Writing “Things to Do” Poems: It’s All About the Action Words!
One of the most creative aspects of writing “things to do” poems for me is imagining what it might be like to be something other than myself. As I was writing poems for my book THINGS TO DO, I wondered what I would do if I were certain animals, elements of nature, and inanimate objects–including the sun, sky, rain, birds, a snail, an acorn, an eraser…even a pair of boots splashing in puddles. I focused on the actions of the subjects of my poems…and tried to select the most dynamic/strongest verbs to describe those actions.
Here are some of the things I said that dawn, a honeybee, an acorn, the sun, crickets, and the moon should do:
• Dawn: Rouse resting roosters./Set songbirds singing…
• Honeybee: Flit among flowers/Sip nectar for hours…
• Acorn: …snap from your stem…/Fall to the forest floor below./Tempt a scavenging squirrel.
• Sun: Shower down warm yellow rays./Rule the sky on summer days.
• Crickets: Rub wings/and sing/a lullaby.
• Moon: Wax and wane/in you starry terrain…/Hang in the darkness./Dazzle the night.
In my poem Things to do if you are RAIN, I chose verbs that I thought would help readers to hear sounds that rain makes and to visualize things that it does:
Polka dot sidewalks.
Whoosh down gutter spouts.
Gurgle into drains.
Patter ’round the porch
In slippers of gray.
Tap dance on the roof.
A CLASSROOM LANGUAGE ARTS EXERCISE
One of the poems that I cut from the manuscript for my book THINGS TO DO is about a stapler. It’s an object that I used every day when I was teaching in an elementary school. In the poem, I imagined that the stapler had jaws and teeth and could bite!
Things to do if you are a STAPLER
Click your metal jaws together.
Grip my papers
with your teeth of steel.
Then bite down hard
with all your might
and bind them together
Share my stapler poem and the other poems from my book with students. Tell them to listen for verbs that describe the actions of the subjects of the poems. After reading each poem, ask students to name the verbs I used. Make a list of their responses on chart paper.
WRITING THINGS TO DO POEMS
I taught elementary school for over thirty years. My students wrote lots of poems. I often coordinated their poetry writing with the science units that we were studying in class. My students especially enjoyed writing “things to do” list poems about animals.
Before asking my students to write their own “things to do” poems, I gathered them together and had them collaborate on writing a class poem. First, we would decide on an animal to write our poem about. Then I’d talk to them about trying to select verbs that best described the actions of that animal. I told them we’d try to begin each line or sentence of our class poem with a verb.
On a large sheet of chart paper, I’d write down the rough draft of our poem. Next, we’d read through it–sometimes adding to the poem or making changes as we did. Then I’d give my students a day to reread the poem to themselves…and to think about any changes they’d like to make to the class poem.
The following day, as we worked on revising our class poem on another sheet of chart paper, we’d try to think of more dynamic verbs that could be used in place of the ones in our first draft. After we finished, we read aloud the final draft of our class poem. Then I sent students to their desks to write their own individual “things to do” poems.
Here are some examples of verbs that my students used in their “things to do” animal poems
Shark: speed, dart, catch
Dolphin: dive, fly, jet
Manatee: nibble, nuzzle, fold up
Bald Eagle: soar, feel, swoop
Butterfly: flutter, show off, find, settle, sip
Vampire bat: lap, slip, swoop, terrorize
Rattlesnake: slither, stick out, rattle, bite, swallow, slip, coil
Shark: glide, bite, gobble, sneak, scare
Penguin: dive, speed, dart, catch, waddle
Kitten: pounce, tear, climb, fiddle, hide, curl up, rocket, sharpen
Having my students write “things to do” poems was not only an enjoyable creative writing activity for them–it was also an excellent language arts exercise. Being thoughtful about their verb selection helped to make their writing stronger.
ONE MORE THING
I encouraged my students to focus on the meaning/sense of their poems rather than on trying to make them rhyme. With that in mind, I have two examples of my own “things to do” poems (PENCIL and NIGHT) that do not rhyme–as well as a collaborative class poem (WITCH):
Things to do if you are a PENCIL
Wear a slick yellow suit
and a pink top hat.
Tap your toes on the tabletop,
listen for the right rhythm,
then dance a poem
across the page.
Things to do if you are NIGHT
Be the shadow of day.
Put the sun to bed and light the moon.
Rouse sleeping raccoons and owls.
Paint oceans black.
Sprinkle stars across the sky.
Slip softly away before dawn.
Things to Do if you are a WITCH
Wake up at midnight.
Fly around the moon
on your magic broom.
Zoom around a haunted house.
Swoop out of the dark sky
and scare children.
have a huge purple wart
on the tip of your long, pointy nose
and skin as green as grass.
Wear a tall black hat
pointed as a thumbtack.
Make yucky snake skin potions
in your kettle.
Cast nasty spells on princes
and turn them into toads.
Eat vulture leg stew, bat wings,
and frog eyes for lunch.
Throw bat noses into the air
and catch them in your mouth.
Go to sleep in a graveyard
before the sun comes up.
More about my Book Things to Do and Me from All the Wonders
- All the Wonders Podcast Interview, Episode 325
- A Look Inside Things to Do
- The Journey of a Poetry Picture Book
- Things to Do Poetry Mobile Craft
Elaine Magliaro worked as an elementary school teacher for more than three decades and as a school librarian for three years. She also taught a children’s literature course at Boston University from 2002-2008. She served on the advisory board of the Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival from 2006-2008 and as a member of the NCTE Poetry Committee from 2009-2012. Elaine is now retired and writes poetry for children. THINGS TO DO is her first children’s book.
GIVEAWAY INFORMATION (from Stacey):
- This giveaway is for a copy of Things to Do. Many thanks to Chronicle Books for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of Things to Do, please leave a comment about this post by Wednesday, May 31st at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Friday, June 1st.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Chronicle will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
- If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – THINGS TO DO. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.