Abstract Nouns – So Inspirational!

When I first meet my students, they have little experience writing poems.  They have only written haiku poems as far as I know.  And although I love haiku poems, I want them to experience writing in free verse.  I find so much more of a person’s personal truth can be revealed in a free verse poem than in any other type.  No matter what the topic is, bits of the writer start to show up in their very first poem.  It’s the kind of thing you recognize the more you know the student.  Their writer’s voice is there in their word choice.  It’s there in the way they put words together.  It’s there in the message they embed.  It’s there in the poem’s tone and feel.  My goal is to get them to recognize that they have a writer’s voice.

The very first poems we write towards the beginning of the year are poems inspired by a place.  That place is always the woods that is conveniently located out the backdoor of the school just beyond the k-2 playground.  The students go out with pencil and paper and I ask them to collect words that describe what they see.  I ask them to describe what the woods feels like, smells like, looks like, and sounds like.  They aren’t writing a poem at this point.  They are collecting described images.  I tell them that the more descriptions they collect, the more material they have to work with when we sit at our desks back in the classroom.  When it feels as if they have written all they are going to write (and of course, that is less for some and not enough time for some), we head back in.

Now I give them time to play around with what they wrote down.

“Have you grouped descriptions of the same object together?  Is there a logical order in which to arrange the thoughts?  Are there words that are close to what you intended but not quite?  Do you need a thesaurus?  Reread it.  Does it reflect what you saw, smelled, felt, heard?”

When there has been enough time to write a rough draft of their poem, we stop for the day.  The next day, I ask them to pull them out again and reread them.  Are they happy with them?  Does it reflect their experience in the woods and the way it felt to them?  If not, change up lines or words.  Feel free to move lines around.  When they are satisfied, they come to my desk and show me.

If they know how to format a poem, great.  If they don’t, I help them with that.  Next they type up their poem, leaving off their name.  The reason I have the leave off their name is so that I can make a packet of the poems (and yes, I include the poem I wrote on the same day).  Several days later, I pass out the packet of poems.  I give specific directions that we are going to read the poems without asking or trying to figure out who wrote them.  Instead of wondering who wrote them, we are going to focus on the poems themselves.  I call on three or four students to tell me something specific they liked about each poem.  If I notice that some students are not participating, I will tell them that I will be asking for their opinion on the next poem, so they should listen carefully as it’s being read.

Once we have read every poem in the packet, we go back through the packet and I let them have 3 guesses as to who wrote each of the poems.  If they don’t guess, I ask, “Who wrote this poem?”  The person who wrote it raises their hand.  It is fun to see the reactions when the writer is revealed because often this changes the way some students think of other students.  If we do this two or three times in the school year, students begin to guess correctly about certain poems because they begin to recognize the writing voice that students have.  That’s really cool to see!

The great thing about doing this is that every student gets some positive feedback on their poem.  It might be the way they ended the poem.  It might be a particular word they used that fit just right.  It might be an image they created with words that others could relate to.  It might be the overall feeling and tone of the poem.   It’s been an effective way to show each student that they have a point of view that others can relate to, and that they can communicate that with words.

After sharing poems in this way, the students are more willing to spend time writing poems.  I try to inspire that writing by giving them a poem to use as a model or by taking them to an inspiring location.  One day we went outside on a slightly drizzly day.  Another day we donned our coats and boots and walked into the woods on a day it was snowing!

This past January we were writing new poems.  The weather wasn’t particularly inspiring, so I thought of another idea.  Several years ago, I bought Sara Holbrook’s book, Practical Poetry.  I really liked the way she had her students develop poems around emotions.  I had my students do the same.  The poems were great!  But before long, I had broadened the topic to abstract nouns in general.  Emotions are abstract nouns, but so are personal characteristics and all sorts of things that end up being interesting poetry topics.

The day we began, I let the students brainstorm a collection of abstract nouns.  As a student thought of one, I had them write it on the board.  Once the board was full, I told them that they would be choosing one of the nouns to write a poem about.  They weren’t to describe the noun directly, but instead were to talk to the noun as if they could!  They were to say what it felt important to say.  I read some examples written by former students who used the topics of hatred, segregation, and prejudice (we were studying the Civil Rights Movement at the time).  I told them to try writing about a few of the nouns, testing to see which one they had the most to say about.  Here are ten examples of the poems written that week.

 

Positivity

You’re the motor that keeps me going when I feel down.
You pick me up when I’m lacking strength.
You’re my best friend.
You cheer me up.
When I doubt myself, you say otherwise.
When I’m playing sports, you give me a boost.
In basketball, you say I can make it when I have a free throw.

~~Jack

 

 Anger

Anger, I hate you.
You’re the one who gets me in trouble.
You bring out the fire in me
that either hurts someone
mentally or physically.

You make me mad.
When you take over,
I get out of control, and
I sometimes do bad things.

What I hate most about you
is that you bring out
the demon inside of me.
I hurt people when you come out.

~~David

 

Embarrassment

You sir, are a super glue.
You stick to my memory
and become a forever regret.

I wish I could break the handcuffs
that keep us together,
but it will never happen.

All the faces staring
make me want to disintegrate
and fall into a world without you.

I wish I could just forget you,
or the time I was forced
to sing a stupid song
in a humiliating outfit.

Embarrassment scars you for life.

~~Adalina

 

Darkness

Stuck in the dark,
with nowhere to go.
Stuck in the dark,
With no one I know.

Stuck in the dark,
But still there is light.
Stuck in the dark,
All through the night.

Stuck in the dark,
But I’ll make it to the day.
Stuck in the dark,
But I’ll be okay.

~~Kailyn

 

Anger

Anger you burn inside me
like a fire
burning a house.

You make me want to shout
and yell
and hit things.

Sometimes you stay for a little bit,
other times
you decide to stay for days
or even weeks.

When I feel anger,
it feels like I’m trapped
in a world of your tricks.

Anger, you have no place inside me.
Leave.

~~Addison

 

Shadow

The scary dark figure
right behind you.
follows you ‘till night.
Then with a blink of an eye
he’s out of sight.
Nowhere to be seen.

Then it’s a new day.
And he follows you again.
Terrified, you scream.
Oh, it’s just my shadow.

~~Ari

 

Future

I can not see you or feel you,
but  I know you’re coming.

All I wonder is,
are you going to change?
Will I change because of you?
Will my life change?
Can I be the reason that you change?

So many questions
for the future.

~~Sina

 

AIR

You are the breeze
that knocks me down a mountain.

You are faster than an airplane
yet slower than a turtle.

You can be disastrous
like hurricane Katrina
or nice and cool
like at a picnic.

~~Ali

 

Creativity

I like it when you come.
I can do things and have
a more open mind with them.

You help me at home, at school,
at art, and everywhere in between.

Sometimes you give me
more than I can use.
Sometimes you are
just out of reach.

~~Colin

 

Lies

You hurt.
You start fights and rumors.
You cover things up.
You go on.
You don’t.

People could tell the truth,
but they use you instead.
With a lie, you can create
pain,
misery,
questions, and
ruined friendships.

Why do you exist?

~~Sofia

 

One thing I really like about these poems is that it helped my students better understand how they feel about the meaning behind the nouns they chose.  I often tell them that writing helps you know your own thoughts better.  When you write about them, you don’t necessarily plan out how you feel before you start.  But by the time you are done, you have a pretty good idea of what that word means to you!  And if you can write it in such a way that others can relate to what you say, you’ve written a poem.  If you can write it in such a way that others can relate to it and are touched that you said it in a way they hadn’t thought of, then you have written a great poem!

Sometimes I’m Sorry … Sometimes Not So Much

A couple years ago as my students and I finished reading Love that Dog by Sharon Creech, we reflected on the poems we had been introduced to while we read the book.  As a final project, I challenged them to write poems that were modeled after and inspired by William Carlos Williams’ poem, This is Just to Say.  It is a delightful confession to eating something that the writer fully knows is not for him to eat.  The poem captures those every day moments that happen when people share a space and a relationship.  The student poems were so good!  I remember smiling as each was turned in.  I knew I would repeat that activity with the next year’s students!

But then, just a few years back, I happened upon an entire book of poems that were inspired by this same William Carlos Williams poem.  The book is called This is Just to Say:  Poems of Apology and Forgiveness.  It is written by Joyce Sidman and is perfect for reading aloud to students.  There were poems written to teachers, to school secretaries, to classmates, to parents, and to pets.  The first half of the book are the poems of apology, written to a specific person.  The second half of the book are the poems written in return, all offering forgiveness.  Each revealed in rather beautiful and vulnerable ways a tender relationship between the person who wrote the poem and the person the poem was written to.  We often forgot that the entire collection of poems came from the creative mind of Joyce Sidman!  My students laughed, “awwwwed” and even cried as I read most every poem in the book in a single sitting.  After hearing the poems by Joyce Sidman, they sat down to write their own poem of apology.

I found these poems to be touching – funny, heartwarming, and in some cases, tragic.  In other words, the students were able to bring the everyday moments to the forefront and let our less-than-perfect actions and reactions be revealed.

 

Sorry

Dad, I’m sorry
for stealing your pizza.
You left it on the table
with the top open,
leaving the scent of heaven
roaming through the house.

I snuck to the table,
stole it,
and ate it all.

~~David

 

Dottie

I’m sorry I was not there to help you.
I let you outside and let you wander.
I did not hear or see you for quite a while.
My mom and I got really worried.

Later that day we found you on the road.
We buried you in your favorite spot
outside with all your favorite toys.

I will always remember when
we were little and we would snuggle.
And when you would fit into a chihuahua bed.

We buried you with a baseball
with everyone’s memories written
all over the baseball.

I will always love you, dead or alive.
I love you, Dottie.

~~Emillie

 

Sorry for Being Annoying

Sorry for not stopping my mouth from talking.
I just can’t stop.
My mouth is moving,
and my tongue is whipping.
I just can’t stop.

Maybe it’s because when I say something,
you laugh,
and I just keep on going.
I have funny things to say!

It’s just the fact that
they come to my brain
and slip out of my mouth.

Sometimes you say weird things too,
and I laugh.
But then I think
maybe they don’t like my comedy.
I’m sorry.

Just kidding!
I’m way too funny!

~~Ali

 

Dear Sasha,

I’m sorry I let you outside
and forgot you were out there.
You sat out there for an hour,
until I remembered
and went to get you.
But you weren’t out there.

Not on the lawn,
Not on the deck,
Not even under the deck
chasing chipmunks.

I looked all over town for you.
No luck.

I went back home to look again.
Then I looked in the one spot

I hadn’t looked yet,
the garage.

I opened the door and sure enough,
there you were sitting on the couch.

~~Ari

 

The Soccer Mistake

Dear Sammy,

I’m sorry for accusing you
of tripping people in soccer
and for being a bit aggressive.

I’m also sorry
for all of the bad things
that have happened to you.

I think you’re
the best soccer player in the grade.

Sincerely your friend,

~~Cohen

 

My Apology To My Brother

I’m sorry
for not being the best
at the video games we play.

I aspire to be better,
but I’m not the best anyway.
It doesn’t help
when you yell and scream at me.

I know I can’t win on my own,
and that’s why I play with you.
I’m trying to get better.

For now,
it’s just us two.

~~Ben

 

 Apologizing  

Dear Wishley,

I’m sorry that
I threw an orange at you.
I just got carried away
so I threw it at you.

You said I was jealous, and
I had no friends.
I was so mad.

I didn’t realize
it would hurt like that.

~~Sam

 

Apologizing

Dear Muffin,

I miss when you would slobber on me
and how it was like you always knew
what I was thinking.

I’m sorry that I didn’t
get to say goodbye.
You know that.

If I would have
gotten the chance to,
I would have.
I miss you.

You were such an amazing dog.
I miss when you would
shove your slobbery nose in my neck
while I was asleep.

I miss you.

~~Reehya

 

 

School – We All Experience It Differently

In order for a poem to connect with a reader, it has to have truth and be full of honest feelings.  I recently asked my students to think about some aspect of their school week and to gather some thoughts.  Their topic had to be something they felt strongly about, whether that be strongly for or strongly against.   I’ve been delighted with their finished work.  I hope you are too!

<Orth> + <o> + <graph> + <y>

you taught me…

bases,
roots,
twins.
History,
like a British Council.
Challenge,
a chance to try my hardest.
Learning,
a symphony.

How can words be so …
interesting?

 Amazing,
glimmering,
fascinating,
enchanting.

When I study about you
it feels like an ocean’s waves
churning against me,
children laughing, throwing, reading.
A lovely sound.
The world of words can’t grow without you!

 Entertaining,
peaceful,
triumphant,
bewitching.

words, words, words …

 Could you tell me more?

                                                                Elizabeth

The Topic of Science

Science, you speak to me.
I love the way you make me curious,
full of wonder, I am now.

I especially love marine biology.
Take me to the ocean and show me
orcas, dolphins, narwhals,
maybe even anemone.

Let’s go to the beach
grab some shells and figure out
what species they are.

C’mon, let’s travel across
the country to Cali
so we can examine dino’s in tar.

You make me squeal.
You make me smile.
Don’t go away, stay for a while.
We have so much more to learn
so much more to do
me and you.
The topic of science.

                             Calli

Recess

Oh, recess!
The worst time of the day.
Too much excitement!
Balls getting thrown,
hitting people in the face.

excluding
bragging
bullying

I’m telling you
the truth.
Recess is
a dangerous place.

This is why
instead of going out
in the evil world called
recess …

Just go to the library.

                                                    Maddy

Gym

Gym is like a bird
always fun
moving and flying in the air
like a dodge ball
about to hit someone in the head.

Or Steal the Pin
always running and moving to get the pin
or to protect it.

It’s like flying on a plane
jumping around in the air
to make a loop.

It feels like you are in an army
when you are on a team
fighting to win.

                                               Collin

Art

My favorite
because of the freedom.
no rules
no mistakes

glue
paper
scissors

Quiet chit chat
throughout the room.
The colorful walls
instantly making my day
as I am laughing
at the hilarity on the posters
hanging on the walls.

The smells
of oily crayons
and fresh clay
are
wafting through the air
to my nose.

Taking in
complicated instructions.

It’s Tuesday morning!
I’m skipping
to art!

How many more steps?
3 …
2 …
1 …
We’re here!

                                            Ada

Math

A peaceful subject
in my mind

Finding the right answer
to an equation
is like the rush you get
when you win a basketball game.

I love math
almost as much
as I love my family.

It’s like the gears
in my mind are turning
at just the right speed.

But then once we switch classes,
the gears in my mind seem to
slow down almost
to a stop.

That’s when I feel like
I’m going to fall asleep.

Once I get to social studies and reading,
my brain is completely shut off.

I struggle to stay focused.

Nothing can keep me occupied
and upbeat
like math.

                                                                   Shelby

Recess

Dear recess,
I cannot describe you with
any word but
awesome.

I think it’s wonderful
that you have
basketball hoops,
soccer goals and
a kickball fence.

I just love the feeling
when I make a
“nothing but net”
shot at Lightning or
when I make a
game winning goal at soccer.

I also think that
it’s cool that you have
a play structure and a four square area.

                                                    Ivan

Breathe in the Woodsy Inspiration, Exhale Imaginative Poetry

 

A Walk in the Woods

A path lined with logs,
some flowers on the ground,
big leafy trees of wisdom.
They have been there for so long.

Deeper in
a sweet outdoorsy smell.
The sun barely reaching through the trees.

Here’s my stop.
A small vernal pool
with scattered branches
that have fallen from the trees above.
the wind howls.
I feel a breeze
so nice.

It’s autumn.
I hear kids out at recess.
So far, but yet so close.

                                                                                   Emma H.

 

The Woods

The woods, the water, the beauty
breathe the fresh air
play in the pond
see your reflection like you’re in a
different dimension

The green, the brown, the colors
the frogs in the dark
play with the toads

The laser-like branches and sticks
that cut open skin
a jungle gym of fallen trees
a trampoline of branches
a fort of many sticks

Rain splatters in the pond and on the leaves
the forest animals scamper
birds chirp
leaves chatter and do the wave

                            Cody K.

Peace of the Forest

Giant green overhead
a tall yellow wall protecting me.

The sweet song of the birds
all around me.

The damp squiggly moss
like little worms.

Water shaking
like a mini earthquake
passed through.

But now my classmates are here,
and the peace is ruined.

                                   Tyler B.

My Tree

My tree, oh so big and tall.
All the branches stick out
like big octopus tentacles.

The tree has bark
like wrinkly skin
on my grandpa’s arm.

Like a big green sponge
it is covered in moss.

At the top, all the leaves
make a big green canopy
hovering over the forest.

You can’t go wrong.
This tree is the best.

I love my tree,
and my tree loves me.

                                        Maddy B.

Swamp

The cold damp air moves around you
like the swamp in the night of a monster story.
You might see shadows lurking around you.

The ground has turned to mud
through the pouring rain of last night.

The fog goes up high. 
You can’t see more than a few yards.
You can hear things moving though.
It’s slightly spooky,
but if you came in,
you should have been ready for a fright.

I hope you have enjoyed the time.
I wonder if you will come back again?
Please do.
Next time, come prepared for a scare,
maybe, if you can.

                                Alex K.

Mushrouses

The mushrooms in the woods
seem like little tiny bug houses.

The stems seem like they could be
the little insides of the house.
The tops like little umbrellas
to save the house from flooding.

There would be ants and ladybugs
and little little bugs living in the houses.

There would be bees
to provide the food for the bugs.
There would be beetles and horseflies
and mosquitoes as little bug guards.

Tiny mushrooms for tiny bugs it seems.
Large mushrooms would be for large bugs.

Too bad it’s not true.

All the bugs live in other non-amazing houses.
The bugs are mad they don’t live in mushrouses.
That’s why the bugs bug us.

                                           Nick B.

Biosphere Poems

Grass

I’m grass.
I get stepped on all the time.
I am a producer,
and I’m very important.
I think of myself like humans.
That’s because
I get haircuts with lawn movers.
Lots of animals eat me,
but I don’t care because
I am everywhere.
In winter you might not
see me as much,
but I am still there.
In winter less animals eat me,
because some are hibernating,
and some can’t find me
under the snow.
I am also one of the reasons
you can breathe.
The main reason you can breathe
is because of my brother, tree.
I love a fresh rain shower, don’t you?

                                             Alyssa P.

Emerald Ash Borer

I’m hiding in my tree under
the rough bark.
I am smaller than a penny.
I can’t help but eat the tree.
It’s not my fault
that the xylem and the phloem
are in my way.
I make paths to get around.
I make little holes
to make quick exits.
I am an invasive species.
No one can deny
that I should be gone.
What damage am I doing?
There are plenty of trees around.
I was brought here from Asia.
No one saw me on the boat.
I am a beautiful
but harmful creature.

                                     Alex K.

Top Predator

I’m a top predator.
I’m not an editor.
I feast on animals
who also feast on animals
who feast on primary consumers.
That’s how I get my energy.

I’m BIG.  I’m sly.
Can you guess me?
I’m the fierce puma.
I prey on little bunnies like you.
You may think I’m bad,
but actually I’m nice.
I’m not bad at all.
It’s just the circle of life.

You’re born,
you get eaten,
then again by decomposers.
It’s just the circle of life.

Yep.
Oh no!  It’s Mr. Farmer,
and this time he’s got a gun!
“BANG!”
That’s the circle of life.

                                            McKade H.

Stalker

I am a stalker.
I eat things little or small,
things that are fiercer than me.
My fur is like a cheetah’s fur.
It is gray with black spots.
Take a guess what I am.
I am a snow leopard.
Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.
I will hurt a marmot.
I am soft and wild too.
I live in a den,
I can be ten.
I love my cubs.
When they’re born,
they’re like little rosebuds.
Oh, I love the hills
and sitting right by the cliff.

                                                 Evelyn B.

The Wolf

I am a carnivore.
I roam the wild, looking for
some tasty herbivores or other carnivores.
For some reason they don’t greet me
in the same way that I greet them.

It could just be that they
are scared of how I look,
how sharp my massive white teeth are,
how I howl like a thunder cloud
at night under a full moon,
or even how I run as fast as a lightning bolt.
When they don’t greet me,
things don’t really turn out so pretty sometimes.

I’m usually a lone wolf, but sometimes
I have my mighty army of up to 20 or 25 wolves.
When I have my army we can rule the world
and take down the biggest animals of all,
even our king, the bear.
He thinks he’s smart and powerful,
but with my pack he goes down.
Watch out!  You wouldn’t want
to get eaten by these bad boys!

                                            Kyla P.

???

I’m a plant.
I don’t have any of those “flowers”
everyone loves so much.
I’m not pretty, but I work.
Cows graze on me,
and children lay on me.
I’ll say it again,
I work.

It’s not hard being a plant,
but when there is a drought,
oh my, oh my,
do I turn brown and die.
But I always grow back.
When I get too long,
a man with a big machine
gives me a haircut.
Sometimes the man doesn’t come for a while,
and I get very long,
and maybe even grow some seeds.

In the winter
lots of white, cold, fluff falls on me.
I have to wait in the cold until spring.
In the summer
I get dry,
but when the children come out
to play in the pool,
they splash water on me.
Then I’m not dry anymore.
What do you think I am?

                                             Serena K.