Tag Archives: writing projects

Writing Projects: Poetry Collection

I wrote a little while ago about how after we finally finished up all the projects in Brave Writer’s Partnership Writing I decided to keep coming up with more for us. While sometimes it’s nice to have a writing project that dovetails with another subject, a co-op topic, a contest, or a real world need like writing a letter, it’s also nice to have writing projects that are focused on writing and language as their own interesting things. The projects in Partnership Writing were great like that. We played around with secret codes, wrote little reports using the five question words, made up our own island chains and wrote about them, made catalogs to sell weird products, and more.

I posted already about the thumbprint biographies we made. They were fun and short. Before that, we did a poetry collection project for our writing project and it was also fun, so I thought I’d post about that as well.

Step One: Poetry Teas and a pile of books

As one might expect, we started this project with a poetry tea and actually held a couple more than usual during the course of the month. We don’t do poetry tea every week, but this forced us almost to do so, which was nice. In case you don’t know what poetry tea is, it’s when you pull out your pretty china, clean off the mess from the table, make or buy something tasty and sweet, and sit around for an hour reading poetry with the kids. In our house, we take turns reading poems and sometimes discuss the poetry as well.

In preparation for this project, I checked out a slightly larger pile of poetry books, thinking especially about exploring different forms. These included:

The Creature Carnival by Marilyn Singer
This book, in addition to just being fun, has poems with great varied and interesting rhyme schemes. Many of Singer’s others books are similar in how they use different forms. Her Mirror, Mirror is a book of reverso poems that we would have checked out as well if we hadn’t already read it a million times.

Dogku by Andrew Clements
This picture book tells the story of a stray dog taken in by a family with a series of haiku.

The Oxford Book of Story Poems
A nice collection with appealing poems of a variety of lengths and from a variety of time periods.

A Kick in the Head by Paul Janeczko
I don’t love this collection that much, but it’s perfect for this project because it has examples of more than two dozen different poetry forms.

African Acrostics by Avis Harley
Exactly what it sounds like. Acrostic poems about African animals, but very well done.

Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto
A collection of odes to childhood all set in a Latino neighborhood.

There are plenty of other options out there, of course. I never try to overthink book selections too much. I generally rely on the library and try new things often. While I learn about new books from blogs and recommendations, I find even more by just running my fingers over the stacks.

Step Two: Write lots of poems

photo 3 (5)Armed with various poetry books filled with a wide variety of example poems, we began to write our own poems. We tried a couple of different poetry forms for our writing time a week. We didn’t do everything we could have done and if you poke around online you can find dozens more potential poetry writing exercises, these are just the ones we chose.

photo 4 (2)I’ll add that for whatever reason, despite the fact that I have read tons of totally free form modern poetry to my kids, they are very stuck in the poems should rhyme mindset and this didn’t really break them of it. BalletBoy even wanted his haikus to rhyme, despite me only reading unrhymed haikus as examples (because when have you ever read a rhyming haiku anyway?) and entreating him that it was really not intended to rhyme, he still wrote two that had internal rhymes. In the end, I think that’s okay. I once attended a how to teach poetry to kids conference where the speaker bemoaned the kids who wrote cutesy rhymed poems as having gotten bad instruction and several times slammed the famed children’s poet Jack Prelutsky. But kids like mine love Jack Prelutsky. If that’s the kind of poetry that really speaks to them, then of course that’s what they’re going to want to write. And they should.

  1. Haikus
    A haiku is 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. We read several traditional haiku, as well as the book Dogku. I emphasized how a haiku is really a quick thought, a simple reflection. Haikus are often about how something looks or feels. They’re often about nature or everyday life. We practiced chin wags to measure syllables, just a reminder. Then we each, me included, wrote about half a dozen or so and shared them as we finished. They’re so quick and easy to try, even if not every effort is a stunning success.
  2. Couplets
    A couplet is two lines with the same number of syllables and an end rhyme. We looked for pairs of rhymed lines in Marilyn Singer’s poetry books. We made up couplets aloud for awhile then turned to writing them. I had not intended for this to be the case, but both boys immediately wanted to write longer poems comprised of couplets so I let them do so.
  3. Found Poems
    A found poem can be made a couple of ways. One way is to photocopy a page from a book and mark out words in black marker, creating a poem out of the words that you leave unmarked out. We used the second way, which is to make a poem from words found and torn out of magazines. We all did this assignment. I had a lot of fun making a poem about hide and seek after I saw that phrase repeated in an old ad campaign in a magazine. BalletBoy found words about food and Mushroom clipped words about animals and put them together to make a poem. This was a relatively long activity, but once the poem was finished, there was no revision needed, and it certainly looked cool made of all those cut out words.
  4. Odes
    An ode is written to praise someone or something. To get kids writing odes, I think it’s fun to encourage them to write an ode to something they really love but is unexpected, like their favorite shoes or a chocolate bar or a computer game (imagine how many “Ode to Minecraft”s we could get). Mushroom immediately started in on an ode to the inventors of the computer. The only real rule I gave them was to write lines of praise, but Mushroom set his into couplets.
  5. Acrostic
    Acrostics are those poems where the first letter of each line spells another word, typically the theme of the poem. We started this one by reading acrostic poems. It’s typical for kids to write acrostics about themselves, but I let them choose anything they wanted. Both the boys wrote a few, all of them with short 4 and 5-letter words.
  6. Free Verse
    I introduced this by trying to get the boys to choose a color to write about. Other suggestions I’ve seen for starting a poem from scratch include writing about the seasons, or about a specific memory, or about a meal. They tried, however, in the end, this exercise was mostly a flop for us. They were so attached to rhymes and forms that this one didn’t fly.
  7. Limerick
    People associate limericks with bad rhymes, but since my kids were so excited by really specific forms, I thought they would enjoy this one since it was still short enough and light enough for them to try out, unlike something like a sonnet. In fact, they enjoyed writing them very much, even though the results were very silly.
  8. Other ideas…
    We also read some story poems and talked about epic poetry and tried our hands at writing a story poem. BalletBoy loved it and included his in his collection. However, partway into the exercise it felt like it was probably too big a thing for me to have asked and it was just a fluke that it took off so well with one kid. So maybe only a good one to try with real poetry lovers. That’s all we did, but there are plenty of other poetry exercises and forms out there. For younger kids, a diamante is a really good form to play with (we have previously written those a few times). Cinquains are similar to diamantes and also have a very set form where kids can fill in words, so they can also be a good choice. Concrete poems, the ones that form a shape, can also be excellent and there are lots of good books of concrete poetry to share with kids. And, of course, there are many other forms of poetry and starting points. For us, the whole idea was just to try different things and play around with poetry forms.

Step Three: Choose and Revise

photo 2 (14)After doing two or three days of poetry writing exercises a week for about three weeks, we were left with a nice pile of rough draft poems. I told the kids to choose three or four poems they wanted to revise and polish for their collections. Some of the poems, we decided were fine with very little change. BalletBoy chose a haiku that was lovely just the way it was. Mushroom chose his limerick and we agreed that changing it beyond fixing the spelling and capitalization would ruin the rhyme scheme and the form.

For other choices, we agreed that revision was important. BalletBoy’s acrostic about birds was good, but we agreed to look through the thesaurus for stronger word choices. Mushroom’s set of couplets about a carnival were cool, but we agreed they needed a couple more in order to feel like a full poem and make it clear that it was about the whole carnival. He added a couplet about another ride and one about the carnival food: “Have a hot dog and funnel cake / Or try a burger and cheap steak.” We spent a couple of days working on revising all of the poems, then fixing spelling as the kids and I typed them up.

Step Four: Publish and Share

photo 1 (14)

Once they were typed up, I let them put each poem on a separate page and choose its font and formatting and add images. BalletBoy made his whole collection this way, except for his found poem, which was already made up of clipped magazine words and phrases. Mushroom left room to draw illustrations on one of his pages. They each made a cover and we stapled the poems together. Of course, you could make a little book or put them in a nice folder. We’ve done things like that for many other writing projects, but this time, after all the work on the writing, we kept it pretty simple.

Finally, the boys both proudly read their poems to the Husband, who thought they were pretty cool. Overall, this project came out much better than I could have wished. I don’t think either of my boys are “natural” poets, whatever that means. However, this was a fun way to play with words and think about language and strong words and phrases, as well as creative rhymes.

Writing Projects: Thumbprint Biographies

Most readers of this blog will know that I’m a Brave Writer fanatic. While we do use some other resources, it’s been the heart of our writing approach for a little while now. We especially loved doing the projects in Partnership Writing from Brave Writer. This has been one of our favorite Brave Writer products and I highly recommend it as a way in for families who want to try some of the elements of Brave Writer. It’s a short curriculum that explains the Brave Writer philosophy and the partnership stage of writing then gives a year worth of monthlong writing projects to do. Doing one writing project a month is part of the Brave Writer philosophy so this outlines ten projects.

Writing stages are also a big part of the Brave Writer concept. Instead of expecting kids to be at a certain place at a certain age, the idea is that kids progress through these stages at their own pace, though typically kids Mushroom and BalletBoy’s age – 10 years old – are at the partnership stage. During the partnership stage, kids are able to write some but still need a lot of handholding to get things done. For us, this often looks like kids writing a rough draft by themselves but then I type it up and take oral narration for revisions. Or sometimes we begin with lots of structure from me to get them going and they do their own revisions and changes.

All this is great and I’ve blogged about some of our Partnership Writing projects previously, such as secret codes or personal timelines. But, alas and alack! We ran out of projects! But no big deal. I just made my own. Sometimes something comes up organically in schooling such as a contest or a way to tie writing in with another subject, but we really enjoyed having preplanned projects for writing that were their own thing so I wanted to continue that with more writing projects, which meant picking out interesting things to do. They have mostly gone really well so I thought I’d share what we did. I have two more of these posts coming up. So if anyone else is wanting more fun writing projects, these worked well for us. First up was an art and writing project that was on the short side.

photo 1 (13)

The Thumbprint Biography

This idea is exactly what it sounds like. You create a biography or a short personal narrative that you then write into the shape of the lines on your thumbprint, creating a piece of art and writing that is as unique as you. The finished products can be embellished with more art or just left bare.

I found this project by poking around online so if you do an image search, you can find more project examples to use for inspiration. I thought this was so fun that I got in on it and did one as well, which helped me understand how it would work. It’s sometimes tricky to force ourselves to write alongside our kids (and I readily admit I need to be better about doing this). However, it’s so rewarding for us and for them to see us writing and working alongside them.

We started by writing a rough draft about ourselves. I asked the kids what makes you you? What makes you unique? What are your favorite things and the things that are most important to you? That was one day’s writing assignment. On a separate day, we spent our writing time revising and editing the writings. Since it was such a personal writing, we did less revision than we often do. I asked the kids to add a few things or whether they wanted to move things around. BalletBoy is getting better at editing so we edited his together. For Mushroom, I picked two things for him to focus on with editing and had him find and correct them then I fixed the rest. Then I typed up a final draft for them.

For the thumbprint, we played around with a few things, but what worked the best was using our iPads to take a photo and then write on top of it. Any tablet with a good art program or pdf editor should work. However, if you’re tabletless and want to try this, you could do the thumbprint in a light ink and use a photocopier to enlarge it and then mark on top of it in marker where the lines are. Or you could try manipulating a photo of the thumbprint on the computer and printing it out then marking on top of it. I think marking heavy lines on top of the print is probably essential so that you can see through the top paper to write your biography.

Writing up the biographies and decorating them took a third and final day’s writing time. We were pretty pleased with the products and the kids were proud of them.

photo 2 (13)

Here are all the steps spelled out:

  1. Write your biography of what makes you unique. It doesn’t need to be long. Maybe just a page. Polish it by revising and editing it. If it will be easier to copy from a typed copy, then type it up and print it off.
  2. Make thumbprints with an ink pad onto paper. If you don’t have an ink pad, a washable marker colored onto a thumb and quickly pressed can work as well.
  3. Choose the thumbprint that looks the best and take a good digital photo of it.
  4. Crop the photo as needed then paste it into a drawing or pdf markup program so that it takes up a full page. We used Notability.
  5. Use a stylus or your finger to trace the contours of your thumbprint on top of the photo. Use a thick black line. Don’t worry about getting every single line – that would be impossible. You just want to get the gist of it.
  6. Remove the photo from the page so you’re only left with the traced lines.
  7. Print the thumbprint out.
  8. Place the printed thumbprint lines underneath a clean sheet of paper. You may want to use tape or a clip to hold the papers together in place.
  9. Copy the biography onto the clean paper, following the lines you can see underneath. You can choose to use different pen colors or write in different styles or just to use your own handwriting. Sometimes it’s hard to follow the lines exactly, but don’t worry. It will still look like a thumbprint in the end.
  10. Voila! You may have to add extra text or abbreviate your text slightly. You can add decoration. Mushroom’s thumbprint, shown with the thumbprint lines he created and followed, has a rainbow of colors behind it.

Homophones with Brave Writer

I know I said I’d stop posting every project we did with Brave Writer’s Partnership Writing, but they all just turn out so darn pretty.  It’s hard not to.

photo 4 (1)

Gene Barretta; Illustrated by the author Dear DeerWe just finished this month’s project, which was creating a book about homophones.  They wrote sentences and drew pictures to show different homophones.  This dovetailed well with All About Spelling, since Mushroom is still stuck at the end of Level 3, learning about homophones and BalletBoy’s Level 4 also highlights homophones in many of the steps.  I let the kids mostly draw from their All About Spelling lists for these.  We also read some very cute books with homophones, such as the classics Amelia Bedelia and The King Who Rained.  I know these are usually read by younger children, but the jokes were much funnier now to my kids than they ever were when they were younger.  The best homophones book we looked at was Dear Deer by Joe Baretta, which featured an amusing set of animal themed homophones on every page.  Again, it was clearly meant for young kids, but both boys thought it was funny, especially since they were planning their own silly homophone illustrations.

Book Binding and StitchingWe made our own books for this project as well.  I have some experience with making books, so we made up our own way, however, this set of instructions from Artists Helping Children is pretty similar to what we did and they have some other great book projects.  I have learned from years of book making with kids that cardboard often makes for a far too thick book (not to mention it’s harder to work with), so we used lightweight cardboard (specifically an old department store shirt box) instead for the cover.  It comes out more like a paperback that way.  If you’re interested in making books with kids and the above isn’t enough, Making Books that Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop-Up, Twist, and Turn by Gwen Diehn is by far my favorite.  Also, this website is also really sweet and fun.

photo 3 (4)

The results were really polished looking.  Overall, this was a pretty painless project and relatively quick.  With just a few pointers and direction, they actually did the finding homophones and then the writing for this one mostly on their own, plus the design for the pages totally on their own.  I did go over the sentences they wrote and corrected spelling, but otherwise, I left them alone.  They chose to write simple sentences, but that was fine.  There was a lot less partnership in this project.  I’m not sure if that’s them maturing as writing or the ease of the project (mostly the latter, I suspect), but it was really neat to see what they made.  I especially loved seeing Mushroom’s art for it, which was really well done and showed a great sense of space and perspective.

photo 2 (4)

More Secret Codes

Okay, I promise, my last gushing review of Brave Writer’s new Partnership Writing, but we really did have such fun doing the first project about secret codes.

I checked out several secret code books from the library.  For the most part, they were all the same, just from different eras and with slight variations.  We found Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing by Paul B. Janeczko to be the most useful.  I liked that there were anecdotes from history about secret codes, several of which we read aloud.  We also found some good extensions for the project in here for once we finished all the suggested avenues in Partnership Writing.

We did two that I thought were worth sharing.  First, I left the kids a message in cipher for them to find in the morning, along with several clues on how to solve it.  It told them where to find special strawberry muffins.  Since this was basically a cryptoquote, I left the book open to a page with this information about the most common letters, short words, double letters and so forth in English.  It took them a long time, but they did decipher it.  I was really proud of their persistence.  And while it was a tough activity and not for every kid at this stage of writing, I thought it involved a lot of good language thinking.  Enough that we might try it again with another baked good and a new hiding place at some point.

secretcodes3

Next, after doing a book cipher that was suggested in Partnership Writing, we took it to another level by writing the plain text ourselves.  Mushroom and BalletBoy each came up with a message to hide in a letter.  They wrote the letters and scattered the words for the secret message inside them.  I helped them edit for spelling, then we typed them up.  Then, they carefully cut out a special key for reading the letter.  When you lay the key on top of the letter, it reveals the secret message with carefully cut out holes.

secretcodes

To create the key, I printed two copies of the letter in a nice, large type.  The first one was set aside.  The second one was taped to a sheet of blank paper that would become the key.  We used an x-acto knife to cut out the words of the message from the letter.  When we separated the letter copy from the blank paper, the blank paper became the key and the cut up letter went to the recycle bin.

secretcodes2

We never do anything quite the way it’s proscribed, so we didn’t follow the routine in Partnership Writing to the letter.  However, we had a blast.  We’ll take a week or so off and just continue our routine of dictations, poetry teas, narrations, and reading then dive into the next project.

Secret Codes

Some of you probably know that a new Brave Writer product just came out called Partnership Writing.  We got it and dove right in.  It’s on sale until the end of June, at which point the price goes up a bit, so if you’re considering it, then I say go ahead.

It’s intended for kids age 9-10, but I found that my still 8 year-olds are the perfect stage for the projects.  The first half of the book covers some familiar ground to anyone who has already read The Writer’s Jungle.  It explains narrations, poetry teas, movie times and other Brave Writer lifestyle ideas.  The second half lays out ten writing projects.  Some of them involve very light writing, like this first one, but others are more involved.  All of them are creative and fun.

We had just finished a letter writing project, so we were ready for something new and started up on the secret codes project right away and have done several activities with it.  This also allowed us to pull out a fun resource we hadn’t used in a long time: Secret Code cards from Usborne.  These are really fun and have dozens of different types of secret codes for kids to decipher that range from easy to very difficult.

coding
BalletBoy writes a treasure hunt in secret code.

So far, our favorite part of the secret codes project has been making a treasure hunt in a cipher.  Here’s one of those activities that’s made for twins, as BalletBoy and Mushroom made hunts for each other.  Clue treasure hunts have been a learning staple of our household for a long time.  When the boys were small, we used them as a way to practice reading, then as they got older and could write them, we used them as a way of practicing writing.  We moved from reading clues like, “tub” and “hat” to clues like “look inside the coldest place in the house.”  Doing a hunt in a secret code was a new twist though.

Mushroom decodes the treasure hunt.
Mushroom decodes the treasure hunt.

We’re looking forward to tackling the rest of these projects as well.  Earlier in the year, I had said the writing project was the Brave Writer piece that was the most uneven for us.  We got much better about it by using opportunities like letter writing, local essay contests, and stories the kids have started as our projects, but I’m glad to have a set of easy, fun projects for us to do.