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Poetry Workshop in Six Steps

Every year for the Pages Program, the resident educators and the artists in residence get together at The Wexner Center to begin to imagine our year together. Now, if you’re a teacher, you might already be yawning at the idea of “professional development”, but the Pages retreat is truly different. It is an immersive experience that has been carefully curated to get all of us thinking about what our year might look like for our students. I always leave inspired. 

This year, author Scott Woods led our group in a poetry workshop. He carefully revealed eleven (although, he had prepared thirteen) steps to writing a poem. What Scott didn’t know at that time is that I’ve been working on poetry with my freshmen students for the past couple of weeks. As he walked us through the steps of revising our original drafts, I was challenged. There were some steps that seemed impossible. How could I possibly take something out of my carefully crafted work? But, the more we wrote, the more I thought about my students. My students, who were quick to write a draft and call it perfection. By the end of the workshop with Scott, I knew I had to try this strategy with my students to help them see the value of revision.

Here’s how I led my students through my version of the poetry workshop, step by step. Keep in mind that everything described below was heavily inspired by the workshop by Scott Woods. I simply took the liberty of modifying the steps to meet the needs of my students. 

Preparation

I found poetry writing prompts online and created a document of my favorites. I printed the document, cut out each prompt, and placed it into a bag to pass around class. I made sure to have more than enough prompts to get me through three class periods of students.

Step One: Choose a prompt and begin writing a poem about it. 

Each student chose a prompt from the bag. (Side note: During my first class period trying this workshop, I allowed the students to choose a second prompt if they didn’t like their first. Nearly every student went for a second prompt and it was very time-consuming. I modified the process by having my next classes choose one prompt and then stated that they could switch it out if they absolutely hated it, which only 2-3 students took advantage of.) I told the students that their poems could be loosely inspired by the prompt or be entirely about it. Then, I set a timer for five minutes and asked for students to work quietly on generating a poem of any style, except for a haiku.

Step Two: Cross out 25% of what you wrote.

After calling time, I asked students to assess how their poem was progressing. Then, I instructed them to cross out 25% of what they’d written, telling them to cross out details or words they didn’t need. Students who had assessed that they were still in the beginning stages and students who felt as if they were finished were the most challenged by this stage. The beginners felt like they were losing their work and the finishers were disappointed to find that they weren’t “done”.

Step Three: Give your poem a title.

Most students took to this step easily. Some chose to go with their writing prompt as their title.

Step Four: Add a sensory detail that you haven’t used yet. 

This stage fit in perfectly with what we’d been working on in class last week. I was glad to hear my students say they already had multiple senses incorporated into their poems. I instructed them to add at least one more at any point in their poem.

Step Five: Write a summary of your poem

Some students struggled with this stage in my first class period. To model the process for them, I read my poem that I’d been writing alongside them and then told them how I would summarize it without any elaboration. I asked them to sum up the literal meaning of their poems in just a couple of sentences.

Step Six: Turn your poem into a haiku.

This step brought both laughter and groans. Since we hadn’t discussed haikus in class previously, I briefly explained the format and set students to work. Instead of working on my poem at this stage, I circulated the room and spent time helping students grasp this new form. (Side note: Some of my students were so frustrated by the idea that they had written a “full” poem only to have to draw it back into a haiku. I reminded my students that the haiku was simply another version of their original poem and they, as the poet, get to choose the form of their final draft.)

In the end, this was a fun lesson for my students and for me. My students enjoyed getting to flex their creative muscles and write a poem on the spot. As a teacher, I loved watching and guiding my students as they were challenged by the idea of revision.

Sarah Patterson, Franklin Heights HS, Pages educator-in-residence

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