Healey School’s 7th grade ELA teacher Emma Daniels wanted to start off her poetry unit a little differently. So she launched the unit with students reading Kwame Alexander’s Newbery medal-winning novel in verse, The Crossover, to make poetry more accessible to her class.
In-Class Poetry Workshop with Spoken Word Poet
Then, Daniels partnered with spoken word poet and youth worker Anthony Febo to teach a three-week poetry workshop. At the beginning of the workshop, Febo pushed students to grapple with what the genre of poetry means to them and ultimately work to redefine the medium as one that offers a personal connection for each student. Febo presented the following definition to students: "poetry is the expression of our understanding," and elaborated by emphasizing that poetry is not only the written word, but can be other expressions of understanding. For example, how we express our understanding of dance is by dancing, or our understanding of basketball is by dribbling down a court.
Specifics Are Everything
Febo and Daniels also worked with students to create a list of features that make a poem effective. As a group, students determined that a good poem is as specific as possible; shows, does not tell; and uses literary devices such as rhyme, rhythm, repetition, alliteration, assonance, similes, metaphors, and extended metaphors. Febo then performed some of his spoken word poetry for students and showed them other spoken word pieces, in all of which the poets used food as extended metaphors to express their understanding of the world.
The Creative Process
The students were then tasked with creating their own food-focused poems that used at least two of the literary devices they had learned. Once the poems were fine-tuned, students used the graphic design program Canva to lay out and illustrate their poems as recipe cards. At that point, students worked on public speaking, such as how to articulate in a large room, conquer pre-performance nerves, and how to grab the listeners’ attention.
Spoken Word Performance Showcase
The poetry unit culminated in a spoken word performance by students for peers and parents. Bringing in a professional poet helped the students, as Ms. Daniels explained, “recognize that poetry can be an engaging and dynamic medium that enables them to share about their lives and emotions. I was also so proud of their presentation abilities!”
A. Luthin, Writing Communications Specialist
On My Plate There Is Griot, Rice, Pikliz
by Elizabeth S.
On my plate there is griot, rice, pikliz.
But in my mom's kitchen….
You try to eat the food before it’s prepared you’re gonna get the
dirty look, to me it's saying “lil girl you better go read a book.”
Then finally the food is done!
So my mom calls my older brother by “TT” and that call lets you know when the food is done because
my momma always serves him first.
So everybody comes out of nowhere running like we're in a track field.
By the time me, Maya and TT get in the kitchen
all the food is laid out like we're at a buffet. The food scent
makes me feel like I’m back in my mother and my father's country.
I take a bite of the pikliz and it’s so spicy!
I feel the hotness running through my skin suddenly, the food is done.
But I can still feel the taste in my mouth.
When I eat my mom’s food I feel like I’m fighting for freedom in Haiti in 1791
for my country!
That's what being Haitian makes you feel like. Embrace it.
Even if you're a little Haitian, half Haitian, full Haitian it doesn't make you less of a Haitian
than anybody else.
I enjoy my culture because we’re strong we shed blood, sweat, and tears
for independence and we got it!
Nobody on this earth can ever take me being
Haitian away from me!