I have always loved poetry, but teaching poetry has made me fall in love with it even more! With teaching, I’m forced to look at it through the point of view of a sixth grader – which is refreshing and eye-opening. I recently introduced the students to works of the poet, William Carlos Williams (I purchased a product on TPT by Tracee Orman that encourages students to “Write Like Poets”. It is wonderfully put together- it even has audio files of the poems being spoken!) So, after modeling our own poems after “Red Wheelbarrow”, we moved on to look at the infamous, “This is Just to Say”. Immediately after I read it, the kids made a face that said, “This is a poem?” And without ever thinking of this before (teacher auto-pilot), I explained to them that it’s beautiful because William Carlos Williams found poetry in unexpected places (light bulb moment!)
A week prior to introducing actual poems, the kids and I did some close reading with song lyrics. I started out with the song “Let it Go”, knowing it would be easier because everyone is familiar with the song and movie. First, we listened to the song and wrote down any thoughts we had, then I asked them to listen while looking at the lyrics and think about theme, setting, and changes in character. To my absolute surprise: none of them had any idea what the song is actually about…despite singing it for days on end this past winter. During discussion they brought up the surface facts: she runs away to the mountains, she doesn’t mind the cold, she has magic, etc. So, we worked through it together and found the theme: to just be yourself and not worry what anyone else thinks (at this point there were a lot of ohhh that’s what it’s about!) They went back to work with a new-found appreciation for the song, highlighting important details, and looking for changes in character. I was so impressed with what they found – they even made note of how the tempo of the song changes as Elsa becomes more confident. (Resources for younger kids can be found on Scholastic)
It was a good first experience with close reading, but it was time to move onto bigger things: “Wings” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. I got the idea to use this song from the teacher before me. It was such a good lesson, I couldn’t resist repeating it! Just like with “Let it Go”, we started out by listening to the song (I had to give a mini speech about being mature because there are two “bad words” in it). After the first listen all of the students agreed that it sounded like a shoe commercial. I handed out lyrics and we listened again… and they were still set on the idea of a shoe commercial. I had them mark up the lyrics, making note of anything – important or not.
The next day, I introduced the theme: what you wear doesn’t make you who you are, and I had them write down the definition for “consumerism”. I talked to them about consumerism; about how, whether they would like to admit it or not, they have probably worn something with the idea that people would like them more because of it. I pointed out current commercials that use celebrities and how it’s so important to have the most current iPhone and real Uggs. This got them talking….and the lyrics finally became clear! We still had to work through them together, but instead of feeling frustrated they were truly interested. After having them mark the lyrics on their own some more and then going through it as a class (and watching the video!), the students filled out a close read worksheet that I created. The worksheet asks for theme and changes in character, and text evidence to back it up (you can find it on my TPT site!) I have found that most of my students work best with worksheets, as opposed to “this is what I’m looking for, write it on lined paper”.
To end the mini-unit on close reading song lyrics, I gave students a week to print out lyrics for a song of their choice and bring them into class. Students close read their chosen lyrics and then filled out another close read worksheet. It was a fun closing activity, but I didn’t grade it because there was too much variety. In the future, I will have a list of songs that they can choose from, because some songs were really difficult to close read (i.e. Best Day of my Life by American Authors).