Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lesson Plan: Teaching Poetry with I Spy

I'm teaching a class right now on poetry, and found a great source for teaching a bunch of poetry concepts at once--those popular preschooler I Spy books by Jean Marzollo.   When I first brought them out, at least one of my students pronounced they were "boring"--as they could be for students way beyond the target audience.  But trying to create one of those collage/poems yourself is surprisingly complex.

First, there are the poems themselves.  They actually involve a number of poetic conventions, including:
1.  Since each two lines rhyme (that is, AABB rhyming pattern), they are examples of couplets (you know, those things that SHAKESPEARE was so fond of?)
2.  Marzollo's lines also follow a specific meter--what is technically called "dactrylic tetrameter."  It is a line that contains four phrases of three syllables with one beat or accent in each (example:  I spy a BEA-tle, a BA-gle, a BUN...see the four phrases of ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE (with pause for two three), just like a waltz?).
3.  Marzollo's rhymes also usually feature a good deal of alliteration, like my version above (of course, her rhymes are superior to the one I made up as an illustration).

So there is a more going on there with the poems than one might think.  But then try combining it with constructing a collage to match!  That is where things get really interesting.  When you do that, you are drawing from both your left brain (which is trying to remember all the rules) and your right brain (which is trying to construct an attractive and yet complex visual picture that will hide the items named in the poem).  It is also drawing on the language/word, rhythym/music, and visual/art functions of the brain--again, at the same time.  Marzollo advises writing the poem alongside the picture, because otherwise you may end up with a great collage of things that don't rhyme or alliterate, or else you may get a collage where the items in the poem are too dominant or obvious.

So they may seem like simple preschooler books...but like I said, try doing one yourself.  You'll end up with a much greater appreciation of how hard it is to create something that has so many different brain activities going on simultaneously--and I'm usually pretty good at multi-tasking and left brain/right brain coordination!  But it is also a lot of fun, and quite an impressive take-home item if you can pull it off successfully

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