bilingual · foreign language · guest blogger · poetry

Finding Interdisciplinary Opportunities in Writing Workshop

What happens when the next unit in third grade writing workshop is poetry and the classroom teacher stumbles across an anthology of bilingual poetry? At our school, we are constantly looking for interdisciplinary opportunities. Last year, when thinking about the poetry unit in writing workshop, Emily came across the work of Mexican-American poet, Francisco Alarcón. Erica was familiar with his work and thus the idea of creating a bilingual poetry unit spanning writing workshop and Spanish class was born.


First, we began to think about how we might be able to write our poems in different languages. Emily began the unit by following lesson outlines based on the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Units of Study.

Class #1:

The first lesson in our writing workshop poetry unit used visible thinking routines from Project Zero. Students were asked “What do you notice?” when examining free verse, rhyming, repetition, and rhythm in poetry. Their observations included:

  • There can be repetition.
  • There is more emphasis on some words than others.
  • The words kind of all fit together like puzzle pieces.
  • There can be rhyming.
  • The rhyming can have a pattern.

Class #2:

The second lesson in writing workshop used the “Chalk Talk” visible thinking routine. Students rotated among poems with similes and metaphors and jotted down thoughts, ideas, and questions after reading poems such as “Surf” by Lillian Morrison. Following the small group portion of the lesson, students had the opportunity to independently practice writing their own similes and metaphors in new poems or poems previously written in their writer’s notebooks.

Class #3:

The third lesson in writing workshop began as a whole group. Emily created an anchor chart with the outline of a hand and each finger was labeled: see, hear, taste, touch, smell. Students offered some of their favorite sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and smells to be recorded. Following the minilesson, students copied their hand’s outline in their writer’s notebooks and identified words that described the five senses they could later add to their poems.

Class #4:

The fourth lesson explored the use of figurative language in poetry. We identified personification and alliterations in poems such as “The Sky is Low” by Emily Dickinson. Then, students practiced using them in new or previously written poems in their writer’s notebooks.


Class #1:

To begin the project in Spanish class, Erica followed-up on the writing workshop lesson on the five senses that Emily taught in homeroom. We used a similar anchor chart in each of our classes to demonstrate how the senses can be used to add detail when writing poetry. The introduction of poetry in Spanish class was supported by minilessons on:

  • The purpose of bilingual poetry and various audiences (along with ways to determine who the author’s intended audience was).
  • Different ways to incorporate multiple languages into poems.
  • A review of including the senses in poetry.

Class #2:

During the second Spanish class, students created mind maps around a theme they were interested in using for their bilingual poems. We referred back to the anchor chart from the first class to begin this work. Students used the following framework to construct their mind maps:

  1. Pick an initial theme. Student themes in our class included ideas such as nature, dogs, their favorite colors, the ocean, the rain forest and The Bahamas.
  2. Brainstorm words related to each of the five senses related to your theme and write those words in the mind map in English or Spanish (for words that students already knew).
  3. Use the app Word Reference, which is an online dictionary, to translate words from their mind map into Spanish. It was important to conduct a mini lesson on using Word Reference before using the app.
  4. Conduct a minilesson on using bilingual dictionaries (This was a review for our students from a unit earlier in the year.) and provide English/Spanish dictionaries for students to use along with Word Reference. 

Classes #3 and #4:

During the third Spanish class students began writing their poems. As they worked they received feedback from their peers and Erica. Erica followed the process of editing that Emily used in homeroom. The process of writing included:

  1. Writing a first draft.
  2. Sharing with peers and the teacher and receiving feedback.
  3. Writing a middle draft.
  4. Writing a final draft and including illustrations on their work. 

Class #5:

Students shared their work and posted a video of a reading of their poem on the class SeeSaw account to share with their families.


Opportunities for Differentiation:

As students worked on their poems, many wanted to incorporate more Spanish than we had previously anticipated. Several students decided to challenge themselves to write entirely Spanish poems. This was a great way to push higher-level students, although Erica did discuss making sure that they understood what they were writing with the students.


Extension Activities:

  • As a culminating project, we sent our finished bilingual poems to Erica’s niece’s third grade class at Colegio La Aduana in Cordoba, Spain. We received a package of bilingual and Spanish poetry from their class, and spent a class reading their poetry as a group.
  • We asked the parents of two Mandarin-speaking students to come in and share their favorite poems in Mandarin with our class. We invited students from our middle school French classes to share poetry from their studies as well. One of our Mandarin-speaking students was inspired by the experience to write a trilingual poem in English, Spanish, and Mandarin.


Helpful Hints:

  • Make sure to follow the same protocol in homeroom and Spanish class. It was helpful for Erica to refer back to what Emily had already done.
  • If you are teaching language in a FLES program, begin the Spanish portion of the unit after the English. 

About the Guest Bloggers:

Erica Roth teaches Kindergarten through fourth grade Spanish at St. Anne’s Belfield School in Charlottesville, VA. She also serves as the Kindergarten through 8th Grade World Language Department Chair and is a member of the residential life faculty. Erica is passionate about global education and tries to travel as much as possible in her free time. You can find Erica on Instagram @SenoraRothSpanish and on Twitter @SenoraRoth.

Emily Mathews is a third-grade homeroom teacher at St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, VA. As a homeroom teacher she teaches reading & language arts, writing workshop, and social studies. Emily believes in engaging and educating the whole child through academic, social, and emotional learning as well as shared experiences and positive communication. You may find her on Instagram @3_mathews.

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