Poetry & Science MS Lessons

[Please note that in these lessons, the blue text is advice or suggestion to the teacher.  Since there is nothing technical in these lessons, they may be taught by a science teacher, an English teacher, or both. Since schools have differing schedules, the notation of DAY ONE, DAY TWO etc, is only a rough guide.]

DAY ONE 

Icebreaker

 I’m sure you’ve all heard the poem

What a wonderful bird the frog are
When he sit he stand (almost)
When he walk he fly (almost)
When he talk he cry (almost)
He ain’t got no sense, hardly
He ain’t got no tail, neither, hardly
He sit on what he ain’t got hardly

What is appealing about this poem (what do you like)?  Let the ideas from students all hang out, write them down, then classify them as science, poetry, both.
Starter ideas: funny, it rhymes, there’s repetition, it relates frog to bird, it relates croak to cry…

Whole Class Look at a “Real” Science Poem

Two different students read this, so there is time to absorb it and every student has a copy.

a) Poem:  Mosquitoes by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Alison Hawthorne Deming (1946 –) is a poet with an interest in natural sciences.  Two of her earlier poetry books were Science and Other Poems, and The Monarchs, which reference the New England of her earlier life.

b) Class-wide Discussion/Analysis

What appeals to you about this poem?  Are there particular lines that you like?
If you hadn’t seen the title, how far into the poem would you have figured out the “they” in the poem?
Let’s look at the science in the poem:
1.  List “facts” of science are in this poem?
2.  Did you learn any new science from this poem?  Did the poem help you learn more about mosquitoes?
List [on the board] “facts” of any other subject are in this poem (if any)?
Let’s look at the poetry:
1.  Look at the “line break” from line 3 to 4.  What do you notice about it?  pause?  surprise?
2.  Repeat this exercise for lines 7 to 8
Would you prefer this poem to be rhymed?
Notice how the mosquito and human information are woven back and forth.

In the lines:

                                                                                        We understood
their pleasure to find such hairless beasts so easy to open and drink.
We understood their female ardor to breed and how little
they had to go on considering the protein required to make
their million-fold eggs.

Notice the “eeee” sounds.  How many can you find?  (Guess what? – the repetition of sounds can be almost as soothing as rhyme.)
Notice that some beginning letters are repeated, and often they are relatively close together.  An examples is “never” and “needed.”

DAY TWO and one-half of DAY THREE

Group Analysis of Four Different Poems

Students will break into group of three or four to examine one of the following poems.  As in DAY ONE, they will make a list of scientific things they learned from the poem, and a list of “poetic” factors in the poem.  The goal is not to be technical, and, most importantly, that science and poetry are not separate – the goal is to show that one can enhance the other.    Each student should have a copy of all four poems to aid the discussion at the end of the class.
            Please note that the two stanzas in the Peggy Shumaker poem, Night Dive, may be given to separate groups.
            Also – any given poem may be given to more than one group.
            If you live in a place that had Sandy damage, you may want to have students read and discuss TOPOGRAPHIES by Nicole Cooley, a poem about Hurricane Katrina, at the end of this page.

Poems:

The Whale by Hilaire Belloc.  (NOTE: Colza beans are squeezed for their oil.  The oil used to be sued in lamps.)

 Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953) was French first, and then British.  He was a writer, orator, and poet – he wrote a lot of religious poetry (often cautionary).

Earthling by Billy Collins (scroll down to Poem #6)

Billy Collins (born 1941) was the US Poet Laureate from 2001-2003, and has received many honors.  He was born in New York City and teaches at Lehman College in the Bronx.

Night Dive by  Peggy Shumaker (give to two groups, one stanza each)

Peggy Shumaker is a retired professor from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but she is still teaching in workshops and conferences. She has won many honors, and has her own book imprint.

POSSIBLE DISCUSSION POINTS (you may want students to use the DAY 4 check-off list, below.)

What appeals to you about this poem?  Are there particular lines that you like?
Let’s look at the science in the poem:
1. What “facts” of science are in your poem?
2. Did you find out some science you didn’t know already.  What?
3. What “facts” of any other subject are in this poem (if any)?
Let’s look at the poetry:
1. Is there rhyming in the poem?
2. Was there a surprise after a line break? Give an example.
3. Why do you think a new stanza started?  A new topic?  An emphasis?  To slow the reader down?
4. If your poem didn’t rhyme, did you notice words that had similar beginnings?  List some
Were there words with similar sounds?  List them.

SECOND HALF OF DAY THREE

Now It’s Your Turn

Pick any science topic and brainstorm!!!
Remember
You can write from big (earthquake, hurricane) to small (ants, worms).  Think about the science you have been studying lately.
You can mix a personal  or human story in with the science – such as loneliness, hopes, love, loss ­– anything!
To get started,
1.  Make a list of words (perhaps six) related to your topic
2.  Then next to those words write a word or words off-topic (make a jump to left-of-center!)
3.  Invent a phrase around those words (it does not have to make sense,  It’s just a way to get you started thinking about a poem.  You may or may not use these words later.)
Think about stanzas for your poem (topics, how many?)

TEACHER EXAMPLE (and use the Creative Writing Ideas by Marie Kane)

Science Topic:  Mosquitoes

Word Off-topic word Invented Phrase (does not have to make sense – you are just free thinking)
mosquito dagger mosquito’s new armor
hair porcupine I wish I was a porcupine with needles as my hair
protein muscle, sugar Protein shake for strength
calories too many, burn No breakfast. Burn on the stove
halo dog catches Frisbee And that is why we cannot see it
million eggs caterpillars eat parsley butterflies to fly with me

Next time we’ll work in groups where you will analyze poems within your group.

DAY FOUR

 Students will break into group of three or four to critique one another’s poems using the checklist below.   Keep to a tight timeline so that the checklist is more about checking than discussing – perhaps 5 mins per poem (use a timer), so if there are four people in a group, the analysis will take around 20 minutes.

If there is time at the end, have students volunteer to read a poem.

POETRY ANALYSIS CHECKLIST

What appeals to you about this poem?  Write one line that you like
What “facts” of science are in the poem?
Did you find out some science you didn’t know already.  What?
What “facts” of any other subject are in this poem (if any)?
Is there rhyming in the poem?
Was there a surprise after a line break? Give an example.
Why do you think a new stanza started (if there was more than one stanza)?  Was it A new topic?  An emphasis?  To slow the reader down?
If the poem didn’t rhyme, did you notice words that had similar beginnings?  List some
 Were there words with similar sounds?  List them.

DAY FIVE

 Invite parents to listen.  Or if possible pull two classes together for joint readings.

Post all poems.

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