Theme Poems: Using the Five Senses
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Writing poetry is less daunting when students can analyze a model. In this lesson, students first listen to a read-aloud of Flicker Flash by Joan Bransfield Graham in order to understand the concept of shape and theme poems. Students use the interactive Theme Poems tool to create their own poems, then work with a peer to analyze their use of sensory language. Finally, students print and share their poems.
Five Senses Checklist: This checklist encourages students to reflect on their use of sensory language in their theme poems.
From Theory to Practice
- Children need to understand that poetry is not something to memorize, but rather it is an enjoyable way to share their experiences and feelings with others.
- It is important for children to analyze how specific words used in poems create images in their minds.
- Poetry is important for children because it is the first genre many children hear through lullabies, nursery rhymes, and songs.
- Teachers need to provide relevant reasons for writing poetry and expose their students to poetry throughout the year.
- Structured, formulaic poems (such as shape or concrete poems) help students build confidence with writing poetry and provide opportunities for creativity, word play, and attention to word choice.
Common Core Standards
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
- 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).
Materials and Technology
- Flicker Flash by Joan Bransfield Graham (Houghton Mifflin, 1999)
- Sticky notes
- Paper and pencil
- Computers with Internet access
- One computer with a projection screen for demonstration (optional)
- If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, reserve time in your school’s computer lab for Session 4. Bookmark the interactive Theme Poems tool so that students can easily access it.
- Place sticky notes to cover the poem titles in Flicker Flash so students can guess the titles in Session 1.
- Make one photocopy for each student of the Theme Poem Rubric and two photocopies for each student of the Five Senses Checklist.
- Analyze published shape poems to determine what they are and how they are written
- Use sensory language while writing poems to accurately convey to the reader what they are experiencing
- Analyze their use of sensory language by incorporating peer feedback in response to their theme poems
Session 1: Introduction to Shape Poems (30 minutes)
- Ask students what they think a shape poem is. (If you are working with older students, you could introduce the term concrete poem versus shape poem.) Brainstorm ideas for the definition of a shape poem to get students thinking and making predictions about the lesson’s content. Students’ ideas may include that a shape poem is a poem about a shape, or that it is a poem using shapes, or that it is a poem written inside of a shape. You will revise and clarify the definition as you read, so it is not important to start with a correct definition at this point in the lesson.
- Introduce the book Flicker Flash by Joan Bransfield Graham to the class. Tell students that you will be reading aloud a few poems from the book. For each poem, do not read the title; titles should be covered with sticky notes. After reading the poem, invite students to guess the title. Lead students to use both the poem’s words and shape to formulate their guesses. After several guesses, reveal the title. Continue in this manner for as many poems as you have time.
- Have students brainstorm definitions for shape poems again, this time guiding students to a final definition for a shape poem using the knowledge gained from reading a few models. The final definition should include these ideas: a shape poem is written in the shape of the topic, and the poem’s words describe its topic.
Session 2: Modeled/Guided Practice of Writing Shape Poems (30 minutes)
- Write a sample shape poem together as a class before having students write one independently. You may choose a shape for the poem or have the class vote on a few choices. Choose something the class enjoys and can describe well, such as the sun, an ice cream cone, a snowman, or a flower. Either draw a shape on the board, or if possible, project the interactive Theme Poems tool on screen and create a poem using that. This allows students to see how to use the tool so that they can use it independently in the computer lab during Session 4. The interactive tool creates the poem inside a shape, but the words do not necessarily create the shape themselves; these theme poem are slightly different than a true shape poem. Note this difference to students, which provides a good review of Session 1.
- After deciding on a shape, ask students to think of words and phrases that describe the subject. Focus on having students use as many of their five senses as possible. Now is a good time to discuss using words that “paint pictures in the reader’s mind” or that help the reader feel like he or she experiences what you, as the author, experience. Ask for volunteers to contribute words and phrases that describe the shape you chose. (If you drew a shape on the board, write those words inside the shape. If you are projecting the interactive Theme Poems tool, type those words on the Think of Words screen and then place them inside the shape.)
As students brainstorm words for the poem, prompt them to use their five senses by asking, “What does it look/sound/smell/taste/feel like?” For example, if you are writing about an apple, the class should include description such as, “They can be red. They are juicy. Sweet juice drips down from my mouth as I crunch into the apple…crunch, crunch. They have soft insides and hard skins.” Choose whether or not you would like the class to use complete sentences, solely list words and phrases inside the shape, or do a mixture of both. Note: The interactive Theme Poems tool imposes a character limit on words inside the shape.
- After completing the poem, hand out copies of the Five Senses Checklist. As you read the class-created poem aloud, ask students if you wrote about the senses of sight and hearing in ways that help them experience it, too. (For example, if writing about an apple, ask the class, “Do you feel like you are seeing the apple? If not, what should we say to describe it better?”) Next, as a class, have students read the poem for the senses of smell, taste, and touch. Have students complete the checklist by determining if they can experience those senses from reading the poem. Add more description if students feel like they are not experiencing a specific sense.
Session 3: Independent Shape Poem Writing (50 minutes – for writing and revising)
- Show students the options for shape poems on the interactive Shape Poems tool. (Shapes are divided into the following categories: Nature, Sports, Celebrations, Shapes, and School. Sample shapes include a sun, leaf, fish, star, book, cake, football, soccer ball, basketball, heart, balloon, and gift.) Have students pick the shape they like best—one for which they feel they can give a lot of description. Make sure students’ chosen shapes are different from your modeled example from Session 2.
- Have students write down descriptive words and phrases about their chosen shape on the Think of Words screen or on a sheet of paper. Then have them arrange the descriptive words into the chosen shape, and print if using the online tool. After writing this first draft, have students review their writing using the Five Senses Checklist, and revise any descriptive words that may not meet the criteria on the checklist.
- Once students have revised their writing using the information from the checklist, have them meet with a partner to get feedback. Have both partners exchange poems and read each other’s poems using a second copy of the checklist. Ask partners to make sure they, as the readers, feel they can experience what the author does by reading the poems. The partners should switch poems and checklists back and explain their ratings on the checklist. Have authors make any necessary revisions to their poems based on the feedback they received from their partners.
Session 4: Publishing Shape Poems (50 minutes)
- If you have not already done so in Session 2, show students how to use the interactive Theme Poems tool independently. Have students first select a shape. Have them skip the Think of Words section this time and instead start typing their poem into their chosen shape. Minor revisions may be needed to fit with the tool’s character count restrictions. Students should check their spelling and print their poems when they finish.
- Place the students into groups of three. Designate one person in each group to read his or her poem aloud to the rest of the small group. Then have the other two students share one thing they liked about the reader’s poem. Switch readers so that everyone has a turn to share their poem. This acts as a form of publishing and authors’ celebration. When all students have read their poems within their groups, have them hand in a copy of their final poems.
- Read aloud Outside the Lines: Poetry at Play by Brad Burg (Putnam Juvenile, 2002). This is a book of shape poems where the poems’ shapes and content determine the order and direction they should be read. It is a fun but challenging book and would be best for second grade and older. After reading, have students create their own shape poems modeled after Burg’s.
- Students can also create their own shape poems by drawing the shape on paper and writing the words in the form of the shape. This could be connected to content learning; for example, if students are learning about a butterfly’s life cycle in science, they could create their own butterfly shape poem using facts and description of butterflies and their life cycles.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Use the Theme Poem Rubric to assess students’ use of descriptive language and the five senses in their finished shape poems.
- To assess students’ knowledge of the peer review process, have students articulate what changes they made based on their peers’ feedback. This can occur during one-on-one writing conferences, or you can also review each student’s Five Senses Checklist to see peers’ responses to the poems.