Teaching the Writing Process with Poetry

As a student, I never fully grasped the writing process.  I’m sure that my teachers taught it to me or walked me through the steps as we wrote papers.  I never knew what each step was or that there was a particular order.  I never internalized the process.  I edited often, but the rest of it was just kind of lost.

I think many of our students are in that same boat today.  We have posters hanging on the walls and talk about it.  But I don’t think it means anything to them.  As they practice the writing process in a long story or essay the steps simply get lost because they are so far apart.  

Because they never understand the writing process is a methodical process that should be followed with every writing piece, whether the teacher says it or not, they don’t benefit from it.

Writing Poetry with the Writing Process

Poetry is an excellent solution to this problem if you do it correctly.  

The Wrong Way

Many times teachers use poetry as filler work, especially for holidays.  They throw it out there and see what sticks for their students.  They make it an assignment for the holiday so they complete some cute writing, but never follow through with it or grade it.  

This sends a message to our students that poetry doesn’t hold value.  If we treat this form of writing as filler work, then our students will not care about it.  It’s simply there to fill their time.

The Right Way

Valuing Poetry

Poetry holds a lot of value in our culture, not in the written form, but in the lyrical form.  Songs are poems.  We can teach our students this to help them see the value of it.  Explicitly pointing out that songs are poetry can help our kids connect to any poetry lesson we teach.

Songs are poetry which provides us all with a second advantage to teaching poetry. Students have so much schema about music that it can help them write in this beautiful form.  Even Pre-k students walk around singing songs or singing poetry.  Often times our students will struggle with writing because they lack schema, but students have a ton of schema about poetry even if they don’t know it.  We just have to connect what they know to what we are teaching.

Poetry also needs to be a focused lesson.  It can be fun with holiday themes, but students need to realize there are real lessons they are expected to learn.  Yes, they will walk away with a nice holiday piece, but also having learned something important about writing. If we value it this way as teachers, then they will too.

The Writing Process

Once we show students the value of poetry we can use it to explicitly teach the writing process.

Poetry assignments are short which allows students to start with their prewrite and go through each step, while gaining a better understanding of the writing process.  They will see each step in action without the process getting lost over weeks or even a whole month.   The steps of the process are more connected to each other.  

Poetry assignments that are prepared correctly can walk students through every step in just a couple of days. This means that poems for a holiday should be started just a few days before the holiday.

How I Use the Writing Process While Teaching “Ode to Earth”

Here is an example of what this might look like.  We will focus on my assignment “Ode to Earth” since poetry month and Earth Day both occur in April.

Before I explain how the writing process is used here first you must know a little bit about odes.  An ode is a form of poetry that is meant to exalt and glorify the topic.  Basically in this assignment students will explain how great Earth is.  It’s a perfect match for the holiday.

Also, there are three types of odes: Horatian, Pindaric, and Irregular.  Basically Horation and Pindaric have a lot more rules about structure and meter.  Irregular is more modern in that no rhyme or meter is necessary.

Finally, the stanzas are treated like paragraphs to organize the topics of the poems.

  1. Prewrite: In this particular assignment I have prepared two prewrite worksheets.  
  • One where students can explain how awesome earth is with the help of some questions.  
  • The second one has students thinking about what each stanza would be about.
  1. Draft:  

I chose to have my students follow an ABAB rhyming pattern.  The stanzas and patterns are laid out for them so they can focus on their writing.

  1. Revise:  

This is the step students are taught the least about or understand the least.  It’s where we read it and throw away the parts that didn’t turn out good.  It’s okay that parts of what we write are just awful (that’s a full lesson in itself).  They need to remove and replace the parts that don’t sound right, or make the flow awkward. 

Students may also realize they used the word beautiful 6 times in this short poem and need to switch it up.  Teaching students how to look up words or synonyms during poetry often meets less resistance because it doesn’t take long to do for a short poem.  Once they practice it in poetry they often realize that it’s not that hard to look things up and it doesn’t really take as much time as they thought. It’s a great way to improve word choice.

  1. Edit:  

This is the part students rush over because they just want to be done.  Many times students have told me they’ve edited and I’ve found several errors in the first paragraph.  However, poems are short so the mistakes glare out more.  It’s hard to miss spelling and grammar mistakes when there are only 12 lines in the whole assignment.

It’s a great time to have student practice looking up spelling mistakes or talk about grammatical errors.  It’s easier to have these conversations with several students in one period because time is more manageable in poetry lessons.

  1. Publish and Share:  Everyone can share their poems in just part of a class period.  As a whole group or in small groups students come together proud of their work.  When I have my students share essays it takes forever.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the whole group or small groups it takes a long time because essays are long.

Some of my students’ best writing and most noticeable gains come from writing poetry.  Over the course of the year their language choice, revision and editing improve.  Sometimes in the upper elementary grades, they can get to the point where they are walking through all the steps of the writing process on their own by the end of the year.

You can have your students participate in “Ode to Earth” using the writing process available in my TpT store.  

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