River of Words – Great Teacher’s Guide for Writing Poetry

River of Words – Great Teacher’s Guide for Writing Poetry

Here is a way to find a free download of a remarkable Teaching Guide to go with Milkweed Edition’s book, River of Words. The Teaching Guide (75 pages long!) will help kids write great poetry (especially poems about nature).

To find the free guide: go to the website of Milkweed Editions, then look for a link to their Teachers and Educators page (in left-hand column), then find the book River of Words, or click here to go right to that page . . .

On that book’s page, you’ll find a blue highlighted text link: “Download teaching guide.” It’s quite amazing, beautifully designed and written.

A free PDF download. Download it! (And teachers and librarians, order the River of Words book. Hardcover for $30, only $18 in paperback, 298 pages, full of nature-based poems written by students ages 9–13.)

Here’s a little excerpt (just the start of it, download the free River of Words Teaching Guide for the rest) of a brilliant writing exercise (from page 10) to think about writing poems about unusual lists of things:

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (available translations include those by Meredith McKinney, Ivan Morris, and Arthur Waley)
• transparencies of a few illustrative passages from Pillow Book
• sample student poems (Handout 1)
• field guides and other resources that help identify and provide specific names for things in the natural world
• index cards

Kept in a drawer of her wooden pillow, the poetic diary of Sei Shonagon describes people and scenes of nature recorded during her years as lady-in-waiting in the eleventh-century Japanese Imperial court. To begin this exercise, read several entry titles from Pillow Book and a few entries that exemplify keen observation and use of specific names of things.

Suggested entries include “Splendid Things,” “Depressing Things,” “Elegant Things,” and “Squalid Things.”

In their writing notebooks, ask students to jot down some of Shonagon’s titles, such as elegant things, annoying things, depressing things, birds, herbs and shrubs, things that give an unclean feeling, adorable things, things that fall from the sky, things that should be short, wind instruments, things worth seeing, things that one should hurry to see or hear, things that gain by being painted, things that lose by being painted, festivals.

There’s more to that lesson, with tips on how to write a List Poem. (A List Poem is just that: a poetic list!)

There are other great poetry writing exercises in that free guide! Highly recommended. The lesssons were developed by two Louisiana teachers, Connie MacDonald and Harriet Maher. Check it out.

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