“Māra,” by Moira Wairama

During the last week of term, I introduced many of my E.S.O.L. students to “Māra,” a poem published in Issue 52 of the New Zealand Junior Journal, a journal of writing geared towards students working in level 2 of The New Zealand Curriculum. The full journals, with illustrations and audio recordings, are available here at no charge: http://literacyonline.tki.org.nz/Literacy-Online/Planning-for-my-students-needs/Instructional-Series/Junior-Journal.

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A pēpepe I met in the Auckland Domain

 

In a smooth blend of English and Māori, the speaker invites us into her māra (garden) to meet all of the insects she meets there. The (free) audio recording available on the educators’ resource site highlights the poem’s magical, musical quality, capturing students’ attention in a way that simply handing them the poem as a silent reading assignment could not.

Though the poem is a great example of how students can use imagery, rhyme, and meter in their poems, I find one of the most important things this poem does is highlight the bilingualism and biculturalism that is so important to New Zealand. While I am an American citizen teaching English to non-native speakers, I feel a responsiblity to honour and lift up Te Reo wherever feasible in my teaching as well, and to set a norm in my classroom that all languages are equally precious. Of course, though the poem incorporates both languages, I don’t know if it actually tells us anything particular about Māori culture, so I should be on the lookout for more poems that do this. Learning English is never about replacing what one has grown up with but about adding something new. This is a topic for a future post, but does anyone have suggestions of other poems appropriate for young children that incorporate multiple languages fluently? I’d love to start a solid collection. Thank you!

Most of the articles in the journal come with teacher guides, but the poem does not, so I’ve written up some activities and prepared a vocab sheet for pre-teaching the Māori words and some of the Tier 2 English words that non-native English speakers would need support with. I included some questions to prompt a discussion about the concept of being “special” and what it means to consider something or someone special. My sessions with these students are each quite short, so we don’t have the opportunity for full on CoI, but as always, I’d love to hear of your students’ responses – just hit “reply” below! Adjusting for your students’ needs, I would discuss the unfamiliar words first, so that they have context. Then listen to the poem, giving each student a copy of the poem (from the journal) to have in front of them. Then proceed with the discussion and writing activity.

The guide is available here: http://tinyurl.com/maraguide

After a few drafts, I publish the students’ poems on the wall and give them a chance to read their poetry to each other. It gives each student a chance to showcase their own work and be publicly proud, to review what they have done vs. just turning in an assignment and never seeing it again, to recognize their own work as publish-worthy art, and to learn from and about their peers. I’d love to hear your experiences, successes, and challenges of young students writing and sharing their work!

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What colour is “cold”? 

Yesterday I hosted a little poetry lunch with my students. I brought in sandwich makings, and they shared their own writing with each other. Each student was proud to perform their own work, and we gave everyone snaps and commented on parts of the poems that resonated with us or asked about parts that made us wonder. When everyone had read their identity poems that they had written with me, I suggested they head back to the larger group to make sure they had time to play before the next class, but they all chose to stay and read more 🙂 One girl read a poem she wrote inspired by the colour blue, and her classmate wondered why she had included images of snow and ice in the poem. We talked about why that might make sense and how colours are often used to symbolise temperatures and feelings even if they don’t always actually look that way in real life. 

  • Do different types of weather have colours?
  • Can you feel a colour? What does it mean to feel blue? How might that be different than feeling like green or yellow?
  • What makes us associate certain ideas and feelings with certain colours? 
  • Can personalities have colours? 
  • Could you write a poem from the point of view of a colour itself? Try it out 🙂

I have minor synaesthesia,  which for me just causes me to have strong associations between certain numbers, letters, and words and certain colours. If you or your students experience colour connected to other senses too, it can inspire insightful poems and new ways of seeing the world. Fun to get different kids’ perspective on how they experience and conceptualise colour in different ways. 

Do you or your students have some colour poems or questions/muses to share? Pop them in the comments. Thanks and have a beautiful weekend!

Activity: What Makes Us People?

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An elephant painting

This is an activity to introduce thinking about essential and accidental properties of human beings, and what may or may not be important differences among people and between people and other animals.

  1. Get a large sheet of paper to hang on the wall (the giant Post-It stickies work well), or use a white board. (I prefer the giant stickies so they can be posted around the classroom afterwards and stay there to stimulate further musing.)
  2. Have the group generate ideas. Let children call out, or if you have a shyer group, go around the circle so everyone gets a turn.
  3. You may get things like “two eyes,” “can speak,” “can think,” etc., or you may get wildly different responses. Be prepared for anything and do not judge! Write everything down that the children suggest.
  4. After everyone has had a chance to speak, go back to your word cloud and ask of each one: Is this true about all people? And/or are there other animals of which this is true?

In the beginning, it may seem easy to come up with a list of traits that describe a human being, but in the end, it may be more difficult than expected to categorize what is true of all humans and only humans! After this activity, the group may like to continue with a discussion on perspectives and/or animal ethics using one of the poems above.

Activity: The Ships of Theseus

Activity: The Ships of Theseus

As Theseus takes an old ship and changes it piece by piece into something that seems entirely different, we will revitalize an old poem by changing it piece by piece into something fresh. 

1. Read “The Ships of Theseus,” Steve Gehrke and/or my discussion of the ancient philosophical paradox at Metaphysics Poems.

2. Start with an old poem of your own or a favourite poem written by someone else, and practice the art of revision: Change one line at a time, until every line has been altered significantly.

3. Share both poems with the rest of the group, and consider the questions below for discussion:

  • Is it still the same poem? Why or why not?
  • What have you learned by altering your poem?
  • Does it still have the same subject and/or main idea, or does it seem completely different?
  • If there is a significant shift in subject, did you make this change consciously from the beginning, or did it happen organically as the revision process went on?
  • If you began with a poem written by someone else, is the revision your poem, or does it belong to the author of the original poem? Why?

Some question starters I’ve found helpful

Here are some phrases to get you started if you are interested in a particular subject but having trouble coming up with juicy questions to ask. For instance, if we just finished reading Harold and the Purple Crayon, and I wanted to get metaphysical, I might ask “Is it possible to create a new world using just words and pictures?” Of course, any question is then naturally followed up with why/why nothow, or how can we tell? Remember, in order to be a philosophical question, it has to be something that you can’t find the answer to in a book or an encyclopedia. Have fun!"What is reality?" "Is truth relative?"

Metaphysical (about reality)

  • “What is … ?”
  • “What is the difference between _____ and _____?”
  • “Is it possible that/to … ?”
  • “Is there anything bigger/smaller than _____?”
  • “How does ____ work?”
  • “When/where does _____ begin/end?”

Epistemological (about knowledge)

  • “How do we know that …. ?”
  • “Can we know that … ?”
  • “How can we tell if ….?”
  • “What would we know if we knew that ___ ?”
  • “Can everyone know … ?”
  • “How could we learn more about __ ?”

Ethical (about morality, right and wrong)

  • “Is it okay to … ?”
  • “Is _______ ever right?” Or, “Is _____ ever wrong?”
  • “Is _______ always right?” Or, “Is _____ always wrong?”
  • “What are our obligations to _____ ?”
  • “What is the best …?”
  • “What is the best way to …. ?”
  • “Should we … ?” or “Why should we … ?”
  • “Why is ___ a problem?”

Aesthetic (about beauty and taste)

  • “What is the most beautiful ___ ?”
  • “How can we tell if ___ is beautiful?”
  • “Is there a difference between beauty and __ ?”

Metaphysics Activities

“It isn’t really Anywhere!”

This is a companion activity to go along with the philosophical discussion that a community could have around the poem “Halfway Down,” by A. A. Milne. I’ve written up beginning discussion questions at Metaphysics Poems.

  1. Read “Halfway Down” by A. A. Milne.
  2. Do you have a special place where you do your best thinking? What makes it so special to you? Make a list of what is and is not there and what you do there.
  3. Using your list, draw a picture of your special place.
    1. –> **Alternative to #3 for students with extra time and some writing skills of their own: Go spend some time in your special place and do a freewrite. Put your pencil to paper and try to just write and write without letting the pencil stop moving for ten or fifteen minutes. What questions come to your mind in/about this special place? What do you hear/see/smell/taste/feel?
  4. Bring back to the circle to share the image/writing of your special place. Explain what is there and what makes it so special. What colours and images did you use? How did you make those decisions? Do your images represent something else? Can you explain what they mean, particularly if your images are not literal representations? How does this place help you think? Does you usually go there alone or with other people? Why?
    1. Have a “scribe” (another student or a teacher) jot down these ideas, or take notes for yourself if you prefer and are able.
  5. Finally, put these ideas into a poem of your own, inspired by “Halfway Down” and your own special place.

Stir Up A Character Poem!

This activity is meant to stimulate discussion on identity formation and essential vs. accidental properties of a species or individual, as well as give students practice writing a revising character poems. A set of essential properties tells us what it means to be that thing or being. The properties of being “male” and “unmarried” are essential properties of a bachelor. All bachelors are male an unmarried, and if someone is not male or unmarried, they are not a bachelor. In contrast, an accidental property is something that just happens to be true about an individual, but is not necessary. I have brown hair. But sometimes I dye it black, blue, or purple. Since “brown hair” is something that just happens to be true, it is an accidental property of myself. When my hair colour is different, I still identify as the same person. I am still Madeleine. But if I imagine myself with completely different body parts or with different parents, I may or may not feel differently.

  1. Begin with “Stir Up A Character Analysis Recipe” at Education World.
  2. Write a poem about a) yourself, b) someone you know, c) a famous person, or d) a character you’ve made up. Incorporate a collection of qualities that make up this individual. This may include physical characteristics, personality traits, things the person is interested in or has done, and more. Incorporate a variety of different types of pieces of information about the person.
  3. Come back to the group and discuss why each property is necessary.
    1. Could you still be human without two eyes, a nose, and a mouth? Why or why not?
    2. Which of the things mentioned in your poem could change and allow you to still be writing about the same person? Which things would have to stay the same? Can you explain why?
    3. A large part of writing good poetry is learning what must be said in a poem versus what can be implied, what the reader might understand without being explicitly told. Is there anything that your poem tells the reader about your character that could be shown in a different way, or something that is actually just not as important as it seemed during the first draft? Think about this for revisions.
    4. Are choices you make essential to your identity? This will probably be different for different people. For example, I am a vegan, and I feel that that is essential to my identity. There may be some vegans, however, who can imagine themselves as the same person if they were to start eating animals. How do you decide if something if part of who you are or just something about your experience, that could be otherwise?