Monday, March 14, 2011


by Laura Melmed

In recent days we’ve viewed with horror and sympathy reports of the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Heartrending images such as these and the ones from Haiti last year can be especially disturbing to children.  One way to deal with troubling emotions around such events is through writing.  

By its nature, poetry can tap into, synthesize, and give voice to strong feelings. Helping children describe a forceful act of nature in the form of poetry could be a cathartic exercise.  In a three part session, children can be guided to write poems using strongly descriptive language in a fresh, expressive way.  The goal here is to write in free verse, rather than following a prescribed structure or rhyming scheme which can sometimes rein in the free flow of ideas and emotions.

The exercise might begin with your reading aloud some poems about the power of natural phenomena. One example, found at is The Storm, by Theodore Roethke, a masterly evocation of a hurricane gathering force. Talk with the children about the poet’s use of imagery and his choice of verbs.  How does Roethke help the reader experience the buildup of tension that ultimately leads to the breaking of the storm?  At the same website, Negotiation with a Volcano, by Naomi Shihab Nye, offers an evocative example of personification, as the unnamed narrators, living in the shadow of a mighty volcano, beseech it not to erupt.

2.  The next part of the lesson is preparation for writing a group poem.  Tell the children that together you will be writing a poem about a powerful force of nature they have probably all experienced: a thunderstorm.  Have them think of words they associate with rain such as water, raindrops, pouring, teeming, streaming, drizzling, puddles, mud. Do the same with thunder and lightning.  Ask them to describe how rain smells, how it feels, how it sounds.  How does lightening look in the daytime; at night?  How does thunder sound when it is far away?  When it is near?  Think of synonyms for wet, such as damp, moist, drenched, and soaked.   Write the words on a White Board, Smart Board or large sheet of paper.  Next ask them to come up with as many adverbs as possible and write those down as well (one way to elicit a good variety of responses for this is to ask the children to name actions that can be performed by different parts of the body. Then have them add adverbs to describe those actions.) You can also throw as many color words as possible up on the board.  Now you are ready to write a poem!    

3.  In the final part of the exercise, you will guide the group in writing a group poem on another sheet of paper or board.  Tell the group to choose from the words they have come up with and combine them in interesting and unusual ways to express what happens during a thunderstorm.  The goal is to write a five line poem, but if the group is brimming with ideas, you can expand it. 

Make sure you convey that it will be necessary to cooperate, and that everyone’s input is to be respected.  Another stipulation is that in order to make the poem express the strong movement of the storm, the first three lines will begin with a verb. Now guide the children in composing the poem line by line, making sure they wrap it up with a zinger line at the end.  The children will be delighted with their finished product!

Follow-up activities could include writing individual poems about another powerful phenomenon such as an earthquake, a volcano, a waterfall, waves crashing against the shore, or a rushing river.  Or try an exercise about the quiet side of nature: a clear night sky, the coming of spring, morning in the country, a peaceful walk in the woods, or dusk.

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