Friday, June 19, 2015

Q & A Friday: How to Teach Poetry to Kids

Hi, everyone, and welcome back to Q&A Friday here on the blog! 

So, what is Q&A Friday? Often I get emailed questions about writing, teaching, editing, book recommendations, and general questions about the literary life, and I was thinking that other people might be interested in these questions, too! Q&A Friday is where I will answer one of these questions every other week or so. I hope you find it to be helpful and inspiring! 

 If you have a question, please feel free to email it to me at dallaswoodburn gmail com with "Q&A Friday" in the subject line. Also, if you have thoughts to add to my answers, I would LOVE if you would share your ideas in the comments section below! My aim for this blog is for it to be a positive resource and community-builder for readers, writers, teachers, and book-lovers of all ages! 

Question: I love reading and writing poetry myself, and I have an opportunity coming up to teach a group of kids. I would love to teach a brief lesson about poetry and maybe even write some poetry together, but I have no idea where to start. Do you have any experience teaching poetry to kids? If so, can you suggest any activities that work well?

What a worthy endeavor! Yes, I definitely teach poetry to kids. In my experience, most kids seem to really enjoy reading and writing poetry. One thing I've noticed is that many young kids believe all poetry needs to rhyme, which can be very restrictive when trying to write a poem. So, one of my goals as their teacher is to try to broaden their view of what poetry is and can be. 

Here is a website that I like with different viewpoints from kids of what poetry is: (Note: in the group shots it is hard to read the posters, but if you scroll down a bit you get to singular shots, and some have translations of the kids' handwritten words typed out below the photograph.) 

Perhaps a simple activity you might start with is asking the kids what they think poetry is, and on the board you could brainstorm a list of their responses. In this way, you create a "poetry collage" together! I would encourage you to format this lesson as a discussion among everyone. Instead of telling them what poetry is (or telling them that poetry does not have to rhyme, for example) ask them questions and share examples of different types and styles of poetry. 

Another fun activity would be to write a poem together as a group, or help the kids write their own poems individually. An easy poem that works well for beginning poets is an "I love you" poem. It is basically a series of "I love you more than..." statements, using descriptive language or metaphor, addressed to a person, place or thing. 

When I was in elementary school, I wrote a poem like this for my grandfather "Gramps" which is included in my collection of short stories and poems, There's a Huge Pimple On My Nose:

Dear Gramps,
I love you more than a boxer puppy loves his bark.
I love you more than a loaf of yummy cinnamon bread loves to bake.
I love you more than a gardener loves his red, red rose.
I love you with my whole little-girl heart.
Love, Dallas

Below is a template you could use to help kids come up with their own "I love you" poems:

Think of a person you want to write a poem to. This might be your mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, or friend. 

Brainstorm a list of things you like to do with this person. Try to be as SPECIFIC as possible! For example, in “My Monday Guy” the author describes baking “yummy cinnamon bread.” 
 1) _____________________________________________________________ 
 2) _____________________________________________________________ 
 3) _____________________________________________________________ 
 4) _____________________________________________________________ 
 5) _____________________________________________________________ 

Now, brainstorm a list of SPECIFIC things this person likes or that you associate with this person. For example, in “My Monday Guy” the author describes “a boxer puppy” and a gardener’s “red rose.” 
1) _____________________________________________________________ 
2) _____________________________________________________________ 
3) _____________________________________________________________ 
4) _____________________________________________________________ 
5) _____________________________________________________________ 

Go back and read through both your lists. Draw stars next to your favorite four or five items you brainstormed. Now it’s time to weave your ideas together into a poem! 

Title: ______________________________________________ 
Dear _______________________________________________,  
I love you more than ______________________________________________ 
I love you more than ______________________________________________  
I love you more than ______________________________________________  
I love you with my _________________________________________________  
Love, ______________________________________________

Good luck, and have fun! If you liked this poem and activity, you might want to check out my children's book There's a Huge Pimple On My Nose and accompanying Teacher's Guide!

Previous "Q & A Friday" posts:
- How to manage class time as a writing teacher
- How to build a platform as a freelance writer

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

We Are All "Creative People"

Occasionally when I tell someone that I am a fiction writer, a stunned expression crosses their face -- as if I confessed that my day job is being a Superhero.

"Oh, I could never do that," they say. "I could never make up stories out of thin air. I'm not that creative."

However, if there's one thing I've learned from teaching writing to people of all ages for the past eight years, it's that everyone is indeed creative. Some of us just might have more trouble accessing our creative selves. And others might not recognize their own creativity, even if they use it all the time.

We all possess imagination; we all solve problems; we all daydream. Sure, the problems I solve at work often revolve around fictional characters in made-up situations. But I don't think there is much difference between a fictional character's problem (for example, trying to solve a crime before the murderer strikes again!) and a real-life workplace problem (such as trying to put together a business strategy the client will love, in time for a big meeting with the team.) I think we use the same problem-solving, creative muscles to do both tasks. I guess a main difference is that as a fiction writer, I create both the problems AND the solutions! (And believe me, sometimes I manage to create real doozies for myself and then have to try to wrangle my characters free...) ;)

A real-life problem I am trying to fight is these boxes many people drop down around themselves, labeled as "not creative." It makes my heart ache every time someone tells me they could never be a writer, because they are "not creative enough." It's not true! Don't believe it!

This is a serious matter. Because to accept that limiting, false belief -- to hunker down into that "non-creative" box -- is to turn away from your inherent gifts as a human being.

In his ground-breaking book Genership 1.0: Beyond Leadership Toward Liberating the Creative Soul, leadership guru and business expert David Castro approaches creativity and leadership in an entirely new way. He transforms the way we think of organizations, communities, and "progress" in general. He writes:

"What if our most critical human goal, the most fundamental human activity, is not to know or to understand, but rather to create, to generate? What would it mean if at the heart of human nature we discovered not reason, not rationality, not the capacity to grasp the world in the mind, but rather the capacity to imagine and invent that world?"
(pg. 3)

In Genership 1.0, David Castro explores exciting, freeing new definitions of leadership in the 21st Century. He coins a new term -- "genership" -- defined as: "The capacity to create with others; the community practice of creating." What would this approach mean for our businesses? Our schools? Our politics? He guides the reader into a new way of thinking about leadership that transcends limitations.

To me, this book is not only about being a leader in a business sense; it applies to our personal lives too. It inspires you to reflect on how you see yourself and how you live your everyday life. Here are some questions I jotted down:

  • What world do I want to create and invent? 
  • How can I take the steps to get there?
  • What does it mean to come together and lead as a team?
  • What can I generate, for myself and for others? 

I want to close with a poem that Castro quotes in his Preface, from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and
try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms
and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them. And the
point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it,
and live along some distant day into the answer.

Maybe leadership -- or knowledge, or adulthood, or teaching -- is not about "having all the answers" but rather about helping others to learn to embrace life's uncertainties. Maybe true wisdom means cultivating an insatiable curiosity.

Here's to living the questions.