Last week, I shared my wordplay lesson plan based on Nikki Grimes’ poetry prompt and then day 1 and day 2 of student poems. Those were from the last two days of the Young Authors Conference. The first two days, I had tried something else, something I planned to do all week: zenos!
I love zenos, a form created by J. Pat Lewis and introduced (as far as I know) on Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’ blog. [[[ ADDENDUM: Blast my poor memory! Pat actually debuted the form on Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s The Miss Rumphius Effect blog way back in 2009 for a Monday Poetry Stretch. Annnnnnnd (even more embarrassing) I contributed two poems in the comments. I had completely forgotten. Obviously. ]]] Michelle’s and Tricia’s blogs are both treasure troves! Anyway, I love zenos and planned to spend four days writing them with students. I made my zeno handout and got the room all set up and was all excited.
Alas. It was not to be.
I discovered that our sessions just weren’t long enough to introduce, model, encourage, and write a rough draft of a brand new form, especially a rhyming form! I have never attempted to teach rhyming poetry to students before, as I think it’s generally a bad idea that tends to result in pretty bad poetry that doesn’t allow students a chance to really express themselves OR play with language (other than the cursed rhyming words). But zenos only have three rhyming words, AND they are not metered. So I think they are a great starting point for students who are dying to rhyme!
The only problem is, it takes more time than I had with these students (about 35 minutes of actual instruction time). Epic fail. I tried it for two days, tweaking the lesson plan and trying for an abbreviated version on the second day, but it was stressing me out! The students were great–enthusiastic and willing. There just simply wasn’t enough time. I still think zenos would be awesome to play with in the classroom, with middle or high school students, broken into several lessons.
Basically, my process was to share some zenos with them and discuss the attributes (10 lines, the rhyming pattern, the syllable count). I have four samples in the handout. Practice syllable counts in words.
Choose a topic. In the first session, students chose Mr. Higgins for me to write about. He was an Irish wolfhound at Ballyseede Castle, where we stayed for a couple of nights in Ireland.
Brainstorm words (especially sensory ones) around the topic. Then choose your central idea. I decided to write about Mr. Higgins’ smell.
Brainstorm some one-syllable words central to your poem. Then come up with rhyming words for each. Select one group of three rhyming words to try to use. I chose stink, brink, sink.
Fill in those three words in the spots that use the rhyming words. Then play with your idea to fill in the other lines. Sometimes I wrote backwards for a phrase. I wanted “stink” to be my first rhyming word (line 4). I decided the two-syllable line before it (line 3) would be “horse-sized.” Then I skipped up to the top line (line 1) and started to introduce Mr. Higgins to the reader.
Change your rhyming words if they’re not working! Brink didn’t work. I changed it to sink and played with that. Here’s the first draft I ended up with.
I wrote a brand new zeno each session in about eight minutes, so six zenos over two days. A couple had promise. Most, not so much:>) But they got to see that “real poets” struggle, too!
Students chose their topics, too–sheep, changelings, or the Cliffs of Moher (all inspired by my Ireland trip), or any topic they wanted if they had something in mind.
We never had time to get to revision at all, which made me very sad. Like I said, it was a totally unrealistic lesson plan for such short sessions. But some students were able to work within the confines and create zenos or modified zenos. Here are some of the drafts Tuesday’s students (May 26) came up with. Thank you, students, for sharing your work with the whole classroom and also online. (If you are curious about the significance of the stamp, see my wordplay lesson plan last week.)
[[[ Addendum: In addition to the student samples below, if you’d like some more sample zenos by some writers like, you know, Jane Yolen and Julie Larios and Kate Coombs and Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and such, please read the comments at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Thank you, Tricia, for sharing this with me! And Margaret Simon and her students created a cool emaze about and featuring zenos. Thanks, Margaret! ]]]