I rolled the virtual metaphor dice inspired by Stefani over at Ethical ELA coming up with the words poetry, well worn, and brand new toy. Combined with my afternoon lagoon walk, words tumbled and fell into today’s poem.
This abandoned beach ball emblazoned with “surf’s up” and wedged against the fence caught my eye this afternoon.
And my mind wandered to a slice I read yesterday written by Charlene Doland over at Reflections, Ruminations, and Renderings where Charlene talked about the value of pruning in the garden…and the need for it in her life.
I’ve also been watching my students play at recess time. There is an urgency and energy that is palpable. They verbally plan their play from the moment they realize it’s recess time, anticipating the interactions to come. And they are flexible. If some other play looks better, the plan is changed and they run headlong into the new activity.
I think we adults need to pay attention and learn from children at play. Full immersion in pure joy should be a daily priority. When was the last time you reveled in activity just for the fun of it?
I had one of those moments when I was in Yosemite a couple of weeks ago. I had a snow moment. (Anyone who regularly reads my blog knows I am SoCal through and through and can count the times I’ve spent in the snow in my lifetime on my fingers and toes.) It was snowing. Not flurries and not a blizzard–just a steady fall of soft, fluffy snowflakes that piled up on my shoulders, on my hat, in the hood that hung down from my collar. It transformed an already gorgeous scene into a magical winter wonderland. I caught flakes on my tongue, crunched them under my boots, held them on my gloved palm, and viewed them as precious jewels bestowed by nature.
Clearly I need to find more of these moments–moments of play and pure joy. How do we make space and create conditions for play? How do we “prune” back all the “ought tos” and “shoulds” to make room for unstructured exploration–without a goal attached? Maybe awareness is the first step…
Like so many others on social media (at least my feeds), I have been participating in the Wordle craze. I like that I can only play once a day, that it is limited to 6 guesses, that the words are all 5 letters long and that the whole world is playing this one word each day. There is something about limitations that funnels my focus, and while my first guesses often seem fruitless, somehow I usually pull it out by guess 4 or 5.
The first graders in my classroom have been playing a math game called digit place. In this game, I think of a 2-digit number and students make guesses to determine what it is. With each guess I indicate whether there are correct digits and whether they are in the correct place. For example, if my number is 12 and students guess the number 27 I would put a 1 in the digit column to represent a correct digit (the 2) and a 0 in the place column to show that it is not in the correct place. Subsequent guesses narrow down the possibilities leading students to a correct response. At first there were lots of random guesses, but the class is becoming strategic and quite successful. (I’ve had third graders who played this game with much less strategy and success!).
We’ve been focusing on 4-letter words ending with a silent e in the last week, building word ladders and noticing how this e causes the other vowel to be a long vowel. Students are building their skills and getting better at changing just a single letter to make another word that fits the rules of this ladder. Today, I found myself thinking about Wordle, digit place, and word ladders…and decided to try my own version of Wordle–first grade style.
So…I introduced this new game to my students. I drew 4 lines to represent the 4 letters in the word I was thinking of. I grabbed a black, blue, and green white-board marker announcing that letters in black were not in the word, blue meant the letter was correct but in the wrong place, and green meant the letter was correct and in the right place. I wasn’t sure how this game would work out–or if it would even make sense to my students. But…it was great! Students loved this process–and caught right on. I could hear them telling each other whether a guess was a good one (“…we already know there is not an “s” or “h” in the word…) and the game definitely caught their attention. We played several rounds today…and I remembered to take a photo of the last one.
My social media involvement was put to good use in the classroom today. I love having a new engaging, educational, and no prep game in my back pocket for those few minutes that need filling from time to time. Wordle for first graders–and we don’t even need the internet!
Yesterday was International Dot Day, a day inspired by the creativity of Peter Reynolds and the power of each of us having the courage and confidence to “make our mark.” To celebrate dots and creativity and confidence, we began our week with the poem What is a Dot? by Laura Purdie Salas. The first graders in my class had an endless list of ideas of what a dot could be and eagerly illustrated the poem with their own “dotty” ideas. Of course, we also read and discussed The Dot by Peter Reynolds.
The week got dottier on Tuesday. We broke out the liquid watercolors and painted a page full of dots. These mostly 6-year-old artists knew that making the dots was just the start of this project. They would be transforming their dots into something else using a black sharpie marker the following day. They joyfully and freely painted dot after dot, experimenting with size and placement. They dripped one color onto another, while carrying on a constant narrative of alternative worlds, descriptive details about color, and oohs and aahs of their own discovery. We ended the day by reading Ish, yet another Peter Reynold’s book and talking about encouraging others and not judging our first attempts too harshly when we draw (or try other things too).
Wednesday was the day…International Dot Day! Students came to school dressed in dots and so did I. I l love their creativity in finding dots in their wardrobe. One child found a solar system shirt, each planet a dot. Another noticed the cat faces on her sweater were dots with more dots showing the natural coloring of the cat. There were polka-dotted masks (COVID makes us creative too), socks painted with dot markers, dotted bows in the hair, and I even found a pair of polka dotted earrings! With wardrobe dots in place, students were eager to get started transforming their watercolor dots from the previous day into beautiful pieces of art.
After a bit of modeling by showing what I might do with my own watercolor dots, I handed out the sharpie markers–a thicker one and a thinner one, and reminded students to start thinking about what story they might tell about the dot creation. I love the artistic freedom and courage of first graders. They uncap a permanent marker and confidently draw whatever is on their minds. Dots turned into chickens with space helmets, planets from unnamed galaxies, insects galore (bees, spiders, June bugs, ladybugs…), jellyfish, dragons, and of course, lots and lots of flowers. Along with the drawing was the buzz of conversation, telling the story of the things they were drawing. Clearly kids need to talk their ideas through as they draw.
Once the pens were capped and the drawings done, we took out our writer’s notebooks and set out to put down words to go along with the the art. We started with the simple frame, a dot can be… I showed how as a writer, instead of a sentence like A dot can be a bee, I could expand that sentence saying, A dot can be a pink bee buzzing from flower to flower leaving a trail of heart shaped pollen behind. (And they could see how that sentence also matched my drawing.) And with that short mini lesson, my students were off and writing.
Here’s a few examples:
A dot can be a bee. And a monkey that is blue and yellow. And a purple dragon and the purple dragon is swooping through the clouds. R
A dot can be a flower garden with a hot air balloon with a chicken and a bee and a sleeping cat. The chicken is looking for food. C
The best part of the writing time was that every student, even those who are less confident writers, were engaged with their writing. I heard lots of sounding out to get the words on the page. And students began to stretch their ideas, adding details that bring writing to life. I hope as the year progresses that they become as fearless with their writing as they are with their artwork, knowing that small mistakes might just become a “beautiful oops” or the stepping stone to something magnificent. Risk taking is essential to learning, as is joy. We had a wonderful International Dot Day filled with playfulness, creativity, and lots and lots of learning.
What might you do with a dot? It’s never too late to make your mark!
With the school year coming to a close, I wanted to come up with an activity for students that felt like play–like a party–and still provide academic content to satisfy my ever-present need to make use of all available instructional minutes. (Yes, even in the last week of school)
So, when I came across a blog post about making giant bubbles and bubble art, I knew I could turn this into a meaningful day of learning and fun…all wrapped up in a soapy bubble! I’m pretty fascinated by bubbles. I’ve spent quite a bit of time photographing giant bubbles at the beach and I’ve written about the “bubble man” a time or two (or more). I know that the trick to great bubbles is the solution–so prior to having my students explore and experiment, my husband and I tried our hand at bubbles over the weekend.
The basis of all bubbles is soap and water. But if you want the bubbles to be big and to have a bit of staying power, a bit of corn syrup and some glycerin need to be added to the mix. Using smoothie straws and yarn, I created a bubble wand that my students would be able to make on their own and started dipping and waving in my own attempt to create bubbles. This bubble thing is harder than it looks! I didn’t immediately get big beautiful bubbles flying from the wand. But with some patience, some tinkering, and some exploration of how to get a thin film filling with air onto my yarn…bubbles happened. At that point, with bubble solution pre-made, I was ready for a day of bubbles with third graders!
We started with a very interesting TED Talk titled, The Fascinating Science of Bubbles, from Soap to Champagne. We learned about surface tension, the geometry of bubbles and so much more. (If I were to do this in the future, I think I might devote an entire week rather than a whole day to bubbles!) Then we made our bubble wands and headed up to the field to make bubbles.
In spite of warning students that making these bubbles would take patience and experimentation, there was plenty of initial whining that “it’s not working!” I reminded them to keep trying. And then it happened…the first child experienced success! Like wildfire, bubbles emerged, filling the air with irridescent spheres.
The soap solution ran out before student interest waned, which is probably the best possible result! We headed back to the classroom with soapy hands, happy hearts and filled with visions and language about bubbles.
These young scientists are also prolific readers and writers, so after studying Valerie Worth’s short poem, Soap Bubbles, we created a list of bubble words and a list of potential bubble metaphors and then set the magic 7-minute writing timer and started writing. Like bubbles, colorful, delicate, evocative poems floated up, emerging from the points of students’ pencils.
Here’s a couple:
To complement the poetry and the elusive, temporary soap bubbles, we got out paper, pencils, water-based markers and some water and created bubbles…as art! Each artist created their own composition, tracing round shapes, adding a space where a light source reflected off each bubble. Then they added marker and finally, using just water and a paint brush, urged the marker to follow the water, creating beautiful dimensional bubbles on watercolor paper.
There is so much more we could have done with bubbles–including exploring the mathematics of spheres. Overall, it was an amazing day. Students could not believe that an entire school day had passed before they even realized it. Engagement was high, work quality was inspiring…it was an amazing last Monday of the school year! Based on this success, I know I will be working some bubble science into future teaching and learning!
We did it! I wrote last week about my experimentation with a poetry teller, a way for my students to go back through their own poetry and then play around with remixing their poetry with a classmate.
So this morning, students folded their way into their collaborative game. Some students were familiar with classic fortune tellers and were eager to put their fingers into the folds and start moving the teller around. And no one seemed to think it was one bit strange to make this into a poetry tool. They found colors, they located interesting nouns, and pinpointed some poetic phrases–all from their cache of poems written during April. In partners they played with their poetry tellers, collecting words and phrases that they knew they would use soon for some poetry writing.
I set the parameters: use the words you collected (it’s okay if there is a word you decide not to use), you can add extra words of your choice, make the poem make sense, and have fun! We used that magical 7 minute timer and students’ pencils flew across the page. When the chime sounded, hands shot up. They had poems to share!
Here’s a couple (these are third graders, 8 and 9 years old):
Words collected: blood orange, green, snow, lamp, the sun is cotton candy, the puddles of the ditch
The sky is blood orange
the lamp is green
the trees are snow
the sun is cotton candy
the puddles of the ditch are rainbow
there’s something fishy today
Words collected: ice, profusion, cats, frame, the sunlight bounces into my eyes, illumination, snowy caps, sister, hooves, the cloud is as soft and big, it covers the sky like a blanket
Transition to Spring
A very cold word
You see it a lot during brutal winters.
Hooves pounding on cold snow under our feet.
Sinking their paws into the snow.
The snowy caps on mountain tops
are guarded by a forest.
There are many natural frames in the
Then the snow is illuminated by the sun.
I step outside and the sunlight bounces into my eyes.
My sister’s snowman melts away.
The clouds are so soft and big.
They cover the sky like a blanket.
It is spring now.
Making games out of writing definitely infuses playfulness into the process for kids. They loved manipulating their poetry tellers and would have played with them much longer than I had time for today. I count this as a win–and as a great way to have students remix poems. I’d love to hear what you would do with a tool/toy like this one. How would you modify it to support writers and learners?
Inspired by this blog post, I had my students write a slice of life poem this morning. They had plenty of fodder, coming off our spring break. And while they wrote, I wrote too. Here is my slice of life poem.
Spring Break is over (sigh) and we’re back at our distance learning. It’s still National Poetry Month and we’re deep into the poem-a-day challenge in my classroom. To change things up a bit, today we played a poetry game.
At school I have some different versions of poetry dice (or writing dice). You know, those cubes with words printed on them. To create a virtual version of rolling word dice, I found a cube template online, pulled together a poetry word list, made a video of myself explaining how to make poetry dice…and then what to do with them once they had their own versions of the dice in front of them.
Using an old favorite, the poetry book I am Writing a Poem About…A Game of Poetry edited by Myra Cohn Livingston, I asked my students to roll their dice 3 times, collecting 3 words that they would craft into a poem. (I used all nouns on the dice, trusting students would be able to come up with other words to create their poems…following the book’s lead.)
In the book, the 3-word version of the game uses the words: ring, drum, blanket. I used the poem Grizzly by Madeleine Comora (from the book) as an example text. Students could use the poem as a mentor poem or not.
I rolled the words purple, basket, and waves. I was immediately drawn into my poem thinking about the song Americathe Beautiful…at first having purple waves of grain in my head. After a bit of revision, I realized I had written an #USvsHate poem.
In this place we know
with purple mountains majesty
and amber waves of grain
there are some
who carry baskets
that are empty
let’s fill those spaces
with love and compassion
opportunity and freedom from oppression
when the gaps close
and all can thrive
we’ll truly have
from sea to shining sea
Here are a couple of early student examples:
E was excited to roll night, mountain and egret…he said it was the best combination ever. (When I questioned the missing word mountain, he said that he thought volcano was a good substitution since mountains can be volcanos.)
No Light On Dreadnaught Island
South West from Moon Island I’m told,
A haunted island lies.
No sailor roams there freely and bold,
No egrets fly in the skies,
From the volcanoes belching their lava out,
Evil creatures of magma come,
In one big lava spout.
With all their arrogance, they even defy the very Sun.
And ruling the island, throwing everything in sight, is the great Magma Golem,
He’s rude, impatient, and very solemn.
Here it always seems to be night,
And there’s not a thing that doesn’t bite.
R rolled cactus, stoplight, and rock
down sand biomes.
The spiny cactus
as a bright
the earth to stay still.
It’s your turn. What can you do with 3 randomly rolled (or selected) words? You’re welcome to borrow ours and try your hand at a poem or two! We’d love to know what you come up with!
Rain sang me to sleep last night. And I woke to a damp morning. As I headed out the door, overloaded as usual with this bag and that one too—along with my lunch and coffee—I nearly stumbled as I spied the tiniest snail crawling near the doorstep. I just had to stop, pull out my phone and photograph the snail and the damp trail behind it.
As I thought about that snail I found myself thinking about those trails I leave, will anyone notice that I have been here? I hope I leave trails for my students. Those that they can turn to even when I am not around. Can they locate a mentor text for themselves when they have something they want or need to write? Will they remember to start with what they know when faced with an unfamiliar math problem?
Maybe those songs we sing in the morning help. Perimeter Around the Area by the Bazillions is a fun way to keep area and perimeter from crossing paths. And who doesn’t love singing the FBI (fungus, bacteria, and invertebrates) by the Banana Slug Band to learn about decomposition?
Getting to know Naomi Shihab Nye through poems like Kindness or Famous or A Valentine for Ernest Mann helps us explore the power of language. Books like Love by Matt de la Pena and Wishtree by Katherine Applegate help us see our own experiences and those that are different from ours.
Making stuff…from art to slideshows to videos to bridges made of cardboard and construction paper allow schoolwork to slip into the realm of play. Playing together and laughing and those long deep conversations about important topics just might leave those trails I’m thinking about.
And I know for sure that my students leave trails of their own, for their classmates to follow, for younger brothers and sisters and most definitely those etched deeply on my heart. They remind me that the ordinary matters, that caring is more important than any test score or report card and that if we pay attention we can find the pathways that matter most.
Today we went for it…paint chip poetry, metaphor dice, and Haikubes! Students picked what they wanted, rolled dice, and wrote. Poetry is flowing–some silly, some serious, and some simply beautiful.
There’s something precious about the misconceptions students have about some of the paint chip colors. Wax seals frolic in waves, pearly gates are beautifully adorned entryways, wisdom teeth make you smart, and blizzards create the icebergs that sank the Titanic. But I also love the way they make these words work for them, weaving them into their 8 and 9 year old views of the world.
Here’s a smattering of poems that emerged today.
This is Just to Say
This is just to say
I was eating grapefruit
on the way to the pearly gates
I saw so many sunflowers
across the way
This is just to say
that everything that I saw
inspired me today!
the dappled sunlight
is shining so bright
on the dandelions
in the grassland
As you stare at a chalkboard
you move slow
as you see a wax seal
you go closer
it is so detailed
as you start to hear a whale song
you love the slow, loud musical whale song
you keep hearing it
then you see a seal jumping in the waves
it looks like a wax seal.
Last night I invited students to write Poetry Is poems. Here is the one Alice wrote:
Poetry is like
to create something
When I listen
sounds jumps out
sounds as loud as
a bear’s roar
or as soft as the
all waiting be heard
Poetry can feel
or as gravelly
Poetry can taste
on a platter of gold
in a bowl
Poetry can change
And my own, inspired by a few paint chips (and a cube I forgot to use!):