Joel R., a former eighth-grader who graduated from KMS in May, placed first with his poem “The Lucky Snag”; Allyson W., also a former eighth-grader who graduated from KMS in May, placed second with her poem “Breathe.” Zach B., who will be an eighth-grader this fall, placed third with his poem “A Deer’s Morning Graze.”
The students each received cash prizes of $200, $100, and $50, respectively. Cash awards were sponsored by Majesty Outdoors, a nonprofit “focused on bringing awareness to the fatherless epidemic in our society,” according to the foundation’s website.
Winning entries will be printed in the December/January issue of Outdoors Unlimited, OWAA’s magazine.
This is the second year KMS students have participated in the contest. In 2017, Elijah D. placed second in the junior prose division.
“I am so proud of KMS students. With this contest in particular, every student is able to find an outdoor-related topic to write about and then they stick with their poems or essays and work so hard on them, revising them until they are sent to Montana,” said Marilyn Yung, language arts teacher at KMS.
I’ll post the winning poems in a post later this week. Follow me to get those.
If you ever decide to have your students enter this contest, use these winning entries as mentor texts. That’s exactly what I did to prepare my kids for writing their entries.
In addition to sending out the news release, I also made a big deal out of the news on my private class Instagram account.
I posted an Anchorman meme that there would be a “big announcement” coming soon. I also posted a video announcing the award. (I should have embedded the video into this post, but I failed. Sorry about that!)
On another note… Don’t forget to let others know about your activities in the classroom. Get to know your local newspapers and other media so you can notify them when good things happen.
The editor to whom I sent the above release usually runs what I email to him in one of the two newspapers he publishes locally. Do a little research, find the names and email addresses of the local editor at your local media offices, and start communicating with them.
Get some publicity for your school and the part you play in your profession.
Thanks for reading! Click like if you found this valuable. Follow my blog for more writing contest news, and other posts about teaching middle school ELA.
It combines poetry and revision (and publication!)
“The Sometimes Poem” is one of my favorite ways to start the school year with my sixth-graders. I’ve used this project for two years running and I plan to use it again in August. It includes three skills: poetry techniques, revision, and submitting for publication. I credit children’s and YA author, Kate Messner, for her inspiration and ideas for this project.
In 2016, I attended the Write To Learn Conference and sat in on Messner’s presentation on revision strategies. Her presentation allowed the teachers in attendance to create and revise their own “Sometimes” poems.
Here’s how I present this lesson that’s based on Messner’s slideshow and her excellent book, Real Revision. (My copy, shown at right, is old, but awesome.) I’ve tweaked Messner’s slideshow for my own use over the past two years. First, download the Google slideshow. Then, skim through the slideshow to become familiar with the project. Notice that I have hidden some of the slides for this project. As you skim, you may decide to modify my changes to fit your needs and students.
Ask students to write for three minutes to describe a place that they love. We use pencils and paper for this to get fresher ideas and more thoughtful writing. Laptops can be used later after revision and before submitting to the publisher.
Before students begin, I share a paragraph I’ve written about my favorite place, which is on a swing in my yard. My paragraph serves as a mentor text.
After three minutes, ask if students would like two or three more minutes, extend the time. usually, in my experience, students need a few minutes more.
Students may share their writing about their favorite places.
Have students listen as you read aloud from Messner’s own poem, “Sometimes On a Mountain in April.” Messner’s poem can also serve as a mentor text, but in addition, it shows students how their paragraph will soon be transformed into a poem.
Show students your attempt at turning your paragraph into a poem. Read aloud one more time your paragraph, and then read to them your poem. Discuss with students how to pull details from the paragraph to create lines for a poem that are filled with imagery.
Also show students at this point how to use repetition in their poem, just like Messner did. She added the words “Sometime on a mountain in April” about every three lines. This creates a poetic structure and rhythm to their writing.
For me, this step is usually when students really begin to like what they’ve written. Have students transform their paragraph into poetry. You’ll need about five to eight minutes for this step, but allow more if students need it. For those who struggle, help them locate one detail that they can craft into a line of a poem. After helping them do this one line, it’s their turn to find another.
After students have six lines for their poem, tell them that it’s time to revise.
Go deep with a quick discussion of theme… what the poem is REALLY about. On the surface, my poem is about sitting in a swing in my yard. However, it’s REALLY about appreciating the little things in life. In a word, contentment. I learned to spend a small amount of time on theme with this project, but not too much. If students can end up telling you what their poem is about on the surface AND what it’s really about, then you’re good. Let revision be the focus for this project.
To revise, ask students to add more imagery and sensory language. To do this, have students add one fragrance to their poem. It should be a new line of poetry. Show them yours. It’s good to have your original six lines on the board. Then add the new fragrance line(s) below. Students may add as many lines as they would like, but one helps them see how sensory language enriches their writing.
Keep revising! Have students add one more of the five senses to their poem. They definitely have sight if they’ve written anything at all, and they’ve also added in a fragrance. Students should be adding a sound, a taste, or a texture to their poem now. Show them yours again, if needed, as a mentor text. With this step, students see that adding details is one way to revise.
Revise some more! Have students scan their poem for these overused words: very, really, just. With this step, students see that removing unnecessary words is another way to revise.
Keep at it! Have students remove five more unnecessary words. Tell students to look for the least important words. If kids struggle to find five, require that they at least remove three.
Now revise with a partner! Put slide 95 on your screen and leave it there for the partner work. Have one student pass out a pink, green, yellow, and pink highlighter to each student. Note: Use any four different colors, but everyone needs to have the same colors. Read aloud this slide first with your students after they pair up.
Students will use the pink highlighter to indicate areas that should be removed. They’ll use green to indicate confusing areas. Blue indicates areas that should be more precise or more detailed. Yellow indicates that a line or area is effective as is.
Before students begin highlighting, pass out one sticky note to each student. Tell students that they are to write notes for your partner that explain your highlighting (if needed) and to offer suggestions.
When students are finished highlighting and writing notes on the sticky note, show them the “When your partner is done” slide. Have students rework their own poem again, considering their partner’s suggestions.
Use this moment to revisit theme. Have students ask themselves “What is my poem about? What is my poem REALLY about? Is that theme clear in my poem?” You may need to help students think of words and phrases that will help them convey their theme. This is tough. Don’t stress it with your sixth-graders. It’s good that they are putting effort into this higher-level skill.
So that’s the basic framework for this exciting poetry project. I have used it for two years with both sixth- and seventh-graders each August. It’s a great way to get back into the “writing zone” and it helps me get to know my students and their personalities. In fact, here’s a poem written by one of my students last year:
Sometimes in a Tree Stand
by Alex J.
Sometimes when I’m sitting in my tree stand,
early in the morning,
I can hear dogs barking through the hills
and can see the birds fly above us.
Sometimes when I’m sitting in my tree stand,
I can hear the leaves crunching when animals walk,
and sometimes smell the pine trees.
Sometimes in the tree stand,
I can feel the morning breeze.
Then time goes on.
The dogs go quiet,
and the birds settle down.
The leaves stop crunching.
And the smell of the pine trees
are replaced by the smell of the day.
The morning breeze dies down,
and I know it’s time to leave,
but I’ll come back tomorrow.
The heavy emphasis on revision subtly shows students challenging and fun ways to add sensory language and delete unnecessary verbiage from their poems. What’s more, it exposes students to theme and guides them in seeking elements of deeper meaning in their work.
But that’s not all! Have your students enter their “Sometimes” poem in Creative Communication’s Poetry Anthology contest. Their work just might be published in a hardcover book! Alex J’s. poem (above) was published and showed Alex that he has real potential as a writer. Read this post for more information about the anthologies.
I can’t tell you how great it is when students realize they’re sending their poems to a publisher. They will definitely step up their effort and take greater care with their work once they know their poems are going places! In fact, you may want to tell them at the beginning of the project that they will eventually submit their poems to a publisher. I assure you that it will set the stage for more engagement.
Thanks for reading! Try this project. I really think you’ll enjoy using it as a BTS project. Thanks to Kate Messner for her inspiration and materials!
Flying Lessons was included in a list on the AICL blog of Best Books for 2017 by native writers or illustrators. It was the only book listed under the heading “For Middle Grades.” The specific Best Book status was for the short story entitled “Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains.” The author, Tim Tingle, is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Like other authors mentioned on the blog, Tingle’s story is honored for its accurate portrayal of native people, their traditions, cultures, and beliefs.
Flying Lessons & Other Stories contains ten short stories and poetry by ten diverse writers, including Kwame Alexander, Grace Lin, Walter Dean Myers, and Jaqueline Woodson, among others.
Ellen Oh, co-founder and president of We Need Diverse Books, edited the collection of stories. This organization, according to its website, exists to advocate “essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” In the words of Walter Dean Myers, as quoted in a section of the book entitled “Why We Need Diverse Books,” young people need to see themselves reflected in the pages of the books they rea.d
So far, I’ve read only a few selections from the book: Tingle’s story, Tim Federle’s “Secret Samantha,” Jacqueline Woodson’s “Main Street,” and the collection’s namesake, “Flying Lessons” by Soman Chainani. I feel that the book will be good for reading aloud during class, and also a source of mentor texts that contain effective examples of realistic dialogue, descriptive settings, and captivating opening lines. I’ll be reading more stories from the book over the next week.
I struggle to find engaging short stories for middle school students. Since I usually start the school year off with memoir writing, I feel that this book will provide relevant, contemporary storylines and characters that my students can identify with.
One regret: I do wish the book had a more interesting cover. Because of its text-only design, I already know I’ll have to really talk up the book to get my students to check it out. Books with photographs or colorful pictures or illustrations always get more attention.
As I work more with the book in my classroom, I’ll relay to you how my students receive it. In fact, having a few of them write a short review will be beneficial for them and you.
It’s fun to add new books over the summer when I actually have more time to read. Thanks for checking out this post. Follow my blog for more book reviews as I discover new reads!
Read my post for a more complete explanation of the decision and my take on preserving historical literature, but here’s the gist: I feel removing Wilder’s name from the award punishes Wilder for writing about the time period in which she lived. I also feel the decision is a way to indirectly control the work of authors.
While I disagree with the ASLC’s decision to remove Wilder’s name from their award, I appreciate the conversation that has been sparked by the decision. As a result, I hope to broaden my own knowledge of accurate, unbiased Native American literature. The site’s “Best Books” tab contains an inventory of selections of books by year, from 2010 to 2017. Some of the lists are divided by elementary, middle, and high school.
The middle school book that made the list for 2017 is a story by Oklahoma Choctaw Tim Tingle called “Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains.” It is found in an anthology called Flying Lessons & Other Stories. I have ordered a copy for my classroom library and will share about it in an upcoming post.
The AICL site also contains full-length articles to help you learn more about Native American literature. For example, you’ll find “Erasing Native American Stereotypes,” and “Getting the Indian Out of the Cupboard: Using Information Literacy to Promote Critical Thinking.” I did notice that a few links did not connect to the articles; however, there are so many titles in the sidebar, you’ll no doubt locate several to read.
Furthermore, the articles dig deep by providing analysis of specific titles. Read “An Open Letter to Jan Brett,” as an example. Here’s another: “A Teacher Reconsiders Virginia Grossman’s Ten Little Rabbits.” This review takes issue with the book’s language, stereotypes, illustrations, and other elements that provide misinformation about Native American tribes.
In fact, many items on the AICL site take many issues with many authors, especially non-Native authors. At times, it seems— based on the tone of the reviews and articles— that non-Native authors should just avoid writing anything regarding Native Americans because they’ll never get it right.
In any case, you owe it to yourself and your students to surf around on the AICL website. It’s one of those sites that I can get lost in quickly.
I think I probably speak for many teachers when I say that my knowledge of literature written by Native Americans is negligible. The AICL site goes a long way in helping me to learn more.
Click like if you learned something new in this post. Leave a comment about your own experience with Native American literature. Better yet, follow my blog for updates and more middle school ELA ideas.
I love this assignment. And to think that I almost didn’t assign it due to the “busy-ness” of the last week and its field trips, assemblies, and other end-of-year activities. Through the words of my students, I’ve learned so much about what is important to them with regards to my classes, including those areas they know they need to grow in next year.
And, by the way, this was a first-draft assignment, which meant we would not be taking the time to revise; however, students know that I expect them to polish their first drafts, making any corrections or revisions needed before turning in.
Here are a few golden lines from some of my sixth-graders, transcribed here without corrections, along with my own reflections and thoughts.
“I am so much better at punctuation that I was last year. punctuation has always been hard for me, because I always seem to be using the wrong mark.”
It’s nice to know this student feels progress in this area.
“I used to just say, ‘I walked to the store.’ Now I add alot more detail and say, ‘I cassually walked to the small, brightly colored store.’ So because I add in more detail the reader gets a better picture, and I won’t need to answer as many questions.”
Sensory language and imagery are emphasized in class and it shows. With her funny final remark, I think this student is relating that her descriptions paint a picture so clear that the reader isn’t left with questions. That’s progress!
“I feel like I explain things in all my stories instead of making it an interesting story that people would actually read.”
This student is beginning to understand “show don’t tell.”
“Granted, there are spell check softwares, but computers can’t fix everything, like tense and homophones.”
Yes! A student who sees the limits of technology!
“I can tell what transitions are I used to get them mixed up. And the same with fanboys. But now I can actually remember most of them and when I can use them and how to use them.”
This student is becoming adept at some of the most often used tools that writers use to express their ideas smoothly… conjunctions and transitions.
“Writing is a way that I express myself. It helps me have less stress and helps me worry less.”
This is a milestone in itself. This student will go far if she has this mindset in sixth grade!
“I feel Mrs. Yung makes you do a lot of writing so you get compturible it’s rough at first but by a month or two you will be find you’ll write for fun also.”
This student struggles with many basics, but has shown improvement over the course of the school year. He also wants to improve, which is half the battle. Goals for next year: learning to reserve enough time to polish and revise the writing.
“Mrs. Yung put writing contest so if you you get a prize or even in a book. I think writing is the easiest thing to do case you write about when you think about and it takes skill too.”
I know this assignment was a challenge for this student. He didn’t reach the word requirement, but did get his thoughts onto the page. Goals for next year: syntax, simple sentence structure.
“We wrote from just writing a big blob of words to dividing into paragraphs.”
A primary objective of elementary writing instruction is mastering the paragraph. Writing a draft of multiple paragraphs is indeed new territory and one we will continue to observe in seventh grade. I still see too many one-paragraph essays.
“Words are things that are beautiful to picture, things that glow in the world.”
This student obviously values words and does it with a creative flair. Score!
“I really like poems now. Last year I always thought poems had to rhyme but when I went to 6th grade I learned that they didn’t have to rhyme.”
“I have also learned that there are many types of things to write. My where I’m from poem this is a good example of something I was proud of. I put basically everything I know about myself in there.”
Variety is the spice of life and that goes for writing, too! While it’s good to focus on the standards, argument writing, et al, it’s important to show students the more creative side of the craft.
“Another thing is that I can put more feeling and emotion into my stories and essays, by using descriptive words and I feel like I could throw my voice into it.”
It’s gratifying that this student feels free to express himself on the page.
“Language arts isn’t my favorite subject actually science is but Language arts is interesting and has a lot of rules. Sadly I don’t quite understand all of them, because they are tricky and English is one of the hardest languages to understand this makes it more difficult. Also, I’ve been practicing it sense I was a little child.”
It’s easy to forget that English is a difficult language to master. It’s full of rules and contradictions to those rules. This response reminds me how important it is for me to provide students the writing tools and techniques they will need as they mature to more developed writing.
Thanks for reading! If you see enjoy my blog, please follow! I’m trying to find ways to make my site more valuable… more than just a place for me to “show and tell” what happens in my classroom. If you have ideas for stories or have specific questions about something you read here or about teaching in general, please leave a comment so we can share our experiences.
I’ve posted the poem below that one of my eighth-grade students wrote, which won Gold and Silver Key Awards, respectively, at the regional and national levels of the 2018 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Read yesterday’s post here to find out more about the contest, such as guidelines, tips, and how to enter. Hint: it’s more involved than other contests.
Colors by Brooke S.
“Claire, what’s your favorite color?”
Because it reminds me of when I was little.
When I was happy.
“It’s just pretty.”
“What’s your least favorite color?”
The color of the containers prescription pills come in.
Because it symbolizes dying and death.
Because it’s the color of weakness and vulnerability.
Last spring, many of my students entered their “Where I’m From” poems in Creative Communication‘s Spring 2017 Poetry Contest. Fifteen are now published writers with the printing of the anthology shown in the photo. I am so proud of them! I’ve also shared these photos and posted them on my class Instagram page… I am thatexcited!
They wrote, revised, and rewrote their poems before submitting them online last spring. Eighteen were approved to be published and all but three gained permission from parents to be published. Those who didn’t receive parental permission failed to take the approval form home, I guess, and unfortunately, regret not making that extra effort to see their name in print.
In addition, our school, Kirbyville Middle School, is listed in the front of the anthology as a “Poetic Distinction Honor School” since more than fifteen students were published in this volume. Bonus!
If you haven’t tried this contest with your students, read more about it here.
In the past, Creative Communication also held essay contests and published anthologies for those. Unfortunately, as of last spring, they have ceased holding the essay contests. That’s a shame, in my opinion. My students submitted “Slice of Life” essays last fall, and grew to appreciate the genre and many looked forward to writing them. Oh, well. I guess I’ll have to keep hunting for more essay contests. I’ll keep you posted as I find more.
In the meantime, stay tuned for a post about an argument essay contest my eighth-graders enter every February.
Thanks for reading! If you learned something from this post, click “like,” leave a comment, and follow my blog to read more about what I’m figuring out as I teach middle school language arts.