Sunday, April 27, 2014

What We're Doing With a Poem

April is not only the month of rebirth, my birth, tulips in bloom, awakening, and basically all things good and wonderful in the world, but also April is National Poetry Month.  In fifth grade, we are having a blast working with a different poem each week.  This week's poem was a childhood favorite of mine:  Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Everyday this week, we've engaged in a different activity with the poem.  From reading, to rereading, to performing, to analyzing its meaning, Where the Sidewalk Ends has provided a great deal of thought, fun, and deep conversation.  Here's how we went about it:

Day 1:

I displayed the poem on the smartboard.  My students were given a minute to silently read it on their own.  Then, I read it aloud twice.  The first time I just asked them to listen.  The second time, I asked them to listen paying attention to words and phrases that show Silverstein's use of symbolism.  For example, does the sidewalk actually represent something else?  Is so, what?  Finally, my students discussed the poem in pairs, then in groups of four.

Where the Sidewalk Ends
by Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black

And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

Day 2:

One student volunteered to read the poem aloud to the whole class.  Then, I passed out a copy of the poem to each partnership in class.  Students read the poem together, and took 10 minutes to analyze the meaning- their interpretation of the meaning, that is.  Then, students discussed with another partner to hear and share a different perspective.  After that, pairs of students linked up with another pair to make a quad to discuss the meaning.  They were so engaged discussing Silverstein's work!  Honestly, I was surprised with how well they took to this activity.  They were just loving it!  

Two students' notes after their first discussion.

Two partnerships making meaning.

Day 3:

Students joined their original partners to discuss the many interpretations of the poem over the past two days.  Then, we all came together as a large group.  We had such a great time sharing and listening to everyone's interpretations.  We all constructed new meaning together through this process.  Check it out: 

Student interpretations after much discussion.

Day 4:

Finally,  I gave students a simple challenge.  I asked them to write a poem inspired by Where the Sidewalk Ends.  That's it.  No rules, no boundaries, no requirements, no line minimum or maximum.  I just asked them to write.  And, write they did.  The amazing thing is that I've never given them explicit poetry writing instructions.  All we've done is what is described above.  I attribute a good amount of their idea generation and risk taking to the writing work we've done this year with Lucy Calkin's writing workshop units of study.  The writing from those lessons has definitely transferred to all of their writing.  

On Friday, my students anxiously awaited the opportunity to share their poems with each other in class.  Our 20 minutes of sharing was such a special time.  First, students shared in small groups.  Then, a few volunteered to recite their poems for the entire class.  It was simply fantastic!  

Students sharing their original poems

Sharing and discussing


  1. This is great work, Ms. Nosek! Do the colored annotations represent different groups' thinking?

  2. Love this post! Will definitely use for our poetry unit! Which Units of Study did you use this year?

  3. Hi Marva! Yes, the different colors represent the thinking of the different groups of students.

  4. Hi Jill! So far this year, we've completed the fifth grade narrative, information, and memoir unit. We are about 1/3 of the way through the research based argument unit.


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