Ages: All–but primarily upper elementary and beyond.
Just how easy can it be to compose a poem? In this delightful collection, writer, teacher, and poet Georgia Heard invites us to find out for ourselves–first by reading through her collection, and then by composing some poems of our own. The list poem is just what its name suggests: a list. List of what, though? Oh, say, ways to say goodbye–or hello, things on today’s menu, reasons to love poetry, ways in which hands can be helpful, things you lose or find, things you might find under your bed (or in your school desk), gifts of winter (or any season), things to do if you are a pencil–or the sun. You will recognize many of the poets: Georgia Heard, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jane Yolen, Eilene Spinelli, Kathi Appelt, J. Patrick Lewis, Allan Wolf, and many others. Each of their list poems has its own voice, and its own way of elevating the humble list into something more: a way of thinking about or seeing the world by discovering common themes. The very shape of the book, suggesting a just-right-sized notepad, hints at the contents–wonderfully random yet somehow insightful thoughts about the objects, people, and events of everyday life. Many of the poems are connected to the school experience. In my personal favorite, Kathi Appelt explores “Test Day,” which, she alleges, is “never about the things I know.” The list that follows is haunting–a reminder of how tests continually and forever fail to capture the things that matter most.
In the Classroom
- Share this book using a document projector if you have one. Take a minute to consider the shape of the book and the overall presentation. Notice how the images and print are placed on the cover. Ask students what the book’s look and shape reminds them of. A notepad or journal? List for the refrigerator?
- Talk about lists in general. Who in your class–including yourself–makes lists? What kind of lists do you make? For what purpose? How do lists help us?
- Can a humble list be a poem? Aren’t poems supposed to be lofty, profound, important–sometimes challenging to interpret? And aren’t lists simple, straightforward, and plain? So then, in what way could these two forms of writing come together? Talk about this. Then share Georgia Heard’s thoughtful introduction to the book on pages 8 and 9. Use her ideas and observations to extend your discussion.
- Imagine that you are going to compose your own list poems right now. Have students (and you do this, too) jot down a few possible ideas that come to mind. You may wish to have them meet in writing circles for this. Then skim quickly through the Table of Contents (pages 6 and 7). See if just hearing titles from other poets spurs your writers’ imagination–and your own.
- Share several (or more) of the poems from the book. You may wish to read them all aloud, or you may wish to have volunteers share some of the poems aloud with the class. You might have students call out the ones they are most curious about. Talk about what you read and hear. Are these writings just lists–or are they more? When does a list become a poem? What would transform, say, a grocery list into a poem? Could it even be done?
- Write list poems of your own. Read them aloud and make a class collection. Create a book to share. Use the computer to design a cover and/or add other illustrations for your book.
- Consider performing some of the poems as readers’ theater or choral reading. These poems lend themselves beautifully to multiple voiced interpretations. Students will want time to rehearse this, of course. You may wish to record favorites as iPod presentations.
- This is a relatively new book and has not yet received many reader reviews. Go online to your favorite vendor’s site and write a class review–or invite students to write individual reviews, including their names and ages. Your review might include information about your in-class experience of writing list poems of your own!
- Invite students to design a lesson on writing list poems and present it to a younger class. Each student who participates might work as a writing coach with one of the younger classmates. This lesson will also allow you to talk about what makes teaching a lesson successful.
If you use this book with your students, please write and tell us about your experience. Also let us know of additional books you would like to see us review. Thanks! Vicki & Jeff