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Mad-Libbing Your Way Into Modern Poetry

Lesson Question:

How can students create adaptations of some famous modern poems?

Applicable Grades:

6-12

Lesson Overview:

This lesson introduces students to modern poetry by letting them construct their own modern poems through a fun Mad Libs* like activity, where they must first supply words and phrases based on parts of speech clues and then plug their words into a poetic format. Then, small groups of students construct their own poetic Mad Libs for their peers based on poems of your choice.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  1. identify words and phrases that correspond to particular parts of speech
  2. read and evaluate some famous modern poems
  3. use the Visual Thesaurus to identify words' parts of speech
  4. synthesize their knowledge of poetry and parts of speech by creating their own poetic Mad Libs

Materials:

  • white board
  • "Mad-Libbing Your Way into Modern Poetry" handouts (one per student)
  • "Mad-Libbing Your Way into Modern Poetry: Poem Sheet" handouts (one per student)
  • a selection of short poems-see suggestions in the text of the lesson (one per group, each in a separate envelope)
  • computers with Internet access
  • loose-leaf paper
  • large sheets of drawing paper or poster board (one per group)

Warm Up:

Directing students to create Mad-Lib poems:
  • Distribute copies of the "Mad-Libbing Your Way into Modern Poetry" handout to the class and have each student complete the sheet's five blanks with words and phrases that match the part of speech descriptions and clues following each blank. (Please download this handout here).
  • You may need to review the definition of "prepositional phrase" for students if they are having difficulty coming up with phrases for numbers 4 and 5 on the sheet. [You could define a prepositional phrase as a phrase that can supply more information about a noun or pronoun, such as place or direction (e.g., "in a box," "on a shelf," "by the riverbank," etc.). Note: all prepositional phrases begin with a preposition (e.g.., in, on, and by in the previous examples) and end with a noun (e.g.., box, shelf, riverbank).]
  • Distribute copies of the "Mad-Libbing Your Way into Modern Poetry: Poem Sheet" handout to students and explain that they should now "plug in" their numbered words and phrases from the previous sheet into the corresponding numbered blanks in the poem sheet to create original poems. (Please download this handout here)

Instruction:

Sharing original poems based on "The Red Wheelbarrow":
  • Have volunteer poets read their poems aloud to the class or share their poems in small groups. Then, congratulate students on "Mad-Libbing" their way into writing poetry in the style of the famous modern American poet William Carlos Williams, the author of the poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" that is reprinted at the bottom of their poem sheets. If students are initially hesitant to share their poems, you could supply them with the following model or a similar poem you create...
  • The Yellow Pencil

    so much depends
    upon

    a yellow
    pencil

    sharp
    in my hand

    beside the blank paper.

Reading poetry in small groups:
  • Organize the class into small groups, each with three or four students. Ideally, there should be the same number of students in each of the groups.
  • Hand each group an envelope containing a copy of a different poem. If you would like to stick with modern American poetry, here are some suggested titles: Yeats's "A Coat;" Frost's "Fire and Ice;" Sandburg's "Grass;" D.H. Lawrence's "The Bride;" Levertov's "The Dog of Art;" Giovanni's "Kidnap Poem." (These poems were selected to expose students to a variety of popular modern American poets and also due to their less complex composition style and length.)
  • Direct each group to open its poetry envelope and to collectively read and interpret their assigned poem, being careful to not reveal its identity to other groups.
Creating "Mad Lib" sheets based on famous poems:
  • After groups have read their assigned poems and briefly discussed their meaning, have each group create a poem poster where they rewrite the text of its poem on large drawing paper or poster board with five to ten key words or phrases from the poem replaced by fill-in-the-blank spaces.
  • On a separate sheet of loose leaf or drawing paper, have each group create a numbered list of clues that contain parts of speech descriptors that could guide classmates through the process of coming up with appropriate "replacement words" for the poem. For example, if a group has deleted a person's name from a poem, then the clue could read "noun, a person." Once clues are written, direct groups to correctly number the blanks on their poem pages to correspond to the numbers on the clue lists.
  • Emphasize that groups should use the Visual Thesaurus to figure out the appropriate part of speech to include in their lists of clues. You can model this process for the class by displaying the word web for some of the words in "The Red Wheelbarrow" (e.g., "glazed") on the white board and then by asking students to help you identify the parts of speech for these words (as displayed in the meaning lists on the right side of the word web screen, color-coded to indicate applicable parts of speech).

Wrap-up:

Exchanging Poetry Mad Libs:
  • Have each group exchange its clue lists with another group in the room.
  • Direct groups to collectively come up with words or phrases that match the part of speech descriptions and clues following each numbered blank. If group members disagree about word choices, they can use the Visual Thesaurus to enrich their understanding of potential word choices and to validate parts of speech for suggested words.
  • After each group finishes selecting words or phrases for another group's clue list, they should use this numbered list of words to fill in the corresponding numbered blanks on their partner group's poem poster.
  • If time permits, each group could read aloud its assigned poem and the original poem another group created by filling in the blanks on the corresponding poem poster.
Extending the Lesson:
  • The same concept and activity introduced in this lesson could be more broadly applied to any reading material with which you wish to familiarize students. For example, if students are reading a short story in class, you could first present an excerpt of the short story as a "cloze reading passage" exercise with parts of speech clues to guide students through the process of choosing appropriate words for the blanks. Then, students could read the original short story excerpt and compare the author's original word choices to their own, thereby enriching students' vocabulary and understanding of parts of speech.

Assessment:

  • Check each student's "Mad-Libbing Your Way into Modern Poetry" sheet from the warm-up to see if he or she chose appropriate words or phrases that match the parts of speech clues following the blanks.
  • Assess each group's poetic Mad Lib presentation to see if group members created a Mad Lib exercise that successfully led another group to emulate the original poem's format.
(*"Mad Libs" is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.)

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies (e.g., makes outlines, uses published pieces as writing models, constructs critical standards, brainstorms, builds background knowledge)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

1. Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies (e.g., develops a focus, plans a sequence of ideas, uses structured overviews, uses speed writing, creates diagrams)

12. Writes in response to literature (e.g., suggests an interpretation; recognizes possible ambiguities, nuances, and complexities in a text; interprets passages of a novel in terms of their significance to the novel as a whole; focuses on the theme of a literary work; explains concepts found in literary works; examines literature from several critical perspectives; understands author's stylistic devices and effects created; analyzes use of imagery and language)

Standard 2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Uses descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas (e.g., establishes tone and mood, uses figurative language, uses sensory images and comparisons, uses a thesaurus to choose effective wording)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

1. Uses precise and descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas and supports different purposes (e.g., to stimulate the imagination of the reader, to translate concepts into simpler or more easily understood terms, to achieve a specific tone, to explain concepts in literature)

Standard 3. Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions

Level III (Grades 6-8)

  1. Uses pronouns in written compositions (e.g., uses relative, demonstrative, personal [i.e., possessive, subject, object] pronouns; uses pronouns that agree with their antecedent)
  2. Uses nouns in written compositions (e.g., forms possessives of nouns; forms irregular plural nouns)
  3. Uses verbs in written compositions (e.g., uses linking and auxiliary verbs, verb phrases, and correct forms of regular and irregular verbs)
  4. Uses adjectives in written compositions (e.g., pronominal, positive, comparative, superlative)
  5. Uses adverbs in written compositions (e.g., chooses between forms of adverbs such as positive, comparative, superlative degrees)
  6. Uses prepositions and coordinating conjunctions in written compositions (e.g., uses prepositional phrases, combines and embeds ideas using conjunctions)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

  1. Uses pronouns in written compositions (e.g., reflexive, indefinite, interrogative, compound personal)
  2. Uses nouns in written compositions (e.g., collective nouns, compound nouns, noun clauses, noun phrases)
  3. Uses verbs in written compositions (e.g., present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect verb tenses; progressive verb forms, compound verbs)
  4. Uses adjectives in written compositions (e.g., adjective clauses, adjective phrases; relocates adjectives following nouns they modify)
  5. Uses adverbs in written compositions (e.g., adverb clauses, adverb phrases)

Standard 6. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts

Level III (Grades 6-8)

  1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of literary passages and texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, fantasies, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, drama)
  2. Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of literary forms and genres (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, fantasies, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, drama)
  3. Understands the effects of an author's style (e.g., word choice, speaker, imagery, genre, perspective) on the reader

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

  1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of literary texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, supernatural tales, satires, parodies, plays, American literature, British literature, world and ancient literature)
  2. Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of literary forms and genres (e.g.,fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, supernatural tales, satires, parodies, plays, drama, American literature, British literature, world and ancient literature, the Bible)

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