Writing List Poems That Are Better Than OK
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
For the second week of Poetry Month, I’ve got a plan for creating list poems that will allow your students to showcase their creativity as well as the qualities that make them unique. This week's activities involve writing, editing, revising, publishing, and some watercolor painting, so get ready for a busy classroom filled with lots of fun. With the help of one of my favorite authors, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, we’ll get our writers creating poems that are "better than OK”!
Creating List Poems
This project can be done with children in kindergarten through grade 5. You may want to divide the activities into three working sessions, depending on your grade level and the ability of your students.
Session 1: Writing Poetry
Session 2: Editing, Revising, and Publishing
Session 3: Creating Artwork
Session 1: Writing Poetry
Gather your students in the meeting area for a quick read-aloud. The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is the perfect book to inspire young writers to create list poems. The pages contain simple text and adorable drawings by illustrator Tom Lichtenheld as well as a message that runs deep. We may be just “OK” at some of the things we try out in our lives, but there are some areas where we really shine. Tell your students that today they are going to celebrate the ways in which they are “better than OK” by creating list poems.
Create an Anchor Chart of Adjectives
After the read-aloud, work with students to create a chart of adjectives that describe when we are better than OK. Record their answers on chart paper or on your whiteboard for students to refer back to. I worked with a group of 3rd graders and recorded their answers on the Promethean Board. Here’s what we came up with:
Model how poets can use the words on the chart to create a list of things that they are OK at and things that they are better than OK at. Think aloud with them, demonstrating how poets can get ideas by thinking about different aspects of their lives (e.g., time spent at school, at home, or with friends). Download and print out my poetry paper and start modeling the work you want your students to do.
Here’s the example I modeled for my students:
I’m an OK ice skater.
I’m a thoughtful listener.
I’m an OK mathematician.
I’m a fantastic friend.
I’m an OK swimmer.
I’m an excellent baker.
I’m an OK roller coaster rider.
I’m a creative teacher.
As you model, be sure to teach your writers that their list poems should follow a pattern. They can write alternating sentences that describe when they are OK, then amazing, then OK, then fantastic — as in my example; OR they can get creative and make up their own patterns. The best part about this is, there are no wrong answers. Any pattern will work!
Now that you’ve modeled the kind of writing you expect from your students, it’s their turn to write! Send them off to independent writing. Keep in mind that they might have a little trouble getting started. Remind them to use the adjective chart. If you see that they are still stuck, make connections to The OK Book. Ask: In what areas of life do you feel that you are just OK and need more time to grow and learn? In what areas are you better than OK?
Even with all of your support, some writers will still having trouble coming up with a list. Give them extra support by writing up a chart like the one below to help them generate ideas.
Allow children enough time and space to write. Of course you will be bouncing around the room conducting writing conferences and coaching kids as they write.
Once most students are done with their poems, gather everyone back at the meeting area and give them time to share some of their poetry. Have conversations that, among other things, highlight the strategies they’ve tried out during their writing time. Did they use lots of adjectives? Great! Do you hear a pattern? What is it? Then applaud their excellent work and efforts.
Session 2: Edit, Revise, and Publish
Before meeting with the students for the next session, collect their poems and review their work. What have your students done well? Where do they need help? Think about common trends in their writing and areas you want your students to improve. Pick two or three poems to use as examples to edit and revise together in class. You want to be sensitive to your writers’ feelings, so ask permission before putting a student’s work up on the board to be analyzed.
Using my iPhone, I took photos of the poems I wanted to use as examples and downloaded the files onto my computer. I put the examples up on the Promethean Board and annotated the desktop so that the students could edit their work right there on the board.
How can you do this work with your students? Put a piece of writing up on your whiteboard and ask:
- What do you notice? (Guide students through this process. Write "noticings" down like feedback on the page. We use a green pen to edit our work, so I used a green pen on the Promethean Board.)
- What has the writer done well? (Notice specific strategies.)
- Where do they need to work? (Where do we need to revise or edit? Get students to explain why.)
Have students edit their work and make revisions right up there on the board with your support.
Students might notice that:
- Sentences are on lines — not in paragraph form. (Name that strategy: "Poets use line breaks!")
- There’s a pattern.
- Writers used words from the adjective chart.
- Spelling, grammar, and punctuation need fixing up.
Now that you’ve supported students through the editing and revising process, give out an editing tool (again, I use green pens) and send students back to edit and revise their work. Using a different colored pen for this stage in the writing process allows you to easily track how students are revising their thinking and editing their work.
This process is much more meaningful than taking your students' writing home and editing it for them. This way, they will learn how to note their mistakes and be thoughtful about their revisions, and they will bring these skills to other writing activities.
At this point, students can rewrite their poems, making corrections and revising line breaks and patterns.
These 3rd graders used laptops to type up their poems. List poems are relatively short and won’t take too much time to type up even if your students' typing skills are not very sharp. Teach them how to choose their own fonts. This will add to the uniqueness of their poems.
Session 3: Creating Artwork
Remember, we are expressing how we are better than OK, so model for students how to give their plain OK characters special features to make it look like them. Tell students to think about skin color, hair color, or certain types of clothing they like to wear. Encourage kids to have fun and get creative!
We used markers and crayons to fancy up our OK characters. Don’t they look just like us?
Now, the OK characters need a setting! Have students take a line from their poems that shows something they are really terrific at.
Sketch out the setting for where that activity would take place. (Remind students NOT to include themselves in the picture because they will glue their fancy OK character into the scene later on.) We used Cray-Pas to outline our sketches and glitter watercolor paint to color them in.
Remember, you want to model the art activity step by step just as you do your reading and wrting work. If you give explicit, clear instructions and model the work you expect, your students will know exactly what to do and be successful in creating a beautiful work of art to go with their writing pieces.
Set Up a Display
We're almost done! Combine the published pieces of writing with the works of art and proudly display your "Better Than OK" list poems!
Did your students enjoy creating their list poems? Encourage them to continue to write. Check out some advice for writing list poems from author Bruce Lansky. Poetry doesn't have to end on the last day of April. I hope that these resources help you to keep the momentum going through June!