The WITS approach to teaching creative writing often springs from the inspiring writing and art that we love. Here is a lesson–although not originally ours–that exemplifies our work with young children.

Grade level: 1st – 3rd
Genre: poetry
Objectives: To make discussion about brainstorming, symbolism and revision accessible to young students
Primary sources: My Map Book by Sara Fanelli
Materials: paper, markers
Contributors: Cissy Gully, Tria Wood

Many times, students forgo planning and brainstorming activities and immediately begin writing. This lesson utilizes a preliminary art project as a method of getting the students to brainstorm without realizing it. During the poetry writing portion of the lesson, reading an example poem and discussing the symbolism used in it is an important step in encouraging the students to use symbolism in their own poetry. Finally, sharing their poetry aloud with the class prompts revision in the friendliest and most comfortable of ways.

Begin by showing Sara Fanelli’s My Map Book to the class. Pass out a blank sheet of paper to the class and instruct them to draw pictures of things that are in their heart similar to the maps they saw in Fanelli’s book. After fifteen minutes of drawing, stop them and reveal that they all just engaged in brainstorming.

Share an example poem with the class. It is important for the students to see an example of how the words in a poem such as this one convey more than just their literal meaning. Discuss the symbolic meaning of each line of the poem, asking for student input with each new symbol.

“My Heart”

Tria Wood, WITS writer

My heart is made of rubies, antique buttons, and pencil stubs.
My heart is a piñata filled with clementines and caramels.
My heart is a tiny white finch singing in her nest of thorns.
My heart is a silver snowflake melting on your tongue.

When students begin to write their own poems, challenge them to use their words to symbolically describe what is in their heart, rather than writing a list of all the things they drew on the map of their heart.

After fifteen minutes of working independently on their poems, pick volunteers to share their poems with the class and then let those volunteers choose two students to say one thing they liked about their poem and one thing they wondered. The readers should take the feedback from their classmates and use it to revise their poems. Allow all the students who did not share with the class to pair up, read their poem to their partner, and get feedback to use for revision.



“My Heart”

Julia D., 2nd Grade

My heart is a giant stack of
books that won’t ever stop.
My heart is
a gray morning in rain.
My heart is filled with sweet chocolate.
My heart is filled with strawberries that I love
and daisies blossoming
in the Spring.
My heart is filled with snowy afternoons in Italy.
My heart is sprayed with fun
and laughter and happiness.

If you try this exercise with your students or if you do it on your own, feel free to share the results with us.

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