National Poetry Month: Book Spine Poetry Lessons

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I love found poetry.  It is so interesting to think about how words, phrases, and sentences that already exist in the world can be remixed into something new.  We recently spent some time creating blackout poetry, and now students have been coming to the library to create book spine poems.  Each year that we try this type of found poetry, I’m finding that we get a little bit better and add some new strategies for crafting a book spine poem.

This year I decided to do some storytelling to share with students how I crafted my own book spine poem.  Rather than give a list of tasks to do, I told my story and let that guide our instructions for how to make a book spine poem.

“When I made my book spine poem, I just wandered around and picked a shelf in the library.  I spent time at the shelf scanning every title and looking for a title that spoke to me in some way.  The first book that jumped out to me was In My Mothers’ House.  I continued creeping along that same section of the library looking for a title that seemed to go with the one that I had already found.  I didn’t really know if I had found my first line of the poem or just a piece of the poem, but when I came across The Wonderful Happens, it seemed like magic.  Both of those titles just sounded like the beginning of the poem to me.  Now I had a focus.  I needed to find more books that told more about In My Mothers’ House.  I didn’t really worry about order.  I just wanted books that sounded like a good fit.  Once I found 3-4 more, I went to a table and started arranging them and reading them aloud.  I tried many different ways to see what sounded right.  I even had a book that just didn’t seem to fit, so I decided to put that one back on the cart at the front of the library.  When my poem felt just right, I knew I was reading to record myself reading it.”

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By telling this story, I really felt like student had a good sense of what to do, but we did still rephrase the steps together.

1.  Choose a place to start.

2.  Look for books that speak to you and only take the ones that you think you will use.

3.  Continue choosing books that connect to one another

4.  Arrange them in a way that sounds right and put the extras on the cart at the front of the library.

5.  Record yourself reading your poem and return your books to the cart at the front of the library.

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Students got to work.  Most of them jumped right in, but a few had trouble starting.  I found a few students who just wandered around without knowing how to start, so I encouraged them to stop wandering and start reading titles.  Some were very focused on content which made it a bit harder to craft a poem.  They wanted a book about X instead of thinking about a book’s actual title.  I tried to explain that the content of the book really didn’t matter. All that mattered was the title.  It took some time for that to click with some students.  I didn’t want to tell students not to use the computer, but we did nudge students to really try looking at the shelves rather than try to find something on the computer.  Most students who tried the computer strategy ended up abandoning it anyway because it added too much time and frustration to the process.

As students recorded their poems, they came to me at a table.  I had an iPad cord plugged into my computer, so we just connected and uploaded straight to Youtube and put the videos into a class playlist of poetry.

You can enjoy their work in each of these playlists.

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