Respect the Verse: How to get the most out of the poems you read

Respect the Verse: How to get the most out of the poems you read

Understanding poetry truly isn’t as hard as people make it out to be.  With a little coaching, some jargon, and some practice, it’s a pretty easy thing.

And to appreciate it doesn’t mean that you have to learn every little thing about poetry.  Trust me, there’s too much. And even poetry nerds like me don’t have it all down.

Listed below are the basics you need to get the most out of the verse you read.

  1.  Read with the punctuation marks.  Just because a line breaks doesn’t mean there’s a pause.  Pause where the commas and end marks are.  If there’s no punctuation, it may take a few times through the poem to figure out where to pause. Look at this piece of Shakespeare’s “My Mistress Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun.”   Notice that it makes WAY more sense if you DON’T pause at the end of the line!punctuation3
  2. Get used to re-reading. To really get a poem, you have to read it a few times.  Even if it appears simple on the first pass, there will be lots more to it on the second and third time through.
  3. Pay attention to line breaks, capitalization, and structure.  Lines are broken where they are on purpose to add emphasis or to move your eyes down the page. Words that the poet capitalizes are words that are Important, especially if it’s something that’s not usually given a capital letter.
  4. How it sounds helps create a feeling.  Lots of soft letters in soft sounding words-
    You have to hear him say “little metal bottletops.”  Click here.  I’m not sure why this is so funny, but it is.

    -m, n, s, r, l–will help create a soft feeling.  Hard letters–d, t, k, p–create harsher sounds.  Those sounds can mimic water or wind, or weapons and warfare depending on their usage. Those sounds create feelings, which in turn help you as the reader, develop meaning.

  5. Make a connection.  You should be able to find some sort of connection with every poem you read.  Does it remind you of your Great Aunt Tilly?  Your favorite superhero? Make you question something you heard at church? Make you feel sad or angry or nostalgic?  Those connections are the whole purpose of literature; poets write to express thoughts and feelings, and we read to better understand our own.

Got anything to add? Let me know about it in the comments? Like what you read?  Share this somewhere!  Happy National Poetry Month!


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!

Two funerals too many

Two funerals too many

They were very different girls, Altonise and Alexis.

Both were fun-loving, full of life, and feisty. Beyond that, their similarities were the color of their brown skin and the first letter of their names.

I taught them both, loved them both, and both were murdered.  IMG_0637

One was a senior, one was a junior.  Different high schools.  Different challenges in life. Different goals. Different styles.  Different attitudes.

Both were found dead in their homes, both of their last moments filled with violence and terror.

Unfulfilled promise that will never have a chance to bloom.

As a teacher, there are no things worse than the funeral of a student, except maybe the day when you and your students find out about that death.

I couldn’t go to Alexis’ funeral because my husband works weekends and I couldn’t find a sitter.

Altonise’s fell on Monday after a rainy Easter weekend.  The day burst with bright blue sky and a few dancing white clouds.  My heart wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the day nestled in with the tragedy of the funeral.

But even the funeral wasn’t gloomy.

There were songs of hope and the promise of salvation, and guarantees that, if we follow the right path, we’ll be able to see our loved ones again. The mourners sang and clapped along, and silences were punctuated with the keening of her friends and family.

There were speeches of forgiveness and admonitions against violence and revenge.

And there was pink.  Deep rich pink, like impatiens in the summer.   It was in the corsages members of her family wore, in the flowers around her casket, and in the headbands and hairstyles of her friends.

As a mom, there are no words I can offer for comfort. And as a teacher, there aren’t either.  Death is of life, and we must face it, but when it is a shocking death, a loss of the promises of youth, how do you find comfort or offer it?


And faith.

And so, for Alexis and Altonise, two spirited young women whose tenacity and spunk lit up the world around them, I can only offer words. One of my favorite poets is John Donne, whose poetry is by turns passionate and full of faith, lost and full of love. In one of his holy sonnets he says, “But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space.”

I will mourn the space that held these two girls, and hope that as the world turns on, those who loved them will live a little more, do a little more good, and experience a little more of life in their honor.

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Yes, I Just Emailed This to the Governor

Yes, I Just Emailed This to the Governor

Hello Governor Deal (and whichever staffer is lucky enough to be reading this),

I am what you call a “veteran” teacher.  I’m on the downhill slide toward retirement; and I’ve gotten to the point that I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut about issues concerning my profession.
The GMAS system stinks. The Georgia Teacher Evaluation system stinks.  The fact that my elementary school children do more to prepare for tests than they do play outside stinks.  Are you seeing a pattern here?
I love to teach. I love my students, and like parents all over this state, I love my children and want what’s best for all of them.  However, tests that aren’t reliable or valid are not what’s best for them. Tests that generate no useful data for teachers are worse than useless.  Tests that are compared to different tests for the purposes of evaluating me are even more useless than that.
Tests that are far beyond the abilities of a disabled child are not good for them. Having little to no recess is not good for elementary school kids, and pushing small children to do what they are not developmentally ready to do does damage that takes years to undo.
Governor Deal (and your dedicated staffer), if you want to know what teachers and students need, how about asking teachers?  How about asking parents?  Ask actual experts instead of relying on the corporate input that got us into this mess; wouldn’t it be nice to go down in history as the Governor who actually made genuine change for the better in Georgia’s schools?
If you want to know how to do this, ask the people who know. Ask teachers. Ask parents.  And when you do, listen to them.  Sending them a survey and then ignoring what it says is not sound policy, Governor Deal.  If I ran my classroom like that, I’d be out of a job.
I would love to be able to come talk to you and the legislature in person, but our grades are due this week, and school policy forbids me from taking the day before a paid holiday off, or I would be there early Friday morning to talk some sense into you and the representatives you’re leaning on.
Instead, I have to rely on the saucy tone of my letter to do that for me.  Please encourage the legislature to do what’s right by teachers, students, and their families and pass 355 and 364.  It’s the right thing to do.  And since I voted for you, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a citizen of the state of Georgia if I didn’t ask you to do what your electorate wants.
Tracy Saunders
18 Year Public School Teacher
Mom of Seven
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!