Episode III-Ants on the Blacktop Weeds on the Hill

I can see it was a wise decision on my part to split this article into episodes. It’s long. But I had a mission of illustrating different ways a poet-teacher could use going outside to create images. Let’s face it the other reason is I’m a poet by habit and inclination. The least amount of words you can use the better. But I had a mission here and I tend to be a bit passionate about teaching.

Without further ado, here is episode III and yes, gulp, there’s more.

Because students love going outside, I recently added a second day lesson that takes the students outside.  I’ve worked in one school for the past eight years.  I know I will have most students for two years.  In the autumn, I work with all the fourth grades for five sessions.  California autumn weather usually allows me to plan on going outside with no fear of rain pouring down.  For the following lesson, I target listening.  Using nature pictures and sound lists, I’ve used a version of this lesson for students ranging from elementary school to high school.

Since each of my lessons is geared for teaching a poetic tool, in this series I follow metaphor with rhythm in poetry.  I’m a musician so I approach rhythm by reminding students that both poetry and music use rhythm.  Line breaks in poetry act like the silence created by a rest in music.  By fourth grade a lot of students have started instrumental music so someone usually can explain what a rest is.  Besides creating silence, a pause, at the end of each line, line breaks create surprise by keeping the reader guessing what will come next.  I ask them to guess what short or long lines do to the rhythm of the poem.  Since they have a fifty -fifty chance of getting it right, someone always guesses that long lines slow the rhythm and short lines speed it up.  To help show the effectiveness of line breaks, I put two lines from the model poem (before they’ve seen it) on the board leaving out the line breaks.  Then I ask students to volunteer to put in a / where they think the line break should be.  We discuss the merits of the student proposed line break.  I keep letting students try until someone comes up with the ‘correct’ line break used by the poet.  I stress that different poets choose different places to break a line depending on their sense of rhythm and what they are striving to show.  I’ve learned not to pile too many ideas into one day, which is tempting to do in a five sessions residency, so on another day we look at how short or long vowel sounds or soft or hard consonants affect rhythm.

On the second day of any residency, I start discussing active verbs.  Students often use verbal adjectives by themselves as the verb in the sentence.  I’ve found that the clearest explanation centers around the fact that ‘ing’ added to a verb makes the word act as an adjective.  Since each sentence needs an action, the “ing” needs to come off to make the word a verb. I have a chart that shows active verbs.  I explain that by active verbs I mean verbs that add visual detail and move the sentence forward.  I encourage the use of ‘plunge,’ for example, instead of ‘is plunging.’

Before I ask students to read the model for the day, I briefly introduce them to mood.  Even if a poet doesn’t think intentionally about creating a mood, the choices the poet makes in creating images do convey a mood.  Together we come up with different mood-words used to show a frame of mind, for example:  excited, joyful, thoughtful, hopeful, scary, mystified.  While the model is read, they become detectives discovering the rhythms, word pictures and sounds that add to the mood of the poem.

When I travel I always look for poetry from each country.  This model poem comes from, Of Words an anthology of Belizean Poetry.  I like this model because not only is it full of sound but it also contains visual verbs like seeps, creeps and soothed.  The word pictures are easy for students to grasp and the comparisons are vivid.


Last night rain fell

Gentle tones on a tin roof

A musical echo lulling to sleep

or a prelude to yesterday?

Memory seeps…

Like fog at dawn it creeps:-

The swish of the palm trees

Fingers in the sky, waving good-bye.

Sounds of the sea, caught in a shell

A long muffled breaker on the reef

Distant thunder…soothed my soul

Finally, a sigh of relief—silent slumber.

Lita Hunter Krohn from Belize

Before I give the assignment, I ask the students to sit quietly and listen.  We choose a sound and use it to create a short poem.  Then I have them gather their writing materials together and I present the assignment.  First we become absolutely silent, close our eyes and listen to sounds in the classroom.  The students write down what they hear along with whatever comparison pops into their mind.  I love what happens when students are asked to be absolutely quiet.  It’s constantly surprising to me what can be heard when all the chatter and rustling movement stills and the absence of sound settles in.

Next we quietly line up and go outside to listen, write down the sounds and create metaphors and similes.  The poem comes from what they hear both inside and outside.  To create a mood, I give them two choices:  to let the sounds themselves create the mood,  or to decide on a mood and use the sounds to create it.  Like all sessions, the primary purpose of this one is to write a poem that lets word pictures flow into the mind of the reader.

humming of




the wind is

whipping slowly through the

trees  the sound of

feet hitting the ground

pencils write on

paper on

desks  a tape plays

with lots of instruments

plucking of strings

sounds of drums

and sounds of pianos

playing in a building

in a city in a country

that’s in a state that’s

on a continent on

a world twinkling

of music on a tape

kids kick the end

of their

desks and kids on the

playground and still

the sounds of lights humming

Wes , Fourth Grade


Outside & Sounds

Yelling and playing on grass and in

the halls

teachers teaching


trees rustling with leaves

hanging down whish and whoosh

and fall


Pencils swaying to write a

beautiful poem

so silent,


a whisper

Alexandra , Fourth Grade

Phillips, Michael D., ed.  Of Words: an anthology of Belizean poetry.  Belize: Cubola Productions, 1997.



About Winding Stream Press

Janice DeRuiter Eskridge, M.F.A. is a poet who worked for over a decade as a poet-teacher for California Poets in the Schools. Helen Shoemaker, Ph.D. L.M.F.T. is a university professor who teaches in the areas of child development and counseling. She is also a therapist in private practice.
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