Tag Archives: writing

Bubbles

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!

Is it Worth it? Reflections on Poetry

I wrote a poem a day during the month of April and challenged my students to do the same. And while not every student wrote every day, they did write a lot of poems. When you put that much effort into daily writing, it seems that something more needs to happen. I knew from past experience that drafting a poem each day is just the first step in moving my students toward seeing themselves as writers. So as the month of April wound down, my students and I started the process of curating a personal anthology of poems.

It’s not enough to simply select a poem and call it done. I had to move my students toward meaningful revision–and that meant giving them strategies and techniques to make their poems better. They re-read each poem they selected and considered how they might add a comparison (simile or metaphor), how they might personify an animal or object, how more specific details could help the reader “see” the ideas being expressed. So no matter how small the change was, each poem was revised. Because I had 16 page blank books for each student, we selected and revised ten poems and created five art pieces to go along with them.

As we worked through this intensive process, I kept asking myself, “Is it worth the time and energy–theirs and mine–to put this anthology together?” As I read poem after poem (25 students times 10 poems each), I started to see these young writers in a new way. They had gained confidence and knew what it meant to revise. I watched them own each poem, claiming their writing and making changes that satisfied each of them. I noticed some started poems from scratch. For them, the original poem was simply a pre-writing activity and a new idea emerged when faced with revision. For others, revision meant adding on to a poem, further developing the kernel of an idea that they had started earlier. Some revisions were the change of a single word–the poets were satisfied with their original effort and only went through the motions to satisfy the revision mandate.

And as we finished the last touches, gluing the final poems into place and typing up a table of contents I asked myself again…was this project worth it? There is no Open House celebration this year where families will come through and admire displays of student work products and ooh and aah the hard work done specifically for their benefit–something that has always made projects like this a necessity in the past. But still…my answer is yes, this intensive focus on poetry for more than a month has been totally worth it. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Students see themselves as writers. They confidently write daily and have developed both fluency and style. All those poetry techniques also make other kinds of writing better.
  • Revision has become ordinary. We do this routinely and resistance to going back to a piece of writing has dropped. Writers revise and we are writers.
  • All of our writing matters in our community of writers. Everyone will share their writing and everyone can pick out bits of excellence when they hear it in each other’s writing.
  • A project gives everyone a reason to persist. No one wants a half-finished book, so everyone pushed through, developing stamina as they worked through the revision of all ten poems.

250 student poems later and ten more of my own and we have created 26 individual anthologies of poetry. They are beautifully imperfect and incredibly perfect at the same time. And totally worth the time and effort.

61 Days: A Reflection on Writing

Why commit to writing and posting for 61 days in a row? Trust me, I asked myself that question many times during the past two months. During March’s Slice of Life Challenge, once I began the challenge, it was the writing community that kept me accountable. There is something about hundreds of people writing and sharing and commenting that keeps the urgency up. And since so many are writing every day, reading their posts also creates topic possibilities and keeps the momentum moving.

Writing and posting a poem a day, especially without that dedicated writing community, is a bit more challenging. But I know me, without telling myself I will write AND POST a poem each day I simply would get lazy and not write each day. So why did I want to write a poem each day? Because I wanted my students to write a poem each day–and I know that if I am writing along with them, not only do I have more credibility, but I am also looking for ways to support them and their writing when those doldrums inevitably sneak in.

So after writing for 61 consecutive days (62 if you count today), here are some things I have learned and/or am thinking about:

  • Writing every day breeds more writing. When I am committed to daily writing, I write more and more often. I am in a constant search for topics, for inspiration, for meaning making.
  • I find myself coming up with strategies to keep myself writing. I take photographs, I pick up objects, I collect words, I listen to what others are saying. I’ve learned to put words on a page, even when i’m not sure where they are going.
  • I can post even when I don’t love my writing that day. This is especially true with poetry writing where I spend a of time judging myself. I tell my students that the most important part about writing is to get started, we can always make our writing better. So that commitment to write and post the poem each day means that I have to get all the way through a draft and get something that I deem post-able.
  • It’s okay to write short. Sometimes when I’m really stuck, I pull out a Haiku (17 syllables) or a 6-word story. Even if it’s short, I’m still writing (and posting).
  • Revision is important. I keep looking for ways to help my students understand the possibilities for revision–like signs along the hiking trail–pointing to techniques to try, reminding them of things that other writers do, giving them access to the power of revision.
  • Writing more gets me reading more and my reading changes when I am writing. I find myself looking behind the stories and poems to examine how the writer is putting their words together. I look for more variety in my reading, searching for writers who are doing fresh and interesting things and who represent viewpoints different from my own. And I find myself sharing what I am learning from my reading with my students, pointing out sentences, ideas, and strategies that I notice as I read.

And as April turns to May, for the last several years I find myself facing the same dilemma, do I continue my daily writing and posting? Will I write daily if I don’t post? I don’t know the answers to those questions for this year. What I do know is that over the previous two years when I didn’t commit to the daily writing and posting, my writing decreased (I still always write with my students) and my posting became infrequent. I’d love to be the person who can commit to posting 2 posts a week, writing daily with that goal in mind. Maybe this is the year.

Poetry Teller: NPM #30

Earlier this week I read a post by a virtual friend, NomadWarMachine, who described her path to transforming the origami fortune teller of our youth into what she called a line of thought-une teller. I immediately knew that this would be a great activity to modify for my students as a culmination of our month of poetry writing.

My idea is to have my students mine their month of poetry, pulling colors, words, and poetic phrases to construct a poetry teller. Once constructed, I see it as a game where partners play the poetry teller to collect a set of words and phrases that they will then use to compose a version of a found poem that includes their words and those of their partner.

I experimented with my own poetry teller, playing this game with myself. I collected two phrases, two colors, and four nouns from my poetry. Then I worked to arrange and rearrange them into a new poem.

You can see my prototype poetry teller and resulting poem below.

I look forward to trying this out with students next week, I hope they find this to be a fun and generative way to look back at their own poems, collect some language from their peers, and have a meaningful activity to remix the two as they create new poetic compositions.

Here is my poetry teller composition:

The Blues

More ancient than a dinosaur

Resilient as a dandelion

Blues ring out

Notes the color of robin’s eggs

Circling me in melodies

With rhythms as ferocious and regal

As the queen of the urban forest

Sounds as soft as butter

Wrapping me in the

Yellow of wildflowers

Tiny suns

The center of the solar system

Matching the pounding of my heart

The beat of my breath

Essential as air

®Douillard

Free Range: NPM #29

Back in March I wrote a slice of life about a new structure I had noticed behind a fence and hedge in my neighborhood. Today I noticed something new, which also became the subject for poem #29 (one day to go!).

Free Range

It started with license plates

  • Montana
  • Massachusetts
  • Hawaii
  • Utah
  • California

peeking up beyond the hedge

hinting at more inside

strung with lights

creating a romantic evening glow

What is behind the fence

beyond the hedge

beneath the license plates?

a playhouse for neighborhood children

a workshop for ambitious hobbyists

an escape for harried parents?

A clue emerged

pointing to the truth

or at least to the cardinal directions

Atop the vane

the rooster crows

and when I looked down

it was announced

“Slow down”

“Free Range”

The chickens have

moved into

the neighborhood

®Douillard

Poetry is Sunshine: NPM #28

Today we studied Francisco X Alarcon’s poem: Words are Bird as our mentor text. My students noticed that way words were described as birds, something that was new for them to think about. It took a bit of work and experimentation for the kids to find their own metaphors. Some that they came up with included: hand sanitizer is a warrior, trees are magical, and words are gum in your hair. I was a bit skeptical about that last one–and expressed that while I wouldn’t rule it out, it seemed like a difficult one to write for a word lover like me (and this student happens to be a word lover). While I don’t have the text in front of me to share with you all, let me tell you that she did manage it…in some interesting ways!

I may have taken the easy way out, writing my poem about poetry. Here’s the draft I wrote with my students today:

Poetry is Sunshine

Poetry is sunshine

that brightens each day

shining its light

on words

emotions

new ways to think

about the world.

Some poems reach deep

burning a little

touching on something

tender and sore.

Sometimes poetry

warms us from the outside in

when we’re struggling

to warm ourselves from the inside out.

Poetry blazes

even when we don’t see it.

Covered by clouds

it waits,

until we’re ready

finally burning its way through

the thick marine layer.

It’s the center

of our solar system

the gravitational pull of words

that express

our humanity.

®Douillard

After the Rain: NPM #27

We continued our work with color and poetry today using Marilyn Singer’s poem Watercolors as our mentor text. Students loved the way she described black in such detail. I offered paint chips again today–some kids used them, some went in other directions.

My paint chips were the yellow tones of chamomile tea and the green of cabbage patch. Students had just been out in the garden when they came in to write. You can see that influence in my poem for today.

After the Rain

When the gray clears and the sun peeks out

soothing and warm like chamomile tea,

children cheer!

The outdoors beckons, green and lush

cabbage patch

and pea soup

snails slide along the gravelly path

unaware of the

stomp and squish

of colorful sneakers.

She spies the slow slider,

plucks it by the

spiral curl

and gently moves it to the safety

of ice plant.

Rescued!

After the rain.

®Douillard

Paint Chip Poetry: NPM #26

Today I pulled out the paint chips poetry box and spread paint chips all over the counter (face down). Students picked out 3, wrote the descriptive color words at the top of their notebooks and got ready to write! There were a few challenging words (thistle, cumulonimbus, potpourri) and when one third grader pulled pinot noir I suggested he go ahead and trade that word in. The words push students in interesting directions, although most end up not really featuring color.

Today’s rain kept us indoors–and listening seemed to be locked outside the classroom. Maybe that was another reason for the direction my own poem wanted to go. I pulled the colors/words: smoke signal, graphite, and potpourri And here is where my brain took me:

Learning to Listen

Somedays communicating

feels like sending

graphite-colored

smoke signals

that disperse in the breeze

of talk

Listening is under-evolved

ears hearing only the echo

of self-talk,

lost in the potpourri

of loud, colorful words

Today I’m building a fire

that we must tend together

you read my smoke signals,

I read yours

as we strengthen our listening ears

tuning in

to the subtle graphite sounds

listening like owls

like wolves

like we care what is said.

®Douillard

Like the Back of my Hand: NPM #25

I know the path

like the back of my hand

worn, familiar

yet infinite

Gray traces objects

in pencil

shaded in silver

smudged with dampness

Sunset brings out

the silhouettes matted

against every hue of orange

details darkened

by end-of-day light

Sunshine draws in marker

bright, brilliant, bold

contrasts

spinning on the color wheel

One foot in front of the othe

tracing the veins

the wrinkles

each knuckle and nail

as I walk

this familiar

and new-each-day

path

®Douillard

Balloon Dichotomy: NPM #24

It’s not unusual to find old balloons when we walk on the beach. What was once bright and shiny, filled with Helium and lifted aloft in celebration becomes a beach hazard. Danger for sea creatures and birds, eventually becoming micro plastics that endanger us all. And while we find these damaged symbols of festivity along the shore, I always wonder where their journey began. Do they escape from backyards? Bob out of car windows? Escape from the small hands that delight in these bouncing beauties?

My poem today tries to capture that dichotomy in words…along with the photo of the mylar balloon we found onshore today.

Balloon Dichotomy

Bouncing, floating

a bright smile against the blue sky

celebrate

a breath of air

becomes lighter than air

drifting upward, dancing with the breeze.

Until

it takes flight, escaping bonds

dropping lower and lower

caught by the sea

washed out

washed up

plucked from the shore

and deposited

as trash

®Douillard