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Seventh Graders Writing Italian Sonnets?
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Glori Chaika's students at Slidell (Louisiana) Junior High School are among the most-often published poets in the country. Let's take a look at a program that has kids writing all kinds of poems---from quatrains to limericks to (yes!) Italian sonnets.

Glori Chaika's (pronounced CHY-kuh) sixth, seventh, and eighth graders are among the most prolific poetry writers in the United States. Last year, 173 poems and stories written by her junior-high-school students were accepted for publication in magazines with national circulations! All 56 students in Chaika's classes at Slidell Junior High School were published somewhere! (See Sample Poems at the end of this article and Chaika's Guide to Getting Students' Work Published on Education World's "Curriculum" page this week.)

Chaika's success at getting kids published isn't happenstance. No magic is involved. Her poetry-writing program is a well-thought-out and highly organized effort. In the process, her students learn writing skills (and business skills!) that will serve them throughout their lives.

Many of Chaika's students have never written poetry before they walk into her classroom. And many of the students require lots of support and encouragement from their teacher along the way. The number of published poems indicates a successful effort, but numbers tell only part of the story. Success isn't measured only in numbers. You can't measure student satisfaction with a job well-done, changed attitudes toward poetry as a means of expression, and changed lives!

"I've had students from remedial to gifted believing they can write," says Chaika proudly. "One student had been retained and he was in danger of being retained again. The boy wrote his first poem. I asked him to read it aloud to the class. He did so and his classmates applauded. I typed his poem, mounted it on construction paper, and added it to the display of poems that is always on the walls inside and outside my classroom. Although our school newspaper had not previously published students' poems, I submitted several poems including his and got them published. That boy got so much positive feedback for his poem that he started to think of himself as someone who could achieve instead of as a failure."

"Even students who weren't in my class started bringing their work to me after those first poems were published in the school newspaper!" Chaika adds.

Chaika's students have been represented in a wide range of poetry publications. Among them Chaika lists: National Library of Poetry, Anthology of Poetry, Young Authors' Magazine, American Poetry Annual (Amherst Press), Poetry Forum, Boodle, Creative With Words, Magic Pen, Creative Kids, publications by Iliad Press, Sounds of Poetry (an audio tape), Cyberkids Magazine (on the Web), and local and state newspapers.

Chaika's students were better represented than any other class in the state of Louisiana in Ascending, a book of the state's best poems published by Thornton Publishing. The publisher, Donald Thornton, made a special trip to Slidell Junior High School to present copies of Ascending to each of the students. Parents and the local press were invited and refreshments were served.

"I looked at the faces on my students that day," says Chaika, "and I was once again reminded of the reasons why I teach."

"I MAKE ROOM FOR POETRY!"

"Poetry is not emphasized in our school's creative writing curriculum, but I make room for it in my classroom," says Chaika. "I use poetry-writing as a reward for hard work, as a break-away day, as something special."

"For the uninitiated, writing poetry need not be daunting," Chaika adds. She usually starts the school year with simple rhyming quatrains of aaaa, aabb, and abab forms. Fun poems serve this introductory lesson well. Shel Silverstein's poems are among her students' favorites. This lesson isn't a formal one. The lesson flows freely; it takes many twists and turns. The following steps offer an idea of how the lesson might go:

  • After reading several poems to the class, reread one of the poems. Invite students to clap each time they hear an accented syllable.
  • Repeat that step with several poems.
  • If students need additional help in hearing or feeling the beat of a poem, invite them to get up and march to the rhythm.
  • Once the students are comfortable with the beat of a poem, write one of the poems on the board.
  • Guide students as they study the poem's rhyme scheme, the choice of topic, the choice of adjectives and verbs---anything that makes the poem special.
  • At this point, you might play rhyming games with your students too.

Continue with those types of activities until the students seem ready and eager to write their own, Chaika advises.

"I compare this method a bit to the Suzuki Method of teaching music," says Chaika. "In Suzuki, students have music in their minds before playing. I think students should have the rhythm of poetry in their minds before writing."

A LESSON IN WRITING ITALIAN SONNETS

Seventh graders writing Italian sonnets? You bet!

Chaika's lesson in Italian sonnet writing follows much the same form as the introduction to quatrains above. She shares lots of examples so students will begin to "feel" the form. The samples come from many sources. She shares examples from well-known poets such as Browning ("How Do I Love Thee"), Milton ("On His Blindness"), and Donne ("Death Be Not Proud"). She shares examples of sonnets written by students in her classes in previous years to help students understand that, though the poetry form might seem difficult, students their age can do it. Often she'll share an example of the form that she has written for her own personal pleasure.

Again, the students talk about what makes the poems special. Then the class might try writing a poem together. If they get stymied, Chaika might step in and write a line or two. Then it's the students' turns! Chaika encourages the students to brainstorm possible subjects for their own poems. If a student is having difficulty, she might step in to help brainstorm possible topics or to work on the writing until the student is feeling more comfortable with the assignment.

"I've been known to sit and bargain with reluctant writers who tell me 'I can't write,'" says Chaika. "If I write a line, then they'll write the next line. Then I'll write the third and they'll write the fourth. Once they have something down on paper, it sometimes seems easier for them to write a poem on their own."

HOW DO YOU GRADE POETRY?

Grading poetry can be a tricky affair. "I don' t think it's a good idea to assign grades formally when a student is first learning how to write poetry," says Chaika. "Teachers can design their own subtle ways of grading poetry without using letter grades like A or B."

Often, Chaika will read aloud poems that she has graded "Super" or with other superlatives. She'll point out---or ask students to point out---what makes those poems so special.

"I always try to emphasize that this (form) might not be an easy poetry form for everyone," Chaika explains. "Just like some artists are better at using oils than with pen and ink, a student must experiment with many types of poetry writing in order to find the forms in which he or she excels."

SAMPLE POEMS

Of course you want to read a few of the poems by Chaika's student authors. Following are examples of English sonnets, an Italian sonnet, a quatrain, and a free verse from a few of Slidell Junior High's honored poets.

Quatrain

Artist's Portrait
by Erica Gaston

Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin, Klee, and Renoir All were great artists, I think you'll agree But none could compare to the ones done by moi No, that's not a cat; that's a portrait of me!

English sonnets

A Gift for the World
by Lucy Barbo, 8th grade

Some people tend to forget about the old Surely the elderly believe that is so We mustn't forget they are precious like gold We have to appreciate how much they know

Often they're treated as though they were babies As we put them in homes, we don't realize That they have feelings, too, and just maybe They are not old through someone else's eyes

In nursing homes they may be neglected Being old truly should not be a crime Society makes them feel rejected But they know we all will be old in time

As we treat the old, so may we be treated Because history tends to be repeated.

Death
by Aaron Ryan, 7th grade

Tomorrow morning you could wake up dead Just the thought of it makes people cry That is the day that everyone dreads The day when it is your turn to die

Life is a privilege we take advantage of We don't appreciate it until it's gone One day we could find ourselves high above Sitting in the middle of God's front lawn

When the icy grip of death is near It gives a lot of people a scare It fills almost everyone with great fear But personally I do not care

So live each day as though it's your last Because the world could blow up with one big blast!

Dead Love
by Jeanne Jordan, 7th grade

I listened quietly at the bedroom door As they yelled vicious things at each other I went to sleep that night around four My dad had told my mom he loved another

My doleful heart was breaking slowly My mom and dad were getting a divorce He told her so hatefully and so coldly When he told her, she slapped him with great force

Will her soft cries and wet tears fall forever? Though I hug her and tell her it'll be okay She looks up at my face and whispers never When I turn to leave, she asks me to stay

My parents will never be good friends I guess all my dreams must come to an end.

An Italian sonnet

My Mother
by Melissa McDowell, 7th grade

My mother is very special to me I will never forget these things about her There for me no matter what might occur For mother of the year, she's my honoree

Even though her life is never low-key If I need advice, to her I can refer I feel so lucky to have a mom like her One who tries to make my life so carefree

With my mom I feel a special bind It has been there since a long time ago It won't go away for as long as I live

My mom is definitely one of a kind I want to tell her; I want her to know I appreciate all the love that she gives

Free verse

My Poetry
by De Anna Jarrel, 8th grade

Poetry to me Is not a matter of Inspiration Or ideas Poetry is a way of Life In my youth I have many questions My poetry asks them I have many passions My poetry expresses them I have many fears My poetry shows them I have many stories My poetry tells them I have many songs My poetry sings them My poetry breathes life Into the words And feelings Floating around in my head My poetry is beautiful Because it is mine.

NOTE: Glori Chaika teaches gifted sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in a suburb of New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a published author who has won a Distinguished Teaching Award from Duke University. She was awarded a Fulbright Memorial Fund scholarship to study school systems and teacher training programs in Japan during the fall of 1997. Ms. Chaika was named the 1997 Elks Teacher of the year in her Louisiana parish.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2005 Education World


RELATED RESOURCES

Be sure to check out two articles that Glori Chaika has written for Education World.

RELATED SITES

Most of these sites include directions for submitting contributions.

  • Stone Soup
    The international magazine written and illustrated by young people ages 8 to 13 includes stories, poems, book reviews, and art.
  • CyberKids and CyberTeens
    These sites publish poetry written by children of all ages. Check out sample issues and submission guidelines online.
  • kidpub
    More than 12,000 stories (or poems) written by kids from all over the planet. Site has a special place for classes to display their work.

Originally published 08/01/1997
Links last updated 08/21/2009
 

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