The idea of doors did not originate with me, nor even with my Literacy Coach who introduced it to me. It comes form . . . well, I can’t actually find the article right now, so I don’t know where it comes from. The idea is to help students see that their poetry can come from many different places: from observing the world carefully, from remembering important and silly moments in their own lives, from reflecting on things that make them feel happy, sad, scared. We want students to take the concerns of their own lives and write.
I learned of the doors a few days into what was to be a rather short unit on poetry. I wasn’t immediately taken with the idea, to be truthful, but as I rounded out that week’s workshop, I realized I needed some sort of visual to help students see what they could write about. I also realized that I had been stuck in one door, and never even thought to take my students through the others.
Sensory images are a nice, tangible way to enter poetry. I like the magic of looking at very normal objects in a new way, of seeing them, truly, for the first time. We looked at poems about pencil sharpeners and bugs and wrote our own about the white board in our classroom. It was fun. But one little boy in my class, a quiet little boy who never seemed that keen on writing, brought a memory to his poetry, a powerful, sad, important memory, and I knew that door had to be opened for all my young poets.
So, I quickly grabbed construction paper and sketched three doors: Sensory Images, Memory, and Feelings. We read a poem about riding a bicycle really fast down a hill, we read a poem about a baby brother, we read a poem about things that were scary, and then we shared ideas about memories that would make good poems. That quiet little boy shared his, which, he said, was both a memory and a feeling. His dad had died at the beginning of the school year, and so he was naturally sad. But the memory poem he wrote didn’t feel sad. He remembered all the fun and funny things his dad did. He remembered love and jokes, he described physical features, he shared his dad’s stock phrases, the ones meant to always get a laugh. The words didn’t contain sadness, but my heart did as I read his poem, knowing what he had lost.
This past week, I have walked several students over to the doors when they told me they didn’t know what to write about. Which door do you want to choose? What’s this first thing you think about when I say the word “memory”? What are some things that make you feel frustrated, in addition to choosing a writing topic?
All of my students have chosen new doors into poetry this week.
Here are a few of the poems they’ve discovered: