“Poetry breaks through the skin of suffering in which children are often imprisoned: silent, confused, and scared. A child’s poetry is an intimate, trusting gift to her parent or to anyone who wishes to ‘read’ her heart.”
–Alice Walker (Cited in Heard, 1999, 3)
Last week I led a poetry exploration with my students. First, we talked about reasons to (continue to) teach poetry even though poetry isn’t a part of the Common Core’s writing standards. Once we did that, I spoke about ways to engage students using activities and ideas from Georgia Heard’s Awakening the Heart (1999). Next, I did a minilesson for them about painting images with words. After that we used “Soap Bubble” by Valerie Worth and a container of bubbles I brought from home to inspire some poetry writing about bubbles. Finally, I used four poems from What You Wish For: Stories and Poems for Darfur to inspire my students to write wish poems. (If you haven’t read through the short stories and poems in this book from the Book Wish Foundation, then it’s worth looking at sometime soon. There are so many possibilities for mentor texts in this collection!) BTW: 100% of What You Wish For‘s proceeds go to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to build the refugee camp libraries.
Their instructions were simple: write a wish poem about family, home, love, safety, or another topic. They were to choose one or more of the following poems to use as a mentor.
- “I Wish I Could Live (In a Book)” by Nikki Giovanni
- “Secret Song” by Naomi Shihab Nye
- “What I Wish For” by Gary Soto
- “Wishes” by Jane Yolen
While I’m a big believer in sharing, I decided not to ask students to turn and talk with a partner or share in a small group after writing a poem like this. Why? I knew, even before I walked around the classroom, that they would be writing really personal stuff. (And, after all, they’d only known each other for a few days when they wrote these.) As I did walk around the classroom, once I finished writing my own wish poem (which I did share), I saw that they were working on some pretty personal stuff. That being said, in a classroom where poetry comes towards the end of the school year, I would imagine having students to share and publish their wish poems.
So, what do you wish for? Feel free to share what you might right a wish poem about.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).