Rusty Dreams

Posted August 9, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

As teachers, many of us must spend time teaching the personal narrative in preparation for state testing exams.  We concentrate on organization, clarity, word choice, grammar, and other writing “essentials.”  The child’s real story, though, sometimes gets lost.  As I prepare to return to the classroom (and all of those What I Did This Summer essays), I want to make sure I inspire children to express the deep feelings they have about an event before they try to organize and revise their thoughts into the perfect essay.

One way that I’ve accomplished this in the past is through poetry.  Poetry can help children get at their core feelings about an event.  Sergio, for example, is a smart, quiet student who has been dealing with family changes ever since we met.  He wanted to write an essay about living without his older brother, who has been serving in Afghanistan for two years.  Sergio really misses him and wants him to come home.  I thought Sergio’s idea for his essay sounded important and meaningful.

Before Sergio started to write, I gave him Langston Hughes’ poem about deferred dreams and asked Sergio to think about his dream for his brother to return home safely.   How would he describe that dream?  What does it feel like to wait for him?  Below is the Langston Hughes poem and Sergio’s imitation, which talks about what it’s like to carry around the weight of a “rusty dream.”

What Happens to a Dream Deferred?

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust over and sugar over—

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

by Langston Hughes

What Happens When a Dream Rusts?

Does the dream rust until it falls

like a man’s heart when it’s broken?

Does it stink like a spoiled egg?

Is it crushed with a lie?

Is the dream like a sharp nail

being pinned to the wall?

Does it fall into the fire

and explode like popcorn?

Or does a rusty dream lay

down, ice-cold like the fallen

brother of a marine.

by Sergio, 4th grade

Thank you, Sergio, for reminding us that the personal stories we tell can be powerful and beautiful.  Thank you for showing us that poetry can put us in touch with our deepest feelings and lay the groundwork for more writing.

By Marcia Chamberlain, Writers in the Schools

Eathan, Eathan

Posted February 2, 2010 & filed under Notebook.


I love you.
When I’m far from you I miss you.
I will show you how to defend yourself.
I will show you how to play baseball and soccer.
I will show you how to behave.
I will show you how to love.
I will show you how to miss someone.
I will show you dodge ball
and to comprehend it all.
I will show you how to be nice.
and how to make friends.
Get away from the enemies.
Be smart.
I will show you how to cook
and how to ride a bike.
I will show you how to be a good brother.

By Genesis, 4th grade
[photo by Job Garcia via flickr]

My Past in a Magic Box

Posted April 8, 2009 & filed under Poem of the Day.

I will put in my box
New York City streets,
A trip back in time,
And my Grandpa’s rhymes.
I will put in my box
My cousin’s laugh,
And one more visit with my brother,
Who died on the Fourth of July.
I will put in my box
An education, laughter, and playing,
All for my brother.
My box is green and orange and
Full of surprises and memories.
I will write all over it
What has happened In the past.

By Keshawn, 4th grade
[photo by idg via flickr]

apad2 This poem is featured as part of the 2009 A Poem A Day campaign, a National Poetry Month celebration by WITS that features a different poem by a WITS student every day during April. Click on the logo to the left to learn more.

Holding My Little Sister

Posted April 2, 2008 & filed under Poem of the Day.


I remember one sunny Friday I went to the
hospital with my parents to see my newborn
sister. There was a lady holding my little sister,
and she asked me, “Would you like to hold your
little sister?” I said, “Okay.” While I was
holding my little sister, my mom said, “Why
don’t we take a picture?” The lady took the
picture for us. When I was holding my little
sister, I felt happy that I was a big brother. She
felt really small, and it felt like I could squeeze
her, but I wouldn’t do that. I felt cool about
being a big brother, and one day I can tell my
sister what happened when she was small and I
held her.

By David, age 8

[photo by Stefanie via flickr]