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Using a Written Conversation with Poetry

Permalink by:Bethany Kelly June 12th, 2009 View Comments

Lots of kids are motivated to do something because their friends are watching. I used this to my advantage during my student teaching by incorporating a strategy I learned from my student teaching advisor, Margo Kernen. She called it a Written Conversation, and it's ├╝ber-useful to get every kid engaged and focussed on the lesson while providing the sort of immediately gratifying feedback students receive while texting. It works especially well with poetry.

Here's a lesson from the beginning:

First, I piqued their interest with an Anticipation Guide (eg., "No one likes a wet dog. Agree or Disagree?") and incorporated some prediction (a journal entry: If you wrote a poem titled "To a Stranger Born in Some Distant Country Hundreds of Years from Now," what message would you send to the future?). After that, I read the Billy Collins poem out loud, and then I asked students to read it silently while jotting down at least three comments on the poem. They could draw arrows to the text or circle sections if it was useful to them.

I ultimately wanted the students to perform a close reading of a poem, but that's a daunting task if you jump into it cold. I felt that the activities mentioned above would help students relate to the poem so that they could compare their experience with the speaker's and read the poem with more confidence.

Now to the Conversation. Using a format like this one, Students would:

  1. Write out an excerpt from the poem.
  2. Explain their thoughts in the box labeled for person #1.
  3. Pass it to a neighbor. Person #2 comments on everything on the page so far (excerpt+person #1). Teacher should verbally encourage students to include new opinions, insight or information.
  4. Pass it on. Person #3 comments on everything so far.
  5. Person #1 gets their paper back. After reviewing the contributions of their classmates, person #1 wraps up the activity by elaborating on their thoughts or justifying their opinion in response to the other students' comments.

Some of my students wouldn't ever complete writing assignments, but the first day I tried this activity, everyone participated. It was awesome. And further, the kids put extra effort into their statements because they were sharing their opinions with friends.


  • Allow 4-5 minutes for each person's comments.
  • If students are grouped in 3s before starting the activity, you will end up with a neat packet for each group that includes a complete set of comments from each student. This will help with grading.
  • I'm considering re-naming the activity to "Paper Blog" and re-labeling the response boxes to Blogger, Commenter #1 and Commenter #2. I think it might make the roles easier to understand.
  • Allow extra time the first time you try this. Some students will assume this is more complicated than it is.
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