The following are some ideas for exercises using The Great Frog Race. I call them "exercises" because students are often more creative if they don't feel pressured to "Write a Poem." A relaxed environment—where students are invited to "play with ideas" and "experiment with words" —is particularly helpful to reluctant writers.
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Quiddling* with Words
*Quiddle vb. ...To explore a worthwhile topic in a lighthearted fashion.
"I like words...
that spring madly
like a grasshopper
in a glass pickle jar..."
The phrase "I like words / like..." (from the poem "Quiddling with Words") can be used as a "jumping off" place for experimenting with language, encouraging children to invent their own personal — often quirky — definitions for words. A third grader wrote: "I like Knot / which tangles up my shoelaces / every single morning." A second grader wrote: "I like words / like Hug/ that are round and warm."
To start, give students a "basket" of words to play with: surprise, flute, waterfall, wrinkle, purple, chocolate, bounce, bulldozer, kite, snow, hippopotamus, bubble.... Vocabulary lists are often a good source of words they can quiddle. Later, they can quiddle interesting words they discover on their own through visiting the dictionary or reading. Have your students try quiddling as a group or in teams, using the same word; a single word can evoke many different images and ideas. They can then go on to quiddle interesting words they discover on their own.
Collect their definitions and make a classroom "Quiddling with Words" dictionary, complete with illustrations! Share your favorites and I'll post them here!
Note: I recently worked with a group of students and we talked about the power of a single word.... I had them shut their eyes and think about the word "chocolate" and call out their responses which I wrote on the board. They started with the obvious — taste! Then, the associations became more interesting — smell, color, links to special memories, even a "chocolate lab." The final list was a vivid example of the many "pictures" just one word can create in the mind. This type of brainstorming might work well as a warm-up to quiddling with words.
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Feelings and Experiences
"I hear every note, yet my song is locked in inside my throat..."
"I dreamed of stallion and gallop and wind in my hair..."
These lines are from poems in The Great Frog Race that explore experiences and feelings. After reading the poems to your students, discuss why it's important to "write what you know."
Then, brainstorm with your students about their own personal experiences. Open-ended questions you might ask to get the ideas hopping are:
1. How did you feel when you lost something? What
happened? How did you feel?
2. What does a "first" feel like? First dive into a pool?
First day of school? First recital? First time someone
teased you at school?
3. Have you ever gotten an amazing gift? A new pet?
Splashed in a muddle puddle? Made a "snow angel?"
Now, have them start writing! Sharing emotion-filled moments and writing about personal experiences helps children create poetry that is meaningful to them.
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Poems are Everywhere
Students may have the notion that poetry is only about "sweet stuff" like love and daffodils. Show them that poetry is everywhere—even in ordinary, common objects, things they see in their homes and in their classrooms everyday.
You might wish to read to them one or more of these poems from The Great Frog Race: "Egg," "Garden Hose," "Metal Bucket," and "Monkey Wrench."
Be prepared with a collection of oddball things: screwdriver, wooden spoon, popcorn, umbrella, soccer ball, hiking boots, scarves, a bird's nest, scissors... Set up a display table in the classroom. Invite your students to study the objects, and choose one to write about. Use the students' poems and the objects to create a display called "Poems are Everywhere!"
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