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April Spotlights Poetry in Rossman’s Robust Writing Curriculum
By: Fifth Grade Teacher Annie Menees
When I speak with prospective parents on tours in the halls of Rossman, I always point out a unique feature of our curriculum: Our students have a class period each day dedicated to writing. This is not the case in many schools where writing is often lumped in with all of the other language arts — reading, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, speaking, and listening. In many “English” or “Language Arts” classes, writing is treated as an extension of reading; students are primarily asked to write about what they read.
This emphasis placed on writing at Rossman is important since writing is a very complex subject that takes a great deal of time and energy to learn. Writing is a productive rather than a receptive language task, so students are expected to produce a result on paper, a fact that can be intimidating in its own right. Staring at an empty paper while experiencing writer’s block can be very discouraging; therefore, children must learn how to help themselves even begin to put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard.
The process, traits, types and forms of writing
The first stage of the writing process, pre-writing, requires students to learn how to generate ideas. Teacher-led brainstorming sessions and pre-writing forms like lists, T-charts, webs, Venn-Diagrams and templates all help our students get started. Students are similarly guided through the rest of the writing process, from drafting to revising, editing and publishing, helping them to gradually gain the skills, strategies and confidence necessary to tackle each stage independently.
If you observe a writing class at Rossman, you will witness children moving through this process of writing while learning the traits of writing, practicing different types of writing and producing different forms of writing. Just writing about what we do in writing class is dizzying!
While moving through the writing process, students must juggle the traits of writing — ideas, organization, voice, sentence fluency, word choice, conventions and presentation — each of which requires mastery of different concepts and execution of many sub-tasks. For example, “organization” covers everything from introductions to conclusions, ordering of ideas to transitions between ideas while “conventions” includes capitalization, punctuation, grammar and spelling. Our teachers use targeted mini-lessons to teach these traits, drawing attention to one or two at a time with different assignments so as not to overwhelm our young writers.
Through our many different projects, our students also have opportunities to practice the various types of writing including narrative, descriptive, creative, persuasive, informative and, by sixth grade, even analytical writing. Often, these types are not mutually exclusive. Different forms of writing may combine multiple types. For example, students may write an essay that is both informative and persuasive; or, they could write a fictional story that combines narrative, creative and descriptive elements. Other forms of writing that our students have opportunities to try include, but are not limited to, reports, letters, articles, memoirs, journals, advertisements, and speeches.
Poetry as one form of writing taught at Rossman
In April, one form of writing takes center stage at Rossman: poetry. Students and teachers celebrate National Poetry Month across grade levels by reciting poetry and writing poems of their own. First graders learn to write five different types of poems including autobiographical, color, and acrostics and memorize and recite a poem for their annual Poetry Party while third graders try their hands at ten different types of poems including haikus, cinquains and clerihews and present them at their Poetry Café. Fifth graders extend their understanding of grammar by writing “Prepositional Phrase Poems” and are asked to capture the seasonal experience of winter turning to spring through paired poems (see a sampling of fifth grade student work below). Meanwhile, sixth graders are challenged to describe an image through a perspective other than their own and add in an interpretive lens in their Ekphrasis poetry unit. These are just a few examples of the ways in which poetry is highlighted as one of the many forms of writing in April at Rossman.
How do our teachers coax poetry out of our students? During the pre-writing stage, they might use model texts from famous poets to inspire ideas or turn published poems into templates for “inspired by” poetry. They might teach the rules for a strict form of poetry like a haiku or encourage students to write a more free-form poem and give them license to break the rules. A mini-lesson might target the importance of word choice in poetry, especially active verbs and interesting adjectives and adverbs, while the revision process might teach students to add in literary devices like figurative language for style. Regardless of the assignment, our students thrive on the challenge of writing in poetic form and surprise and delight themselves with the lively, authentic and beautiful pieces they produce!
Poetry Spotlight: Fifth Grade Paired Poems
(Click to enlarge)
Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in St. Louis, is a private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills. Request a free Rossman School brochure here.