National Poetry Month

Every April, I highlight National Poetry Month and encourage teachers to take full advantage of all of the amazing resources available to you on the Academy of American Poets website,   Caution! You can get lost in the good stuff on this site :0)

Of special interest to teachers, check this out: is also on youtube and twitter. A twitter feature I especially like is the April highlight called Teach this Poem. If you twitter, you can link to a poem and add YOUR great ideas for teaching.

Poetry lives in and emerges from our souls. To me, every month is poetry month, as it is my favorite genre. Each April I am grateful that encourages everyone to celebrate how poetry touches and enriches our lives.

I hope you will visit and explore this wonderful site!

Brown Girl Dreaming…


..catching up on some blog entries….

Brown Girl Dreaming, the award-winning novel by Jacqueline Woodson, is so many things to me. As a teacher, I see the countless possibilities for deep discussion, thoughtspots for writing, endless possibilities for visual and emotional expression. As a writer, I am invited into the genre of memoir in powerful ways.

I had recently purchased BGD when I was coincidentally asked to visit an Encountering Cultures class at the college, to share my thoughts on keeping writer’s notebooks. I’ve been writing snippets for several years about my two grandmothers; BGD quenched my thirst to continue my memoir piece on my grandmothers. I shared snippets of my memoir with the Encountering Cultures class and invited them to choose a powerful place in BGD and write. They did; their sharings were amazing. BGD is memoir at its best.

I assigned BGD to my preservice literacy students last semester. They met in book club groups to share the novel. They brought responses to their groups—an open-ended assignment for which I encouraged their imaginations to soar.

While you cannot enjoy their descriptions (so compelling) of their responses, you can view them below. Without question, they were as captivated by this wonderful novel as I.


Brown Girl Dreaming Animoto

No Words? No Problem!


Wordless picture books, believe me, are for ALL ages! In class, the preservice teachers shared wordless picture pictures in small groups. While it would seem a picture book without words would target early childhood or elementary, my students saw (and suggested!) the possibilities for middle grades and high school students. Here’s a short list of their thoughts:

Reading comprehension:

-Even without words, students sequence a story line…Great way to develop what is often referred to as a Story Mountain, where the plot is developed from problem through climax to solution…Inferencing possibilities-no limit!…the strategy of Synthesis!…Summary!…Monitoring Comprehension!  We worked all semester with Ellin Oliver Keene’s Mosaic of Thought, 2nd ED Unknown where seven reading comprehension strategies are presented. I like to save the Wordless Picture Books day for the end of the semester, after students have worked separately with each of the seven strategies (monitoring comprehension, activating schema, inference, questioning, visualizing, determining importance, synthesizing), so they see how each strategy is at work in comprehending the story line of a book with no words.


-Students could work together to sketch out a story sequence…to sketch a character map…to add words to each page…the possibilities are endless–

What I enjoy best about this day in class is the conversations in the small groups. The swapping of thoughts, the AHA moments, the laughter, the questioning…IF you teach middle or high school, wordless picture books are a wonderful resource!

138070 images images-1 images-2 images-3 images-4 images-4 images-6 images-7images-2images-1


…if you needed a reason to need poetry…..

I admit my bias–that I seem to read and write poetry more than any other genre–BUT, having admitted such, I also find that poetry is the least-liked, least-read genre by my college students. If kids are exposed to the joys, without the dissections, of poetic pieces, to the extent they are exposed to other genres…maybe this would change. Anyway…another really good one from Edutopia!

5 Reasons we need POETRY in schools…

The importance of Memoir–capturing memories through writing

“A memoir,” says Gore Vidal, “is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked. In a memoir it isn’t the end of the world if your memory tricks you and your dates are off by a week or a month as long as you honestly try to tell the truth” (Palimpsest: A Memoir, 1995).

I like to use this Vidal quote as I try to explain the critical concept of “voice” in memoir to my students. I, of course, use examples, from picture books (that “show”in 30 pages or less, fine examples of memoir writing), to excerpts from other sources.

I also like to clarify the differences between memoir and autobiography through providing some take of the following scenario: You and your sister are having coffee in a cafe and in walks a lady who has a striking resemblance to your late Aunt Sara. You then begin to recall childhood memories of Aunt Sara, and you land upon one specific memory that involved a childhood prank. You and your sister disagree on how it went down. You say this way…she says Oh No–it happened like this…in the end, the argued-over-details remain less significant than your shared recollections of the fun you had in pulling it off, and the good-natured, laugh-at-herself-spirit of Aunt Sara. Memoir is like that. You flavor your life experiences with voice—how you remember, how you felt at the time, as Vidal says, is independent  perhaps from actual dates and facts—but that your narration rings an honest truth is paramount.

Here are just some memoir resources that I use with my students:

When I was little: A four-year old’s memoir of her youth-Jamie Lee Curtis

Memoirs of a goldfish–David Scillian, Tim Bowers;

Through my eyes–Ruby Bridges

The Wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain–Peter Sis

When I was young in the mountains–Cynthia Rylant; The relatives came–Cynthia Rylant

The year of the perfect Christmas Tree–Gloria Houston; My Great-Aunt Arizona–Gloria Houston

These  (and more) by Paricia Polacco: My rotten redheaded older brother; The keeping quilt; Thank you Mr. Falker; The lightning jar; Thunder cake

Tar beach–Faith Ringgold

Marshfield dreams–Ralph Fletcher

The moon and I–Betsy Byars

Too many tamales–Gary Soto

My life in dog years–Gary paulsen

Dakota dugout–Ann Turner

Little by little–Jean Little

Owl moon–Jane Yolen

The raft–Jim LaMarche

The house on mango street–Sandra Cisneros

Sitti’s secrets–Naomi Shihab Nye

Looking back: A book of memories–Lois Lowry

Farewell to Manzanar–Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Woodsong–Gary Paulsen

…and wonderful teaching texts

—Crafting a life: Teaching memoir–Catherine Bomer

—-Old friend from far Away–Natalie Goldberg, a book my son gifted me with that has been a great personal resource for my own writing. Goldberg is a “goldmine” for memoir writing–she has many books, all inspirational

So many wonderful mentor texts within which to immerse students so they capture the many possibilities for memoir writing.