How might you encourage students (of any age) to attend to language? To begin to delight in and revise for sound, rhythm and strong, active verbs, whether for poetry or prose?
Reading aloud and pointing out these qualities certainly helps. One of my favorite books to explore is In the Spin of Things by Rebecca Kai Dotlich (Wordsong 2003). Twenty-three poems about ordinary things like lawn mowers, ice cubes, and wind chimes revolve around sound and motion. These poems encourage writers to focus closely on the world around them, whether it’s the “squish, squish, squeegee-squish” of windshield wipers, the “whittle and whirrs” of a pencil sharpener, or the twang, rap, and snap of a rubber band.
* Read aloud “Ode to a Washing Machine,” “Scissors” and “Soda Can.”
* Have students jot down words or phrases that seem especially vivid and interesting. Jot down sounds (onomatopoeia), alliteration, verbs, patterns of sounds (several words with long “o,” short “i,” etc.). Share and discuss. With verbs, substitute bland words for more active ones and ask students to describe the difference.
* As a group, choose something (fire truck, cake mixer) not in Dotlich’s book. Have each child name a sound or action associated with that thing to create a group poem.
* Ask students to listen at home to their washing machine, a pair of scissors cutting, or a kicked soda can. What sounds did they hear? Ask them to listen to two or three other things (toaster, shower, vacuum cleaner, etc.) and make a list of sounds they hear, descriptive words (color, shape, texture), and verbs and movements.
* Write a poem or short prose passage about this thing using some of the words on their list. Do not try to rhyme. Have the poem or passage begin and end with a sound or movement.
* Read aloud.