Concrete Poems and Shape Poetry

 

I am always surprised how much my students like poetry and even more amazed at the poetry they create during our poetry unit. We start the poetry writing process slowly with an adjective review. The students made a list of adjectives that describe the sneakers on their feet and then wrote simple “adjective” poems using a frame I provide to get warmed up. The poem frame has a fill-in-the-blank structure where students add five adjectives from their sneaker description list. (Grab an adjective brainstorming page on THIS POST.)

adjective poems

Everyone can complete the poem without fear of having to rhyme words or create some great metaphor. After completing the sneaker poem, the students choose another topic like dogs, pie, or books and write a new adjective poem that uses the same structure. This year, we took the completed adjective poems and created concrete or shape poems.

shoe concrete poem

How to Make a Concrete Poem

We searched for black and white clipart in Google images that matched the poem’s topic. The kids pasted the clipart image into a Word document and enlarged the blackline image to fill an 8 1/2″ x 11″ page. We printed the image and lightly traced the main lines with pencil on a blank piece of copy paper. Using black pens, the students wrote their poem over the traced pencil lines. Students left the paper with the clipart image under the paper with the concrete poem while writing to serve as a guideline.

concrete poem and clipart

concrete poems tracing the design

In most cases, the students needed to write their concrete poem multiple times to fill the shape outline. They also added a few details to complete the effect. The finished product elevated the simple poems into something much more sophisticated.

dog concrete poem

pie concrete poem

More ideas for student poetry are available in my poetry unit. Purchase the poetry unit by CLICKING HERE.

concrete poems shape poems student poetry

Writing in a Straight Line on Unlined Paper

writing in straight lines on unlined paper

At various times during the year, my students write letters using unlined school stationery. Sometimes we type the letters and run the stationery through the printer for a totally professional product, but sometimes the letters need to be handwritten for a more personal touch. When students try to handwrite lines of text on an unlined piece of paper, the words start to move down the page (or up– or become a random zig zag pattern). By the third line of text, there is no attempt at straight lines any more, and the students are just trying to get all words onto the page before they run out of space.

straight lines paper

I have a simple solution. In order to keep the words straight on the page, I use a trick I learned from the woman who helped me with my wedding invitations. Trace all of the lines on one piece of wide ruled notebook paper with a semi-heavy black marker.

straight lines paper copiesPhotocopy as many pages as you need. When students need to write straight lines on blank paper, place the photocopied lined paper underneath the unlined paper. As you press down to write, the lines are visible, so you have guidelines to keep your writing straight. My students have multiple opportunities to write on unlined paper throughout the year, so I keep the photocopied line pages and reuse them. We have an ongoing Author Letter Project, we write thank you notes to chaperones and hosts after field trips, and we have a project where students create their own letterhead and exchange personal letters with other classes in the school.

straight lines on letterhead

If addressing envelopes, cover the lines on a notecard with black pen and slide the notecard inside the envelope to create guidelines for writing an address neatly and evenly.

straight lines notecard

Sometimes, the envelope paper is thin enough that you do not need to make the notecard lines darker in order to see them through the front of the envelope. Hopefully, you can faintly see the notecard lines in the center of the envelope in the picture below.

straight lines addressing an envelopeThis is one of my favorite teacher hacks that really improve the look of a finished writing assignment without creating too much work for me. And, this tip is not just for students. It is a great trick for anyone needing to write on unlined paper.

Tricky Titles

title notecard

Distinguishing titles is a tricky punctuation kind of thing for students. After reviewing the rules for capitalizing titles, I usually give kids a guideline for formatting titles. I don’t know what to do with every type of title, but I have a rule for the major ones we come across in most school situations.

Big things are underlined; little things have quotations marks around them.

Think about a basic chapter book. The name of the whole book will be underlined (a big thing), but the chapter titles within the book will be identified inside quotation marks (a little thing). The name of a newspaper is underlined (big thing), and the name of an article within the newspaper (little thing) is in quotes.

If students can remember this tip, they can usually take a stab at marking titles correctly in their writing. Different English language and editing resources have different guidelines, so the important thing is to be consistent with whatever style you choose to use. For school-aged kids, it is best just to give a “rule” that they will follow while in the classroom. When the students go to high school or college, they can consult a current style guide, which will probably have changed multiple times by then anyway.

Should be Underlined

  • Chapter books (Charlotte’s Web)
  • Name of a poetry anthology or a poem that is the length of a book (Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Odyssey)
  • Newspaper names (New York Times)
  • Plays and movie names (The Lion King)

Should be in Quotes

  • Name of a chapter within a book (“Wilbur”)
  • Picture book (“Brave Bitsy and the Bear”)
  • Poem name (“Fog”)
  • Individual newspaper article (“Light Earthquake Felt in Anchorage”)
  • Song title (“Second Hand News”)

There is one final option. If you are using a computer for your writing assignment– italicize every title. According to most editing sources, titles can be italicized whether it is a big or small document. Word processing eliminates the need to remember the difference between underlining and using quotation marks. Since I am old school, I would still probably have students know the difference between titles… and maybe even handwrite them… in cursive. Do you have a policy for marking titles? Please share.

Click Writing Titles for a copy of the notes for your classroom or refrigerator at home.

Capitalize It!

I am always miffed when I collect a paper, and a student has forgotten to capitalize his or her name. (I also get ticked when students misspell their name, but you can refer to the cursive post for help with that problem.) I recognize that there may be some things that are difficult to know whether or not to capitalize in the 4th grade, but other things are not.

capitalization rules

The students just finished up their research papers about American businesses, and I had to have a capitalization rant with them. There are some capitalization rules that I think we should all live by and use without being reminded. Capitalizing the name of the company and the company founder a person researched for 2 weeks should happen automatically without any outside assistance. And, as I had to remind my students, auto-correct and spell check won’t catch everything!

Capitalize “I” by itself— no questions asked, always and forever.

  • I should capitalize proper nouns.
  • I often forget to capitalize proper nouns.
  • My teacher reviewed capitalization, and I listened carefully.

Words that are related to a country name are capitalized.

  • I am an American.
  • I speak English.
  • I love junky Mexican food (and margaritas) on Friday nights.
  • We used to refer to Native American people as Indians, but now it really means the people who live in India.

ladybug girl poster

In titles, the first word, the last word, and the “important” words in between are capitalized. Deciding if the middle words in a title should be capitalized can be tricky. When in doubt, count the letters in a word. Words in titles that have 4 or more letters will probably be capitalized (this is a guideline only– the trick won’t work for every short word).

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • The New York Times
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

research paper outline

The first word in a sentence is always capitalized. No other words in the middle of the sentence should be capitalized unless they meet the “proper noun” criteria. Proper nouns are the words that name a particular person, place, or organization. Proper nouns name a specific, one-of-a-kind item.

The words “mom” and “dad” may be capitalized in some situations. Students write these words a lot, so they should be familiar with the capitalization policy for their parents. When a person is using “mom” and “dad” like a first name, and the words could be replaced with a first name like Jennifer or Scott, capitalize. If the words are being used to describe a person that is like many other people, do not capitalize.

  • I did my homework, and Mom checked my assignment book.
  • I did my homework, and my mom checked my assignment book.
  • After dinner, Dad played basketball with me.
  • After dinner, my friend’s dad played basketball with us.

Up next… whether or not to underline titles or put them in quotation marks. Is that a problem for anyone else? We had to have a class discussion about that too.

I Believe in Cursive

cursive handwriting

Almost every year, I develop a new learning theory that is not based on research or educational best practices of any kind. It is simply an opinion based on my experiences with students. This year’s theory relates to the deterioration of spelling skills and the de-emphasis of handwriting instruction– cursive handwriting in particular. I partially blame e-mail and texting for the spelling problem, but I think the fact that schools do not demand better penmanship is a larger contributor to the increase in poor spellers I see every year.

I suspect that students spell better when they spend time learning, practicing, and using cursive handwriting in the elementary grades. Cursive connects letters together creating a muscle memory between your hand and brain. Your brain will then remember common letter connections, patterns, and rules and subconsciously guide the hand to order letters correctly more often. Try to spell your own signature with a different letter order. It is difficult to force your hand not to put the letters of your name in the correct order. Your hand is on auto-pilot to write the name correctly. Students can achieve the same success with common words and common spelling patterns if they correctly write them in a connected way on a daily basis.

Here are a few activities I am asking my students to complete this year. They work well at school or at home to reinforce the correct spelling of the words we use most often and the patterns that repeat frequently. If you are looking for a new way to study for that weekly spelling test, have your child practice writing the words in cursive.

cursive handwriting spelling patterns

Make a list of words that a student often misspells. Have the child write the word in his/her best cursive multiple times. Provide a sample to copy, so the letter order and letter formation are correct.

Group words that have similar letter patterns and write the portion of the word that is the same in all words multiple times. For example, if the student has a handful of words in a list that end with the letters le (settle, riddle, struggle), require the student to write the letters le together 5 times or 10 times or 10+ times.

I watch my students’ papers and track the cursive letter connections that are hard to form. M and n are particularly tricky because kids want to add an extra “hump” and don’t see that the hump is actually a connector piece. O is also hard to connect to the next letter because it ends “high.” Letter pairs like os and ol are challenging. Compare the difficult connections with misspelled words and make a list of those letter groups. Practice writing the letter pairs together correctly.

cursive handwriting connections

Always provide a sample with the correctly formed letters. Sometimes, this is the hardest part because my own cursive handwriting is adequate at best. I have tried harder this year because I need my students to be able to use cursive more effortlessly, so I can prove my theory.

I will admit that I completed a mini Google search about handwriting and spelling. There are articles here and there that support my theory (ha, I knew I was right). While I also have my students complete a lot of keyboarding and typed writing assignments, I think there will always be a place for handwritten documents. If you have read any of my letter writing posts, you know how I feel about handwritten thank you notes! Does anyone else have an opinion?

To purchase cursive handwriting practice pages at my TeachersPayTeachers store, CLICK HERE.