As I gave up my long-term volunteer positions at one of our local elementary schools this year, one of the things I have missed most is having Third Grade Writer’s Circle. Once a week for the last six years, I was fortunate enough to teach a group of third grade students, two from each of the three corresponding classrooms at the school my boys attended years ago. This group started as somewhat of a whim and way to be involved, but quickly grew to be very important to me, and I believe, important to the students. One of the unique things about this group – and there were many – is that I often wrote my own pieces right alongside the students. In other words, I tried to role model writing and the writing process.
We did all kinds of writing from narratives to newspapers. But, the type of writing I liked best was our poetry unit. We worked a lot on flow versus rhyme and the importance word choice. I wanted them to begin to know how to create a picture in their reader’s mind, just by using words. And of course, when you are working on a particular form of poetry, such as Haiku, there is always the skill of syllabic counting. My two favorite poetry projects were color poems and haiku writing.
Color poems can be highly visual and expressive, especially if the student is allowed to choose a color that they really like. Although odd color names like cerulean and vermillion or chartreuse could be used, and might be more appropriate for older students, I prefer to have them stick with a more common color name – blue, pink, purple, yellow, green, brown, or red – you get the idea. The reason for this is because the student can more readily connect the color they know to an object in their environment or even in their mind’s eye. If they are not sure of the color, they will not be able to convey their vision to the reader because their vision is clouded by uncertainty.
In any case, I found that using mentor texts is extremely helpful when writing color poems. I’ve talked about this before and even given an excellent book suggestion to use. But, some of that is personal taste, too. Mentor text is a fancy way of saying give the students some examples! I am growing increasingly tired of the educational semantics that get bantered around now so easily. Terms such as unpack, and mentor texts are among those heard more frequently. I suppose this is just because I’ve reached a certain age where I see old methods repackaged with new terms. This renaming must keep it fresh for a new generation of educators but also frustrates the older ones. We’ve seen it done before, it was just called something else. Yet, no one believes us. Oh, well – that is a different topic for a post on another day.
But, poetry has been around forever, and taught with zeal by those who love its form or lack there of. We never had our poetry unit in April. My group had moved on to something else by this time in the academic year. Early February through mid-March was time I used to write poetry with them. This was primarily because I submitted their work to a national poetry compilation publication and the deadline was always mid-March. To see the joy on their faces when they told me that they had received a letter indicating the acceptance of their poem for a book that would be published was priceless!
So, it is natural that by this time in the year, I am missing my young writers. I miss their enthusiasm, their zeal, their newly found voice, and their quest to find just the right word to convey the image they are trying to conjure. For I recently realized that my love for poetry was grown by the work I did with the third grade writers. Just as I hope I helped them learn about writing, they helped me learn to appreciate it.