “scores:”

  1. A scale score. I’m an English teacher and have no clue what that means, and since it is not part of my evaluation or what the public sees of my success/failure as a teacher: Don’t care.
  2. A rubric-like scale of four parts: beginning learner, developing learner, proficient learner, and distinguished learner.  This is called the “Achievement Level.”  Very, very frustrated by this.
  3. A Grade Conversion Score:  All their data was magically morphed into a number between 0 and 100 that could be used on a report card.  To quote one of my new favorite TV characters, this is the part where I am “extremely very not happy.”

Students who earned a grade scale conversion 70 to a 79 are listed as Developing Learners.  Under a 70, they’re listed as a Beginning Learner. And, according to the infinite idiocy of the bureaucrats in charge, if the grade scale conversion score is under an 80, it’s considered failing for the teachers and is reported as such. 


In the classroom, grades from 70-100 are considered passing.  So riddle me this:  If a kid earns a 78 in my class and passes it, and a 79 on the GMAS and fails it, how the heck does that make any sense?

Lemme tell you: It doesn’t.

If and when this stupidity actually counts against the kids, their grade scale conversion will be 20% of their classroom grade.  I’m not totally fine with that, but I’m also not opposed to end of course testing, but that’s another post altogether.

What I am opposed to is a double standard.  If a 70 is passing for a student, and enough to earn that student course credit, why is the same score not considered passing for me?

Let’s look at the math (the ELA teacher said, ironically.)

In December 2014, I had 33 ninth grade lit students sit for the GMAS.  Here is my grade conversion breakdown, by students in that range:

90-100:   1

80-89:    12

70-79:    16

Below 69: 4

According to the state, because they say anything under an 80 is failing, 24 of my 33 kids fail.  According to common grading practice, I only had 4 kids fail.  

That is the difference between, “Teacher X had a 59% failure rate.”  And “Teacher X had a 12% failure rate.”

Or in the reverse, “Teacher X had a 39% pass rate” or “Teacher X had an 88% pass rate.”

My paycheck could/will soon be dependent on this distinction, and even a lowly ELA teacher like myself can recognize the huge difference in how those two statistics look on paper AND mathematically.

Ideally? Yes, I’d love to bring those kids in the 60s and 70s up.  Absolutely.  But for a group of lab rats freshmen who had to take a two-day, three-session test of more than four hours for ONE class, the Monday after Thanksgiving break, I’m pretty damned proud of them.

Also, given that we got the actual “this is what will be on the test” document a MONTH before testing, I’m pretty damned proud of myself.  And, there was a section on the GMAS that wasn’t even in the 9th grade curriculum at the time.

So yeah:  I am PROUD of my students.  They worked hard, and they put effort into a test that they knew going into it wouldn’t count for them.  I’m not sure if the roles were reversed that I’d’ve done the same.

Please consider contacting your state representatives, and complain about the way that testing is being used against students and teachers in the State of Georgia.  Consider calling the Governor’s office, as it is his education commission who is pushing for scores only-based paychecks and evaluations for teachers.  They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a testing system that’s a hot mess.

Consider contacting  your kids’ teachers and thanking them for the work they do against obstacles designed to paint them in the most negative light possible; nobody wins in that situation. And when your children’s teachers are tired, demoralized, and beaten down by state-level politics and stupidity, that bleeds into their work environment.  Your child’s learning environment is his teacher’s work environment.

Notice, I did not say call your local school board members or the superintendent’s office. They have no control over this, although if they could add their voices to the rising nationwide Opt Out movement, that’d be great.  I’d love to see our local officials on the news condemning how these scores are reported and used against teachers and students alike.   But this is me not holding my breath on that one.

In the end, it is the students that matter; and telling them that they failed something that they sort of actually really passed, is just flat wrong. And since character education is part and parcel of every teacher’s classroom, how can the state possibly justify this?

Reddit Rocks.

Reddit Rocks.

Dear Jesse Lee,

Last week I received a box from Amazon that held a box of black markers and a hand sanitizer wall pump.  I was so happy!  I got teacher stuff from a total stranger on Reddit!

I usually have it in my room, but get asked constantly, “Do you have hand sanitizer?” because my bottle migrates around to different locations throughout the day.

And black markers? A classroom can never have too many markers.

So when I got this box, I was excited.  I took a picture of the two items, and emailed them to my work email so I could post them, and thank you.  This was Friday.

Then on Sunday, it became Classroom Christmas.

A large box mysteriously appeared outside my front door while I was dropping one of my kiddos off for some playtime.  I wasn’t expecting anything from Amazon because I’d already gotten my goodies from the Reddit Teacher Thingy, so I was intrigued and confused. Had my husband ordered something?  Did I forget a Subscribe and Save item? What was in this box????

I opened the Big Mystery Box, and squealed like an 80s fan girl at a Duran Duran concert.  Holy Moly Ms. Jesse!

I cannot thank you enough!!  Cleaning supplies!  BInders!  Dividers! A yoga ball!  Highlighters!

You, my new friend Jesse Lee, are awesome, amazing, fantastic, terrific, fabulous, generous, beneficent, amiable, and all things wonderful.  Thank you for your donation to a total stranger and her students.

You rock.  And so does Reddit for hosting this.

Look at this stuff!  I can't thank Jesse from Reddit enough!
Look at this stuff! I can’t thank Jesse from Reddit enough!
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.