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Lesson Plan

Put That on the List: Independently Writing a Catalog Poem

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Put That on the List: Independently Writing a Catalog Poem

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Susanne Rubenstein

Susanne Rubenstein

Princeton, Massachusetts


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • examine the design of the catalog/list poem.

  • consider the characteristics of contemporary poetry.

  • develop an awareness of the subtleties of language.

  • apply their knowledge to write their own poems.

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Session One

  1. Ask students to brainstorm a list of their most prized, well-loved, or significant possessions. These may be items they own now, or they may be possessions from their childhood.

  2. Ask students to choose two or three of these objects, the ones that have the most "history,” meaning, and stories behind them. For each of these objects, ask students to do a quick freewrite of phrases and ideas that relate to the object and its importance in their lives.

  3. Read Carver’s poem “The Car,” a lengthy list of descriptive phrases that create a vivid picture of the poet’s car.

  4. Guide students to see that this poem employs the design of the list with its short phrases, use of rhythm and repetition, and ending “twist.”

  5. If students have completed the Put That on the List! Collaboratively Writing a Catalog Poem lesson plan, point out that one of the major differences between “The Car” and “Fear” is that its subject is an object of importance in the poet's life (rather than an emotion).

  6. Promote discussion by asking students to point out their favorite lines, as well as lines that confuse them.

  7. Compare the very concrete lines like “The car that burned oil” with those that hint at an unspoken story.

  8. Ask them to “fill in the blanks,” and tell the possible stories that the abbreviated writing in the list does not allow to be told. For example, students can imagine the tale behind the lines “The car my daughter wrecked” or “The car that hit the dog and kept going.”

  9. Help them see the powerful effect of not telling the story, of leaving it up to the reader’s imagination.

  10. Give particular attention to the ending, and ask students to discuss how it establishes the essence of the poem.

  11. Ask students to begin drafting a poem in this style, one that focuses on one of their own possessions.

  12. Tell them to refer back to their brainstorms and freewriting for ideas, but encourage them to change topics and/or extend ideas if something more meaningful comes to them.

  13. Offer the poems “The Cat” and “The Pole” as models.

  14. Ask students to discuss its organization and word choice.

  15. Pass out copies of the Checklist, which outlines the vital features of a good list poem, and go over the characteristics as a group.

  16. Compare the items on the checklist to Carver’s “The Car ” and the student poems “The Cat” and “The Pole.”

  17. Allow the rest of the session for groups to compose a first draft of their poems.

  18. Remind students that as they are writing they must work hard to establish a unique impression of their object. For example, many students may write about a backpack or a favorite pair of jeans, so it is vitally important to find the personal and specific details and words that characterize one’s own backpack or jeans.

  19. Instruct students to continue working on their drafts at home.

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Session Two

  1. During this session, focus students’ attention on revision and rewriting, leading to publication of their poems.

  2. Ask students to share the drafts of their list poems with another class member. Students should offer positive feedback as well as suggestions for improvement. Comments that encourage good revision should focus particularly on lines that are confusing, words that could be more powerful or more precise, ideas that might be added, and the relative strength of the ending.

  3. Ask each response group to answer this question: “What is the essence of the poem?” In considering the response, the writers should reflect on whether they have communicated the message they intended to communicate.

  4. Using the feedback from their classmates, ask students to continue to revise their poems.

  5. Remind students to return to the Checklist to verify that their final piece includes the specific features of a list poem.

  6. When final drafts are complete, ask students to write their poems on poster paper. If time and/or inclination allow, students can also illustrate their poems with artwork. Alternately, students can use the ReadWriteThink Printing Press to publish their poems in brochure or booklet format.

  7. Have student volunteers presents their poem to the class.

  8. Collect copies of the poems. Bind the poems together as a class collection, or post the poems in the classroom.

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  • Poetry deserves publication. Possible publishing options include:

    • list poems displayed in the classroom with accompanying artwork.

    • a class publication with all of the “possession poems” collected in a booklet, brochure or binder. Read as a group, this collection can be seen as a commentary on the adolescent experience in our times. Students can use the booklet format in the ReadWriteThink Printing Press if desired.

    • submissions to print and on line publications that seek poetry.

  • For a connection to popular culture, follow this lesson with the ReadWriteThink lesson plan You’re the Top! Pop Culture Then and Now.

  • You can also introduce or extend this lesson by using picture books as models for additional poems. “Something Beautiful: Reading Picture Books, Writing Poetry” by Dean Schneider, from Book Links, April/May 2001 (v.10 no.5), provides a book list of picture books using list poem format.

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  • If desired, grade the poem as a complete writing assignment, using the Checklist to guide your evaluation and feedback.

  • Students can also assess their own work and learning by completing a Reflection Sheet. Either pass out the sheet and ask students to choose four to five questions to respond to, or customize a sheet for your class, drawing from the options listed. Focus on asking questions that encourage writers to really think about their pieces and the processes that led to their creation. Each student can write a separate reflection sheet and then share their comments with other group members before all reflections are handed in to the teacher.

  • If the class agrees to share their poems with an outside reader(s), the teacher might ask two or three of his/her colleagues to read the class poems and decide which is their favorite.

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