Deconstructing Poetry

Slice #17

My 6th graders have been working on a poetry unit. They are reading and writing a variety of poems. I tried a new strategy today to get them to focus on word choice and the importance of it in poetry. I learned this technique at a CPS PD a couple of weeks ago. I really didn’t think much of strategy when I first heard about it, but I thought I would give it a try today. Wow! I was very impressed by the power of this activity. The gist is to gather all the words and list them in alphabetical order–just the words. I didn’t tell the kids it was a deconstructed poem. The title of the poem is Foul Shot by Hoey. Below is the word list. (not totally in alphabetical order but close enough).

A and and and and and against along ball ball ball balances begs before breathes boy by center calms clock crouches coy drums dives down every eyes feet floor fingertips face gently hanging hand his his hesitates in it it line left lands leans measures net nudges on on on out out plays raises right right Roar-up scoreboard seconds solemn squeezed silence Seeks soothes stillness stretching stuck slides screams the the the the the the the the then then then then two two through through upward up uniform until unsounding wavers with with with with waiting Waits wobbles

I asked the kiddos to read the list and put a circle around any words that were unfamiliar to them. Then the students reread the list and chose a word that they thought was the most important one. You have to steer them away from the, and, at, in… or words that are used more than once. The point is to get them to choose a word from the list and prove why it is important. For example one of my students chose scoreboard. She said that word was the most important one because of the words ball, fingertips, net, and screams.
“All those words show a ball game because people are screaming in the stands and watching the ball leave the boys fingertips and go into the net.” Remember this is all before she knows it is a poem.
Another student said solemn was the most important word because of the words hesitates, calm, silence, seeks, soothes, stillness, and clock.
“Maybe it is during the part of the game where everyone is waiting for something important to happen.” (brilliant)
The next literary term we focused on was tone. They reread the words again and I asked them to identify the author’s tone.
Then I gave them the poem. When they read it, they had a better understanding of the meaning because of the simple act of analyzing just the words ahead of time. I highly recommend you give this a try in your classrooms.

soul punched

Slice #15

Soul Punched

Arise and
encircle me.
Pull me in tighter
And tighter.
Trying to regain balance
but soul punched.
Lurch and lunge
Pull me back in
and negotiate.
soul punched
Submerged and gasping
Trying to regain balance
but soul punched.
Arise and relent
encircle my quivering soul.


Slice #14

My sixth graders worked on creating vocabulary acrostics today. They are reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. I printed a list of vocabulary words they should know and gave them a blank template. For each letter of the vocabulary word the students wrote a word or phrase that he/she associates with the word and if possible relate it back to the book. The kiddos wrote some pretty creative stuff. I was very impressed. Then I thought that I would try one myself, so I wrote one for the Slice today. Enjoy. 😉

S–Scribe your existence
L–Life happens daily
I–Imagine yourself as a writer
C–Comments will propel you and
E–Energize your skills


Slice #11

He lined us along the railing.
“Which one of you is the liar?” he accused.
We glance at each other momentarily.
“Who is the liar here?” he demanded, but no one spoke.
I looked straight up from my post to the vaulted ceiling.
He leaned over the railing and his argyle tie dangled from his neck.
“You know who you are,” he said broadening his knowing smile.
I gripped the railing in an effort to reduce my vertigo.
“You can try to be someone else, but you’re so transparent, it’s so obvious,” he threw his head back to accentuate the word obvious.
He descended down the spiral staircase and stopped next to me and whispered in my ear.
“You can’t hide it. We all know the real you.”
The girl on the opposite side of the staircase nervously giggled. He stopped next to her and she froze.
“Are you the liar?” he asked her.
I watched as he scuffed down the stairs.
“Everyone knows you can’t hide the real you,” he said to all of us as he jogged to the bottom of the stairwell.
He stopped and look up at all of us staring down at him.
“You can’t hide. Everyone can see right through you. It’s so obvious.”

Laramie Mere


Nulla dies sine linea (No day without a line)

Well, I now have racked up 2 days without a line…ugh. Life got in the way, but all is not lost–here is #9.

Mere: A lake that is broad in relation to its depth.

Piled snow banks line Laramie Avenue. It has been weeks without a day over thirty degrees and I don’t remember what the warm sun feels like on my skin. But Friday was different, we reached forty! The sun finally broke free wringing out the tight clumps of snow. Gray, murky water trickled out forming mini lakes on the sidewalk.

I left work early to meet my husband at his downtown office. Since it was such a beautiful day I decided to walk the eleven blocks to the L-train. Looking down I realized that I did not make the right shoe choice–caramel suede boots. Cute–but totally wrong. I spent the first half of my walk side-stepping, jumping over, and tiptoeing through the puddles. I wasn’t even enjoying the warmth of the sun anymore because I was too busy avoiding the meres of Laramie.

One puddle was just too wide and I had to take to the street. Since it was early afternoon the street was empty. Pausing for a moment I thought I heard something like a whimper. I looked around and saw no one. Head down I continued walking. Then I heard something for sure. I scanned the street. There lying on a snow bank was an elderly woman.

“Please lady, help me,” she pleaded. For a split second I turned to walk away. I’m not sure why. Did I not believe what I saw? Did I think it was a joke? Did I not have time to help?
“Are you okay?” I yelled from across the street.
“Please, help me.”
I ran across the street asking her again, “Are you okay?”
“Ice, ice under water,” she said in a heavy accent. “Speak Polish, lady?”
“Are you okay?” I said yet again. Why I kept repeating this I have no clue. “Let me pull you up.” I tugged and tugged but she kept slipping back onto the snow bank. She was so frail I was afraid to keep pulling her arm. “Can you hold me and pull yourself up?” I thought that would be better for her. No luck.

A van passed and slowed down. A young guy wearing a navy blue hoodie jumped out and grabbed the woman by the arm and lifted her up in one swoop. She was on her feet. Without one word the young man jumped back in his van and drove away.

“Tank you, tank you.” she said and sweetly kissed my hand. “I go Belmont now.” She pointed in my opposite direction.
“Don’t thank me, who was that blue hooded guy anyway? Are you going to be okay?”
“Tak, Tak.” Nodding her head she walked away.

Looking down, I was standing ankle deep in gray slush. Ha! Oh well. Crossing back over Laramie, sun warming my face, I walked with my head up all the way to the train station.

Dishing the Dirt


She plops down on the stool, iPhone in hand and ear buds in place. “Is he here?” Pandora blurts (name changed to protect the innocent–hehehe).

“Is who here?” I say still staring at my computer and typing away. Then I turn her way and float a smile to her.

“Mrs. Aguilar don’t play like. You know exactly who I’m talking about.” Dropping her head to blush.

“Don’t you say hello first?”

iPhone and ear buds still in place she gives me a side hug and says, “Of course.”

Ever since the freakishly strong grip of winter has had us all by the throat, a group of gregarious middle schoolers spend mornings with me. Well, not really WITH me. I’ve been teaching middle school long enough to know that it is not me they are coming to see; they are coming to dish the dirt. I just happen to have a warm place to do it in, but I actually like having them around in the morning. At least they are safe and warm.

“Do you think he will be here today.” Pandora says sweetly as she slides her thumb across the screen.

“I guess so.” I say looking at my screen.

“Mrs. Aguuuuuilaaaaar,” she whines.


“Don’t you think he is cute?” She smiles and looks up at the ceiling.

“Not really,” I say deadpan.

“Ugh.” Rolling her eyes at me she continues to glide her thumb across the phone.

Then HE walks in. Horn rimmed glasses, backpack full to the gills, Chicago Bulls skull cap strategically placed so the yarn ball on top bounces to the beat of his walk. “Hey, Mrs. A,” he says with a nod in my direction. Throwing his backpack to the floor, and yanking his chair from under the desk he sits. He pulls a well worn sketchbook from his pack and a book on how to draw dragons. He finds a pencil and begins to draw.

Meanwhile Pandora is swooning. Her cheeks softly blush and she smiles at me.

“What?” I say.

“Mrs. Aguuuuuuuuuilaaaaar!” she whines.

Beast Poetry


Ok Slicers–you must try erasure poetry. Using inspiration from Dana Murphy’s poem, I created an erasure poem from Bohemian San Franciso This was really fun and really fast. It’s beast (as my middle school students would say).

Passing through
the curtained room in the parlor
a rush of patrons
form thin slices of peculiar.
Experienced ones,
who always pass over modern
unenlightened ones,
follow a sweet tip
and made him as happy as a present.

I know an art teacher who uses old beat up novels–usually classic literature and tears out the pages. She then gives each student a page and a Sharpie marker. They black out words to create a similar effect. She also shows them how to create designs with the Sharpie so that the page is not only a new poem but a work of art. I have also seen this on Pinterest. A great activity for a Friday afternoon.

Veterinarian Almanac


“I’m the keeper of the light around here.”

Pausing for a moment, I lifted my pen and head, “Huh?” The dog started whimpering and impatiently pulling his way to the exit.

“The light, it’s not going to get dark until 5:44 today and then 5:45 tomorrow. I like to sit at my desk and time the light as it goes away.” She turned toward her computer. “It’s eighteen dollars and fifty cents.” She ripped the credit card receipt from the register, held it to the counter and handed me the pen. “Winter’s almost over.”

“Oh.” I scribbled my name on the receipt and handed it back to Monica, the vet’s assistant. “I’ll be happy if the temperature is ten degrees warmer, but I do like the sunshine today.” The dog began dancing around my legs positioning himself to bolt out the door. I patted his head.

“Yeah, the longer the days get the warmer we will be.” she said. The dog’s mouth is wide and panting. “This weekend it will stay light until 6:55”

“Oh yeah, daylight savings time. I heard it will be in the forties next week.” The dog’s nose is pressed against the glass door spreading a smear of slime.

“Of course it will be warmer next week because it will be light out until 6:55. The sun will be out longer next week.” Monica said as she leaned over the counter to pat Wiley’s head. “Poor baby, he’s shaking.”

I stared blankly at her for a moment that felt way too long. “But we are only changing the clock–” Wiley couldn’t take it anymore. He jumped at the glass door and barked wildly. Monica and I turned to look at him.

“Poor baby,” she said.

“I guess it is time for us to go.” Pushing the door open, Wiley and I stepped out into the light and waved at Monica.

I glanced at my phone 4:44. One hour of light left. I smiled to myself.

The Nest

Slice #3

The nest is half empty.

During second block I noticed my phone flashing. Still teaching, I walk toward my desk. Everyone knows I don’t answer the phone during school. I glance at the familiar picture that popped up. Cary, our oldest, is calling. My heart sank. He above all knows I can’t answer the phone. Still teaching, I begin to wonder if all is okay. He and his wife live 500 ridiculous miles away. Too far.

Still teaching, “Who comes to visit Psyche in the night?” One hand slowly rises. Yes, my go to guy has the answer! I can move the class closer to a writing assignment.

“Great, Eros. Take out your notebooks and explain why Psyche must know what Eros looks like. What are some of the emotions she’s feeing?” The rustling of binders, zipping pencil cases, and soft chatter rises.

He left a text message: call when you get a chance. Ugh…can’t, still teaching.

At lunch I call. They are pregnant! Whew.

One nest filling up.