Teaching writing in the classroom was often so painful because reading the writing was literally painful. I mean, I had those few and far between students who were from outer space or something because every word they recorded with their pen painted a careful and beautiful picture that shocked me. But most of the time the writing sounded like this.
“We went to the beach. It was hot. We swam and ate. Then we went home.”
Then I try to get them to dive deeper, create a real picture of those “small moments,” but really it didn’t improve much. The story was longer, but just as painful to read.
The Ear of a Child
The students just don’t hear their own words, even when they read them out loud. They read this story and think it sounds good. They read the revision and think they’ve added so much detail.
These are the same students who are reading above grade level. They like reading and understand these well-written books. But they just don’t hear how weak their own writing is. Please tell me I’m not the only one.
Part of me thinks that this is the writing they are capable of. They think this is their best work. It’s how they’ve always written when a teacher asks them to write. They’ve gotten good grades while writing like this.
I have seen these writers grow over the school year, but it’s because of a different approach.
Moving Away From State Standards to Create Better Writers
I always come back to teaching more complex writing through poetry. There are countless reasons why I love poetry.
One is that it impacted me so much in middle school and high school. It changed me as a writer. I hated writing and wasn’t all that creative. My teachers were probably in pain when they read my work. But poetry changed me.
I love writing because of poetry. It lets me express real thoughts and feelings. It let me explain the world in a different way. I believe poetry can do the same for students today.
Poetry is not the focus of any state standards so it is often skipped because there are just too many other requirements to meet. However, I find that poetry allows me to teach students to bring their writing to the next level in small manageable chunks.
Rhyme and meter are a huge part of poetry. We read a poem and we hear the rhyme and meter throughout. When we stumble in our reading the spell is broken. Because rhyme and meter are so important it forces our students to adjust and revise their writing. It’s so easy for them to hear the breaks in the flow and they want to revise it.
Isn’t that one of the things we are constantly trying to teach our students as they write every other type of writing. Listen to how this sounds? Does it really say what you want it to? Does it feel awkward? Rhyme and meter make it impossible to ignore flaws in the flow of their writing.
I know when I have asked these questions in an essay students are always convinced it sounds great. They haven’t developed an ear to really hear how it sounds. But as they write more and more poetry they develop an ear that hears a good flow. As the class shares short poems they’ve written they start to understand what good flow is.
Writing and sharing poetry helps them develop their ear for good flow, meter, and rhyme.
How to Teach Revision
Revision is the step in the writing process where we try to teach our students to check their flow and change it so it’s smooth and enjoyable to read. Trying to help every student in the class revise their work is so difficult because there are so many of them. Their essays are so long, so painful to read, and often confusing. It’s just too much.
I’ve said this before, but I stand by it. I am so much more successful teaching students how to revise I am teaching poetry. I can actually meet with every student and talk about the flow of their lines. I can read their work outloud and stumble as I read. They immediately understand that there is something wrong with the flow of that part. When we are revising poetry we have valuable conversations about how to do it and I can model it for them.
A huge part of revision is rearranging the lines or choosing different words. It’s easy to do this in poetry. We can reverse the order of a line or suggest a word choice change to a student. We can reread their piece with the new idea and see what it does to improve or not improve the piece. I think these conversations are what truly help my students understand how to revise.
Poetry is one of my passions and I love teaching it. I find it to be a fun process for my students and myself. I also love how the rest of their writing benefits from teaching poetry. If you need some easy-to-follow lessons to get your students writing poetry check out the poetry section of my TpT shop.