DigiLit Sunday: Poetic Problem Solving

This post is part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is Problem Solving. Please be sure to visit her there to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.

“Every problem is a gift—without problems we would not grow”
Anthony Robbins

One afternoon a few weeks ago, one of our Kindergarten teachers stopped me in the hall as she was taking her students to the buses. She explained that her class was writing a poem about seashells. “But we’re stuck on the ending, and since you’re a poet, we we’re hoping you could help us.” Then one of the students chimed in, “Yeah, you’re a perfect poem maker.”

Blushing, I thanked them for their confidence and told them I’d love to help them with their poem. Then I immediately panicked and thought, “What if I have no idea how to help them?”

When I arrived in their classroom the next day, they were eager to read their poem to me. I was impressed with the description and similes they had already come up with. But there wasn’t much emotion in the poem. I explained that adding feelings is one way poets improve their work. To help them come up with their own ideas and words, we discussed what shells are for. We talked about how different the inside of a shell is from the outside. Through this conversation, they came up with a final stanza that followed the pattern of the previous stanzas, but changed it just enough. They were very happy with the result.


This exchange with these Kindergarten poets certainly would have played out differently if I didn’t write regularly. Having my own writing practice let me know exactly how these writers felt, knowing their poem was missing something but not knowing what that something was. Because I have worked through problems with my own writing, I was able to help them work through their problem.

By tackling my own knowledge gaps, whether about reading or writing, I’ve acquired (and continue to acquire!) the the tools I need to help students when their stuck. Learning from MY mentors*, whether through their brilliant books or at conferences and workshops, has equipped me with ideas and understandings I can use as a starting place when approaching a problem.

Reading, writing, listening, and learning has not only made me a better problem-solver and teacher. They have made me a better person.

*Thank you to ALL my mentors. You are too numerous to name and I’m afraid I’ll forget someone.

Poetry Friday: A Found Poem

Teachers often wonder about their true impact on students. We have work samples, observations and assessments that help us gauge a student’s progress. But these can’t really let us know the degree of influence we’ve had on a student. And in many cases we may never know. We’re like mother turtles burying our eggs in the sand, only to swim away and hope for the best.

But then there are moments when the stars align and magic happens. This morning I was working with a 5th grade student whom I’ve worked with to varying degrees since first grade. He’s quiet and shy, but very sweet. He’d rather play soccer than anything else, especially read. He read the first few lines in The Amazing Amazon, by David Meissner, (Reading A-Z) then stopped. Looking up at me, he said, “It’s like a poem.”

I. was. speechless. Recovering quickly, I said, “I agree.” I asked why he thought so. Again, his response blew me away.

“Well, it rhymes and it’s describing. It’s like I can see it.”

As I said, magic. Here is the poem E found.

“There Is a Place”

There is a place where monkeys swing and howl.
There is a place where jaguars leap from tree to tree.
Bananas and pineapples grow for free.
Tiny frogs live in flowers.
Pink-colored dolphins swim in the river.
Storms come often,
and the air is sweet.

By spacebirdy (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Sweet indeed. 

Please be sure to visit Tara Smith at A Teaching Life for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: Song of the Butterflies

A few weeks ago, I came around the corner in my hallway and this greeted me:

“These butterflies are so beautiful!”I said to the teacher. “They deserve to have poems written about them.” She agreed and invited me into her class to help her students write butterfly poems.

Laura Shovan’s fabulous onomatopoeia lesson was a great inspiration, but I wanted to focus the kids on the movement of butterflies. I found this poem, from Nibble, Nibble by Margaret Wise Brown, to get them thinking.

“Song of the Bunnies”

Bunnies zip
And bunnies zoom
Bunnies sometimes sleep tip noon





All through the afternoon

Zoom   Zoom   Zoom

This is the song of the bunnies.

After reading the poem several times, I asked the kids to close their eyes and imagine being a butterfly and think about how they would move. After a minute or two, they shared words with a partner, then we made a list. Several words from the bunny poem were shared, but they came up with great movement words, too. We brainstormed color words, adjectives, and they even came up with some similes.

Working together, we created this poem:

Butterflies float.
Butterflies glide.
Light as a feather,
blue as the sky.
Perched on a daffodil,
sipping sweet nectar.
Me, oh my!

After we were happy with the class poem, they set out to write their own butterfly poems. Some were having trouble getting started, so I suggested “Things to do if you are a butterfly…” as a prompt. (Thank you, Elaine Magliaro!)

Here are a few student poems:

If You Were a Butterfly…

If you were a butterfly, what would you do?
Would you glide like a bird,
or sail like a fly?
Or would you sip nectar,
just like a bee?

by C.B.


Butterflies flap,
butterflies flip,
light as a leaf,
nice and sweet,
red, blue, pink, and orange.
I love butterflies.
Do you?

by I.V.

Colorful butterflies
zip and zoom
they float and flutter
diving for food,
sipping nectar.

by E.O.

I am a chrysalis.
I look like I’m sleeping,
but I am changing,
waiting for my wings.

by Z.J.

If you are a butterfly
you can fly high
in the sky.
You can have
colorful wings, too.
You can find a daffodil
to get nectar.

by K.H.

Little butterflies.
Colorful butterflies,
flutter butterflies,
spying for daffodils,
feeling the wind
on its wings.
Using its proboscis.

by L.O.

Here is the door now, with all the butterflies and their poem:

 Thank you also to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Stars: A Fibonacci Poem

Dava Sobel‘s The Glass Universe continues to inspire me. Although I couldn’t find any direct relationship between stellar spectra and the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical form seemed appropriate for this topic.

in white light.
Spectral lines reveal
elemental composition
and temperature to sleuths who probe their mystery.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Star Spectra by Secchi, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing poems in a specific form can be a fun yet challenging way to summarize learning in any subject area. The concision of poetry forces kids to hone in on the essential aspects of a topic, book or article. It also provides an authentic purpose for using subject-specific vocabulary.  As I wrote this poem, I found my biggest challenge wasn’t the basic science behind the stellar spectra, but getting the right words to match the syllable count of a Fibonacci poem.

 Thank you, Laura, for once again being so generous with your time and talents.  Thank you also to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: A Month of Innovation

At the end of February, I wrote the following in my notebook:

“I’m not sure how I think I’m going to manage writing for 31 days straight if I can’t even get a single post up in a week.”

Well, here we are, twenty-nine days later. Miraculously, I have managed it. I haven’t written about all the topics I had in mind, and some posts are about subjects that came out of the blue unexpectedly. Other posts are best left in the “Draft” folder on my desktop.

So what are my big take-aways from this month of writing? A few weeks ago, Margaret Simon asked teachers to consider “innovation” for her DigiLit Sunday Linkup. I worked on a post, but wasn’t happy with the result, so I didn’t share it. Over the past few weeks, I’ve considered going back to the ideas I was toying with, but I didn’t get that far.

Then, two things happened this week that brought me back to the word “innovation.” Two candidates for an administrative position at my school mentioned The Innovator’s Mindset during their interviews. And this morning, this blog post by George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset, showed up in my Twitter feed.

As I read through Couros’s “Ten Commandments of Innovative Teaching,” my mind kept circling back to this month of blogging.

  • “Innovative teachers must offer choice” The slice of life challenge is nothing but choice. Helpful suggestions and sources of inspiration are offered, but each Slicer makes his or her own decision each day about what to write about. On some days this can be daunting, but ultimately, the choices each writer makes them stronger writers and teachers.
  • “Innovative teaching allows for failure” I already mentioned my “Drafts” folder, but there are also pages in my notebook with a sentence or two of an abandoned idea or words for a poem that won’t come together. I’ve learned to chalk it up to experience and keep moving.
  • “Mentorship come in all forms” Learning from all of you is one of the best parts of this challenge. Whether it’s a unique idea about structure, or a beautiful piece of writing, you are all my mentors in this challenge. Thank you for your generosity.
  • “Technology with a purpose” Depending on your skill level, this may be as simple as creating a blog and getting a post up and published. That’s how I felt when I began blogging. Gradually, you learn to enhance your writing with photos or videos, link to other sites and so on. Which technology you use isn’t as important as your purpose: to communicate your thoughts and feelings with the outside world.
  • “Build something together” While we all toil in our own workspaces to create our own posts, each day’s collection of posts is a treasure trove of writing we have built together.
  • “From local to global” In writing about our individual experiences in our own communities, we bring into focus the fact that our concerns and our passions are shared by people from all around the world.
  • “Standards are guidelines, you are the architect” This refers to curriculum standards, of course, but the Two Writing Teachers team delineated guidelines at the beginning of the month. However, within those guidelines, we have flexibility and choice to create our posts however we see fit to achieve our purpose.
  • “Be a learner first and model it” It is impossible to write every day and not learn something. Each person will learn something different, then carry that learning into their classroom. Either directly or indirectly, that new learning will weave itself into our lessons and conferences, benefiting whole classes of students.
  • “Flexible with high expectations” Yes. Most days this involves being flexible enough to post something that doesn’t quite match my initial idea and hope that readers find something of value in my ramblings.
  • “A challenge that is fun” Although some people may not believe it, spending this month writing with all of you is fun. I look forward to laughing and crying with you, and being amazed by you and your incredible students every year. For all the anguish about choosing a topic or finding the right words, we’re here because we love to write, love to learn, and want to do everything we can to help our students feel the same way. What better way to spend our days?

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17 & It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?: See You in the Cosmos


Over two hundred years ago, William Wordsworth advised writers and artists to “fill your page with the breathings of your heart.” And while I doubt Wordsworth imagined that rockets would one day send those breathings into the cosmos, there’s no question that Jack Cheng’s new middle grade novel, See You in The Cosmos (Dial Books, 2017), is full of heart.

Written as a series of iPod recordings, See You in The Cosmos is an epistolary novel for our digital age. Alex Petroski is a “rocket enthusiast” from Colorado who is planning on launching a rocket at the SHARF festival in nearby New Mexico. With his faithful dog, Carl Sagan, at his side, Alex sets out for the festival. This trip marks the beginning of an odyssey that takes him from Albuquerque to Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Along the way, Alex learns valuable lessons about loyalty, trust, and the truth about his family.

Alex’s vivid narration through the iPod recordings immediately draws readers into the mysteries at the core of his life. With a mother who has “quite days,” a father who died when Alex was three, and a 24-year old brother who lives in Los Angeles, eleven year old Alex has learned to be remarkably self-sufficient. And while getting to the rocket festival is the original purpose of Alex’s journey, it soon becomes a quest to find out the truth about his father. Throughout his trip, Alex meets an eclectic assortment of characters who help him reach his goal.

Cheng richly layered novel reminded me of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Like Sal, Alex’s search leads him to undiscovered truths about his family and himself. Readers will be cheering Alex on every step of the way. They may even discover a truth or two about themselves.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts. Also, please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.

SOL 17 & the Poetry Friday Roundup: “Out of Wonder”


“Writing is a tool to carve out our dreams”
~Kwame Alexander ~

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! (Not sure what Poetry Friday is? Find out more from Renée LaTulippe here.) I’m happy you’re here because I have a stunning new collection to share today. Just in time for National Poetry Month, Newbery-Medal winning poet Kwame Alexander has teamed up with Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, and Ekua Holmes to create a spectacular gift to poetry lovers of all ages, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (Candlewick Press, 2017).

In the Preface to Out of Wonder, Alexander explains his mission for this book is introduce readers to “…twenty of my favorite poets. Poets who have inspired me and my co-authors with their words and lives.” He and his co-authors also hope readers will see these poems “as stepping-stones to wonder” about the poets, poetry in general, and the poetry within themselves.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I, “Got Style,” includes poems written in the style of Naomi Shihab Nye and e.e. cummings, among others. “In Your Shoes” includes poems written about favorite topics of celebrated poets. Emily Dickinson’s love of flowers, Walter Dean Myers love of basketball, and Judith Wright’s love of the earth are just a few of the themes used to inspire new poems. The final section, “Thank You,” pays tribute to beloved poets themselves, including Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carols Williams, and Sandra Cisneros.

Ekua Holmes’s mixed media collages explode off the page, adding another layer of beauty to these pages. Her color schemes are perfectly suited to the poems. Subtle, muted hues create the winter woods of Robert Frost, while bold primary colors give wing to Maya Angelou’s “free bird.”

A brief biography of each celebrated poet is included at the end of the book, as well as a chronological listing of the poets and their country of origin. This section is a jumping off point for teachers and students who want to learn more about these poets.

In an interview with Rachel Martin on NPR, Alexander stated that he had “three aims for the book — to encourage kids to read poetry, to introduce them to great poets, and to inspire them to write poems of their own.” He goes on to say “It’s a lofty goal.” Lofty yes, but one he and his collaborators exceed in this joyful book.

Want to know more about Kwame Alexander’s thoughts about poetry? Read his conversation with Nikki Grimes here, and his article with co-author Chris Colderley about why poetry matters at the Poetry Foundation. In addition, Poetry Friday’s own Mary Lee Hahn wrote a terrific Teacher’s Guide that is chock-full of suggestions for sharing Out of Wonder to inspire your students.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

And now for the Roundup! Please click to add your link and read more poetic offerings.