April 30, 2013

Poetry: A Common Core Dilemma

Reflections on Teaching Poetry, a Freebie, and a Book Giveaway!

Believe it or not, teaching kids to love poetry is easy. It's a matter of finding the right poetry books to share and providing time to write about things that matter. It always amazes me how students who seem to struggle in other areas are able to write the most beautiful and expressive poetry. There’s something about the way poets can break all the rules and write from the heart that appeals to kids. I experienced this myself, and I often observed it in my students.

My own love for poetry began in childhood as I shared special moments reading and writing poetry with my best friend, Aleka. Later, as a teen, I found poetry to be a lifesaver when my family moved from New Hampshire to North Carolina. I love living in the South now, but it was definitely culture shock at the time! Writing poetry enabled me to capture my feelings on paper and to cope with the changes in my life.

As a result, I’ve always found time to share poetry with my students; teaching kids to express themselves through poetry is a gift I enjoy giving them. My favorite book for introducing poetry is Poetry Matters by Ralph Fletcher. It's written in simple language and includes poems about real life experiences. The poems are short, and they touch kids deeply with their simplicity.

Inspired by Kristine O'Connell George
One of the chapters in Poetry Matters is an interview with children's author and poet, Kristine O'Connell George. I loved this chapter, so I went straight to our school library and was delighted to learn that we had several of her books on our shelves. I wasn't disappointed in her work; books like The Great Frog Race: And Other Poems and Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems were perfect for teaching students how simple poems can express everyday experiences through imagery and precise language.

About a month ago, Kristine and I connected online and I invited her to write a guest blog post here on Corkboard Connections. Kristine sent me a copy of one her newest poetry books, Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems, and I fell in love with it! It’s a delightful collection of poems about the dilemma of being a big sister. In fact, the book is perfect for inspiring students to love reading and writing poetry, so I set out to create a short teaching guide to go with it.

Poetry: A Common Core Dilemma
When I began to think of ways to use the book in the classroom, I turned to the Common Core State Standards. Lately I’ve been trying to align my resources to the CCSS, so I went online to do a little research about how poetry fits in with the standards.

Guess what I discovered? If you've studied the standards, you'll know what! While there are a few mentions of poetry in the reading standards, there's absolutely no mention of poetry in the writing standards! Even the reading standards were disappointing because they focused on poetry as a genre and there was nothing about appreciating poetry or making connections to one's own life. The writing standards were even worse. Everything was either about narrative writing or expository writing, but there was nothing about poetry.

At first I was baffled, but then I remembered that the Common Core State Standards were designed for college and career readiness; nowhere do they include life skills like personal goal setting, coping with emotions, or learning to appreciate the beauty of the written word.

With this realization came the awareness that poetry truly is a Common Core dilemma! Students need so much more than college and career skills to be successful in life, yet with the focus on the CCSS now, it’s easy to feel there’s no time for anything else. I'm not suggesting that we put aside the Common Core State Standards, but if we don’t find time to teach life skills, who will?

Free Emma Dilemma Teaching Guide
With this in mind, I took another look at Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems. I thought, "Why ruin a perfectly good poetry book by dissecting it and creating a CCSS-aligned lesson?" Instead, I decided to create a lesson based on reading it aloud for enjoyment and using it as a springboard for personal writing and reflection.

You can download the free What a Dilemma! teaching guide to engage your students in some simple activities to explore the idea that we all face dilemmas in our relationships with others. Grab it now from my TeachersPayTeachers store so you can refer to it as I explain the lesson.

Share the poem "Snooping," which is included in the freebie, and discuss Jessica's dilemma in using Emma to retrieve a mysterious box high on a shelf. Then have your students write their own “dilemma” poems in the same format as “Snooping.” In the packet, I've also included a set of discussion questions you can use for small group or whole class discussions about the book. The "talking sticks" strategy works well to promote active engagement by all students in the discussion group.

The lesson might not be Common Core aligned, but it will probably leave a lasting impression on your students and By using Emma Dilemma as the focus of discussion and personal writing activities, you'll enable your students to connect with the story and come to a deeper understanding of themselves.

If you are interested in more poetry lessons and activities, visit the Poetry Page on Teaching Resources. I have loads of free poetry lessons, links to great poetry websites, and two poetry ebooks that will make it easy to foster a love of poetry in your classroom.

As April wraps up, let's remember that poetry is too wonderful to limit to one month of the year. If you find just the right poems to inspire your students, they will enjoy reading and writing poetry all year long. Emma Dilemma is just one of the many poetry books written by Kristine O'Connell George that will inspire your students; visit her website to find this book and many more!




Win a Copy of Emma Dilemma! After I posted this article, Kristine read it and kindly offered to give away an autographed copy of Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems AND an Emma Dilemma feather boa!  To enter the contest, you have to do two things.
  1. First, leave a comment below to share your thoughts about poetry or just to say what you think is in the mysterious box! 
  2. Then fill out this Google Doc form so I can contact you if you win. I will do a random drawing of all entries in this form on Teacher Appreciation Day, Tuesday, May 7th

April 20, 2013

Earth Day Teaching Resources

I am so excited about Earth Day! In fact, I think we should celebrate Earth Day all week! The words of Theodore Roosevelt, one of the greatest leaders of conservation movement, remind me to pause and reflect on our vast blessings:
"We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune." 
After Roosevelt became President in 1901, he used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the U.S. Forest Service and establishing 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 4 National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, and 5 National Parks. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230,000,000 acres of public land. What a legacy!

If you haven't had time to put together an Earth Day lesson, I have a few resources for you. You might use either my free Bio Poems Made Easy activity or my Character Bio Reports lesson to study a conservation leader, such as President Theodore Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, or Jane Goodall. You can also find free lessons on my Rainforest Teaching Resources page. Because of the vast amounts of oxygen produced by rain forests, they can be considered the "lungs" of the earth, yet many students have no idea of their importance.

Just a Dream to Save Our Planet Freebie
Have you read Chris Van Allsburg's book, Just a Dream? It was written in 1990, and it's somewhat of a classic with an important message that's still relevant today. Just a Dream is a beautiful picture book about a boy named Walter who imagines an exciting future on Earth - until he has a dream with a series of episodes that take him on an unforgettable adventure. Walter sees what will happen to the Earth if we don't take better care of our planet. What a great introduction to environmental issues and problems! I loved the book so much when I first read it that I created a set of discussion cards and other materials to go with the book. You can download them for free from my TpT store.



Green Court Claims Freebie
 In addition, I just updated this Green Court Claims lesson from last year to make it Common Core Aligned. It's a wonderful research and writing activity that will make your students think about claims that companies make about their "green" products.


The Story of Stuff
If you are game for a more advanced lesson, I have one that I think you’ll like. It involves showing this free 20-minute Story of Stuff video. This video, created by Annie Leonard, explains where our stuff comes from and the problems faced by our stuff-driven society. Be sure to check out the rest of this website, for more great resources.


I think you will be amazed when you watch this video. To use it with your class, I suggest downloading my free lesson that goes with it. You can grab it from my Science Teaching Resources page. My lesson includes a chart for students to fill in as they watch the video; however, you don’t need to print one out for each student. You can project it on an interactive whiteboard and fill it out as a class. You could also have students draw the chart on recycled paper or draw a huge chart on a chalkboard and fill it in as a class. My Story of Stuff lesson also includes discussion questions and those don't require any paper at all!

A word of caution ... Be sure to preview the entire Story of Stuff video before showing it to your class. It’s most appropriate for 5th grade students and up, and it will take several class periods to watch and discuss completely. However, consumerism is such an important topic that it is worth doing over several days or at another time of year.

In the video, Annie shares that from the extraction of natural resources through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives has a huge impact on the earth as well as communities around the world. However, most of the process of extraction, production, distribution, and consumption to disposal of all this stuff, called the materials economy, is hidden from view.

The video walks through each step of the materials economy process and points out what is missing from the equation. She shares that while the process looks like a linear system, we live on a finite planet, which is why the materials economy is a system in crisis.

The Story of Stuff also comes as a book, ebook, or audio book. Of course, the best option for a green lifestyle is the Kindle ebook or the audio book!

I hope you will share this terrific video or the book with others, even if you don't share it with your students. It really makes us all think twice more before we decide to go shopping again.

Happy Earth Day!

April 14, 2013

Falling in Love ... With a Poem



April is National Poetry Month, and I'm honored to welcome nationally-acclaimed children's poet Kristine O'Connell George as a guest blogger on Corkboard Connections. Kristine is one of my favorite children's poets, and I know you'll love her work, too! Kristine shares her love of poetry with us and offers tips for teachers who want to foster a love of poetry in their students.



Falling in Love ... With a Poem
by Kristine O'Connell George

Have you ever fallen in love with . . . a poem? One of my first loves was tall and thin with a rhythmic, thoughtful voice. There was a touch of mystery.

The poem begins:

               This is my rock,

               And here I run

               To steal the secret of the sun;

I first heard David McCord’s poem in the first of what would be many, many classes with noted poet and anthologist, Myra Cohn Livingston. Suddenly, I was no longer in a classroom with adults; I was nine years old again, running down the street to my special rock. (Read the rest of the poem and learn more about McCord here.)

I fell head over heels for this poem—not at first sight, but at first hearing—because it kindled a personal connection. Did I know or care that the stanzas were tercets? That repetition of the first line provided structure? No. Had Myra launched into an analysis after reading the poem to my class, she would have broken my connection with the poem and squashed the magic that McCord’s words had woven for me.

Sometimes, I worry that we have turned poetry into the literary equivalent of broccoli. Or Brussels sprouts. Something you should eat because it’s good for you. Yuck! Too many see poetry as difficult and feel inadequate—uncertain and uneasy. Sometimes, even unsure as to how a poem is supposed to be read aloud.

The poets I know do not write poems as showcases for literary devices. They do not slip in a simile, add a touch of assonance or off-rhyme, and wrap it up in an anapestic rhythm to bedevil and torment teachers and small children.

The poets I know write, revise, and struggle with words to create their poems because something touched them deeply. Amazed them. Tickled them. They write because they want to share these feelings with others. They write—as I do—because we hope our poems will be read aloud and perhaps an unseen reader will share our delight. I like to think that David McCord had his own special rock where he “met the evening face to face.”

The late Charlotte S. Huck, Professor Emeritus of Ohio State, told me that she always read poems twice to her students. (She felt that since so much meaning is packed into a poem, kids needed to hear a poem at least twice.) She read poems aloud. No discussion. No analysis. Charlotte felt that—over the course of a school year—students would absorb, internalize, and begin to truly appreciate poetry. That they would hear and begin to understand the amazing things language can do and begin to use some of these tools in their own writing.

Charlotte also noticed the same thing that I have observed: It’s easy to read a funny poem aloud. The kids laugh! However, students often give us blank stares when it’s a thoughtful poem. They twiddle their shoelaces; we assume they did not understand the poem and we stop to explain it. However, Charlotte noted that it was often the thoughtful poems with surprising images that students would remember months later. While it might seem as if students are not paying attention, they’re listening and if they make a personal connection with a particular poem, they will take it into their hearts. I believe we need to trust that this process works, and get out of the way of a poem. Allow a poem to live and breathe before we analyze, dissect, and label its parts.

Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day

Poem in Your Pocket Day is a perfect way to share a love for poetry with your students. Find a poem you love. Share it. Simple! Each year this special day is celebrated in April, but the date changes from year to year. Click here to find out when it's celebrated this year.

So, how to find those poems you love? While there are reams of poetry on the Internet, I often find myself whizzing and clicking—never giving the poems I find the time and attention they deserve. Instead, I prefer to discover the poems I’ll share with children the old-fashioned way—in books.

Anthologies are a good place to start. Read some of the poems aloud. You might find the perfect poem for your pocket or discover a poet whose work you want to explore further. Here are some resources you might find helpful for celebrating poetry this month and all year long:


Or, listen to poetry readings on the Internet. Here are some links to get you started:
What poems will you share this year? I'd love to hear what you have planned!



Kristine O'Connell George is one of the principal voices in contemporary children's poetry. Since her first highly-acclaimed book, The Great Frog Race, was published in 1997, Kristine O'Connell George's poetry has generated excitement and earned honors and praise. Awards for her books include the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Golden Kite, Claudia Lewis Poetry Awards, and many, many more. Visit her website to learn more poetry teaching tips and to find teacher guides for her books.

April 9, 2013

Math Games Make Learning Fun!

Math Games Round-up Linky

Spring is the perfect time to use math games with your students. Either you are finished with testing and the kids are restless, or you still have testing ahead of you and your kids are restless! Math games will motivate your students, keep them on task, and also help them review important skills ... while giving them the chance to put some of that restless energy to good use.

I love creating math games, and I've seen lots of terrific ones on Pinterest, so I thought I would host a Math Game Round-up here on Corkboard Connections! Visit each blog post linked below to find at least one free math game along with a tip about how to use math games in the classroom.

Selecting Partners for Math Games
Random partners are fun for some activities, but I don't recommend pairing students randomly in math. Instead, take a moment to pair students yourself before you pass out the materials. It's best for students with similar abilities to work together. It might be tempting to have struggling students play against strong students so they can get help, but that situation is going to frustrate both of them. It's best to keep students of similar ability levels together and differentiate instruction by giving them different games to play.

Island Conquer Game Freebie
Free Island Conquer Area and Perimeter GameOne of my favorite math games is Island Conquer. I created this game for my 4th graders to practice area and perimeter skills. The game is for two players who take turns graphing coordinate points and creating rectangles on a grid. They claim ownership of the rectangle by calculating its area or perimeter, depending on the game played. My class loved it, so we decided that it needed a fun name. I remember Ryan piping up and saying, "Why don't you call it 'Island Conquer'? When you color the rectangle it's like you are capturing an island!" Everyone loved the name, and Island Conquer was born! You can download free it from my Geometry File Cabinet folder on Teaching Resources.

Monster Math Mix-up: Telling Time
My newest math game is Monster Math Mix-up: Telling Time. I created my first Monster Math Mix-up game when I was writing my Customary Measurement Conversions Power Pack, and it received rave reviews from the student field testers. In this game, each student receives a mixed-up monster puzzle and they have to assemble it, piece by piece, as they solve math problems. There's a bit of luck involved, though, because after each player solves a problem, he or she must spin a spinner to find out how many pieces to add ... or perhaps take away! The game was so popular that I decided to create a version of Monster Math Mix-up for telling time. This game is aligned with 2nd and 3rd grade Common Core objectives for telling time, and there are two sets of clock task cards to help you differentiate instruction. You can purchase Monster Math Mix-up from my TpT store.

The best thing about using math games is that they promote a positive classroom climate while helping students review and practice important math skills. When students play a game with a partner, they can have fun while learning, and you are free to work with individual students. It's a win-win for everyone, and a sure cure for spring fever!