Once students experiment with poetry, they learn that they have another outlet for communicating their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In this lesson, students are asked to think about colors, while imagining what they taste, feel, smell, sound, and look like. They explore sample color poems, as well as imagery and symbolism. Students use their five senses as a prewriting tool to guide their poetry writing before drafting, revising, and publishing their color poem. This lesson is open-ended enough that students can write free-form poetry or follow a provided template to create a color poem.
Color Poem Assessment: Use this student reproducible to guide peer review, writer review, and teacher review of students' color poems.
Color Poem Templates: This student reproducible contains two templates for writing a color poem.
In "Priming the Pump," JoAnn Portalupi explains "A writer's eye takes in the surroundings with keen perception. Learning to ‘see' means stretching to use all five senses." Portalupi encourages writers to "Stake a claim on something-your desk, the classroom, the lunchroom, your bedroom. Don't just describe what you see, but also include the sounds, smells, and feel of the place" (5). Beyond simply expanding students' perceptions to inform their writing, asking students to include their senses in their writing through metaphor and simile is a powerful way to learn more about their inner thoughts. As Judith W. Steinbergh concludes in her article "Mastering Metaphor through Poetry," "Teachers' guidance in discussing metaphors in literature and in creating metaphor in original writing offers students a powerful tool that supports their intellectual, emotional, and creative development" (331).
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
- participate in a brainstorming activity using the five senses then draw on their experiences with color to create poetry.
- write color poems based on models from Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O'Neill.
- connect personal knowledge and sensory perception to written descriptions using similes and metaphor.
- participate in process writing, from prewriting to drafting to revising.
- showcase their poems and connect art to their writing.
Session One: Brainstorming
- Ask the students to think about their favorite color, asking, "How would you describe what that color looks like to someone else?" You'll get varied responses, and maybe some frustrated responses, as it is difficult to put a color into words. Some students might compare their color to a material objective. For example, a student might say, "White is like the snow."
- Ask students to add more details to their description by reminding students that not everyone knows what snow looks like. Ask them to describe their color further. This time, they might say that snow looks soft and fluffy, but feels cold and crunchy.
- Have the students practice describing colors in this way, by working with a partner. Ask one partner to name a color, and then ask the other partner has to describe it. Challenge the students to avoid using material objects in their descriptions, but instead focus on other sensory descriptions-texture, taste, sound, or smell. If a student uses a visual comparison ("Yellow is like the sun"), ask students to add details using their other senses: "Yellow is burning, bright, and hot."
- To create partnerships, distribute one crayon to each student. Instruct students to sit with other students who have the same color of crayon. This will be their writing group for the color poem.
- Tell students that they will be writing a poem about a color. They will write their poems as if they were describing the color for a person who has never seen it before. Additionally, the person may not know what certain objects look like so they cannot write about things that "are" the color. Instead, the students are to describe their color from each of the other senses: sound, smell, taste, and feel.
- Share Color Poem Examples with students, asking them to identify the different sounds, smells, tastes, and textures used to describe the colors in each.
- Explore symbolism and imagery with students, explaining how the figures of speech can be used in their poems. Play with symbolism using this Dictionary of Symbolism. Ask students to talk about the literal and figurative meanings of chosen symbols. Or, complete a symbolism mini-lesson to teach concretely about this poetic element. If students need more exposure to imagery, a mini-lesson on the topic can be useful here too.
- Using the crayons/paint chips, ask students, individually or with a partner, to choose the color to work with.
- Using their writer's notebooks, ask students to brainstorm, answering the following questions:
List 1: What things LOOK (color)?
List 2: What things SOUND (color)?
List 3: What things SMELL (color)?
List 4: How does (color) FEEL?
List 5: What makes YOU FEEL (color)?
List 6: What things TASTE (color)?
List 7: What EXPERIENCES or IDEAS seem (color)?
List 8: Can you think of any (color) PLACES?
- Read the book Hailstones and Halibut Bones to the students.
- After you've finished the book, ask students what they noticed about the color poems? After hearing the poems, ask if there is anything that they want to add to their brainstorm list? Reinforce that the students should have descriptive phrases written.
- After each poem, discuss the author's use of imagery, personification, and unique expressions; the senses the author uses to write about the color; and so forth.
- When students have completed their brainstorming, share several more sample color poems with them from the additional color poems you have gathered. Ask students to pay attention to effective word choice. Elicit student feedback regarding the comparisons of color the authors used.
- Discuss the structure of the poems with students. Note that the poems are not all formatted in the same way. This is important for the students to know since their poems might not be following a specific format.
- Ask students to go back to their brainstorming list, selecting the ideas that make the strongest comparison for each sense. Ask students to use their ideas to draft each line of the color poem.
- To make the revision process easier, students can write their lines of poetry on sentence strips, so they can be physically manipulated later. Demonstrate how to revise poems by moving strips around easily, reading their poems aloud, and seeing what the poem looks like without rewriting them on paper.
- If desired, the students can also use the templates provided as a color poem outline during the drafting stage.
- Model the process that the students will go through. Choose a crayon or paint chip. Let's say that it is called "Passionate Pink." Say aloud, "To me, when I see this color, I hear Gerbera daisies singing in the wind." Emphasize to the students that in reality, you can't hear Gerbera daisies, but to you, that is what you "hear" because when you were little, you often sat on your grandmother's porch, watching the flowers blow in the breeze.
- Compose with the class an example of a color poem, such as the following:
Passionate Pink is ...
Singing Gerbera daisies in terra cotta pots
Sugary cotton candy melting in my mouth
A freshly picked rose dripping with dew
- Once the process has been explored, answer any questions that students have. Make connections between the templates and the examples available.
- Allow students the rest of the class session to work on their poems. Circulate among students, answering questions and providing support as appropriate.
Session Three: Revising/Editing
- Once the poems are drafted, students can share their color poems with their peers or writing partners.
- Pass out the Color Poem Assessment. As they read, ask reviewers to check that each line describes the color through a different sense, that limited visual comparisons have been used, and that similes are used in each line. Reviewers can also make suggestions for stronger word choice as appropriate. Ask students to record their comments and feedback on the form.
- Following peer review, ask students to assess their own work, using the appropriate section of the Color Poem Assessment.
- If desired, you can discuss stanzas and line breaks in poems, using What Makes Poetry? Exploring Line Breaks, as a mini-lesson.
- Finally, students should make any necessary revisions before writing a final copy of the poem.
- Provide supplies for students to publish their poems during the first half of this class session.
- Demonstrate the Printing Press student interactive for students, showing the pertinent options. Alternately, have students write their final copy of the color poem in the same color ink as their topic and mounting it on poster board or students can word process their poems and print using colored ink.
- Ask students to print at least three copies of their work (one for themselves, one for you to respond to, and one for the school or public library). If class resources allow, additional copies can be made to share with interested students in the class.
- This will be a busy, active session so ensure that students understand the products they are to submit by the end of the class before releasing them to work on their final copies in their groups.
- Allow students the remainder of the class to print copies of their own pages for their booklets and flyers.
- If possible, schedule an additional class session where students can share their brochures or flyers with the class.
- On the poster board with their poems, students can add scraps of material that match their topic color. Try to obtain a wide variety of textured materials such as corduroy, silk, cotton, flannel, wallpaper samples, corrugated paper, carpet samples, etc. This will provide a textured backing to enhance their color poem.
The ReadWriteThink lesson “Compiling Poetry Collections and a Working Definition of Poetry” presents an opportunity for this color poem to be part of a larger poetry collection.
- Share additional books about color poetry with students, such as Out of the Blue: Poems About Color by Hiawyn Oram and David McKee (Disney, 1993) or What Is Pink: A Poem About Colors by Christina Rossetti and Judith Hoffman Corwin (HarperFestival, 2000).
Student Assessment / Reflections
Monitor student progress during the lesson and as students work independently through anecdotal notetaking and kidwatching. Look in particular for students’ ability to connect to multiple senses and their connection of sensory images to words in metaphor and simile. For more formal assessment, use the Color Poem Assessment, which is filled out by Peer reviewer, Writer and Teacher. Finally, nothing is as useful as the feedback that students will receive by sharing their color poems with their peers. Informal feedback from students who read and review the poems is excellent for students.