Poetry Writing Exercise: a Juicy Words Poem - A Poetry of Science Unit Activity

Juicy Words Poem 

A Poetry of Science Unit Activity 

It's good to just dive right into writing poems from as soon as possible at the start of the unit. But, as with adults, the blank page can seem intimidating. 

Book Recommendations on Teaching Poetry

There are lots of great books on teaching how to write poetry. I like Baron Wormser's "Teaching the Art of Poetry: The Moves" co-written with David Cappella. (Full disclosure: Baron was one of the best teachers I've ever had the pleasure to work with. He was a fantastic mentor for me in graduate school. His passion for democratizing while also revering poetry is evident in Teaching the Art of Poetry.)

Another good poetry teaching book is Kenneth Koch's "Wishes, Lies, and Dreams". Kenneth Koch was a poet of the 60s "New York School" (though most poets dislike being labeled as part of one group or another) and wrote for "grown-ups" but was one of the rare poets who created books on or of poetry for both children and adults.

I will also mention Larry Fagin's "The List Poem: a guide to teaching and writing catalog verse" from Teachers & Writers Collaborative. Fagin is another contemporary writer who writes mostly for adults but also has work geared toward children.

Poetry Writing Exercise: Juicy Words

As a poet, one of my favorite ways to get inspiration is what I call the "juicy words" exercise. I will read a poem, a news article, a classic novel, a friend's scholarly journal on brain activity in rats (truly!!), listen to color commentary during Sunday football games, pretty much anything -- and write down "juicy" words: words I rarely use, words that have an interesting sound, words that are new to me. After I've made my list, I will write a poem, usually in free verse, about any topic I feel like and my only stipulation is that I try to use as many of the juicy poems from my list as I can.

We do this exercise following our reading of Emily Dickinson's "Blazing in Gold..." There are so many juicy words in this poem: blazing, otter, stooping, bonnet...

As this is the first writing exercise, I don't give more parameters than what's on the instructions. After some class time to create, they share with each other and then they can read aloud to the class if they want. I always do the exercise as well and if they're reluctant to share, I start the ball rolling by sharing my work. I emphasize that this is a draft, it doesn't have to be perfect, and it probably won't be; I emphasize that that is completely acceptable.

This is the hand out I give to the students.