Sunday, October 7, 2012

Teachers: How to Create a Laugh Out Loud Poem With Almost Any Age Group

Cover of "Waiting to See the Principal an...
Cover via Amazon
by Joe Sottile

If you aren't used to teaching poetry activities, I have one that works like magic with students in grades 1 to 12 or even adults. Double your money back! (LOL?)

1. I ask students to fold and tear a blank piece of ditto paper in half once, then twice. Then they do it again. At this point there are some mild giggles and comments: "I can't get it perfectly straight." "Can I have a new sheet of paper?"

These comments are perfectly valid. They are striving to do a perfect job, which isn't necessary. And they are wondering why they are doing it.

2. Then students fold and tear the paper one more time. Now they have eight paper strips, I ask them to write four true statements beginning with these sentence fragments: I like ... I love ... I hate ... I wish ... Students always do this in an interested manner, still wondering what this little project is all about.

3. When finished with their four sentences, I tell them to write four lies beginning with the same sentence fragments. Now students are smiling from ear to ear. For some students who are a little reluctant to start, I assure them that it's OK to write untrue statements because we are using our "poetic license" and nobody will know the truth unless we tell them.

So I encouraged them not to spill the beans about what's true or not true. Writing the "lies" is truly the fun part. Sometimes I caution them not to write about any students or teachers, but that's purely up to you. It depends on the nature of the class. Remember even if a student writes about a classmate, we don't know if it's true or not.

4. Lastly, I say, "You can put your eight statements in any order that you like. Read what you have written twice to yourself, and don't worry about anyone knowing which ones are true or false. That you keep to yourself, even after you read your poem. Yes, you have written a poem, one that is pleasantly repetitious, serious, mysterious, and humorous."

At this point students can't wait to read their 8-lined poems. And even if you didn't mention the reading aloud part to them earlier, you will hear: "Can we read these to the class?" Those are the magic words I hope to hear. Members of the class leap to the podium to read their new-formed poem, which I call "Truths and Lies."

An ordinary class period or poetry workshop has now been transformed into a magical moment of creating and sharing.

Just don't get caught up in steps one and two by spending too much time there. In the beginning you want to go reasonably fast so that you can squeeze in as many volunteers as you can to read. If you have an hour that's plenty of time. If you have forty-five minutes, that's a challenge. But rest assure the kids or adults will love their mysterious creation. It will be the talk of the school or workshop!

Joe Sottile has a deep love of poetry. He has two popular poetry books online that are sometimes the talk of the lunchroom: Waiting to See the Principal and Other Poems ( and Picture Poetry on Parade! (

Joe or "Silly Sottile" is a children's poet, performing poet, author, essayist, and a former elementary teacher. He enjoys kids, poetry, biking, golf, visiting schools and sharing the magic of poetry.

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