Posted August 5, 2017 & filed under mentor text, Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.

Death is not

a tall figure dressed

in black.

It doesn’t have an intimidating

black cloak

or a skull for a face,

and it doesn’t bear a scythe to kill you.

We shouldn’t have to see Death as

this monster,

this scary,




Maybe if we saw


in a different light, not as a scary

entity, but as a small

but strong,


with dark–but not black–fur

and large, white, caring eyes,

we wouldn’t be so afraid

when Death crawls into our laps

to take us away.


by Cheyenne, 7th grade

Re-imagining the Alphabet

Posted August 14, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

The inspiration for Russell’s poem came from a prompt I borrowed from Janine Joseph, a fellow WITS writer. The lesson is called “Re-imagining the Alphabet.” The lesson asks students to re-imagine letters as objects in their everyday world. We practiced doing this as a class, looking at the letter “M” and noticing how it could be imagined as a mountain or a crown and so on, and we also read and discussed e. e. cummings’ poem, “i.” Students were then asked to write poems of their own with letters we gave them (it was a coincidence that Russell received the letter “r,” which he used very cleverly in his poem).

Who Are You r

r is a diving board, hanging over a pool.

r is also a ladder,

helping people to

climb out of the pool.

r is both sides of a spear

or a battle-ax

and a soldier’s hat.

r is the targeting scope of a gun,

and the gun itself.

r is also the first letter of my name,


by Russell, 3rd grade

Listening to the students read the wonderful poems inspired from this lesson was one of the high points of camp for me.

by Michelle Oakes, Creative Writing Camp faculty

Michelle Oakes is a poet pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Houston whose work has appeared in The Laurel Review and RHINO. She is a poetry editor for Gulf Coast: a Journal of Literature and Fine Arts and an instructor for the 2012 Boldface Conference. Michelle earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Central Missouri, where she was also Associate Editor of Pleiades: a Journal of New Writing. She taught at the River Oaks Elementary campus during Creative Writing Camp.

Scenes from Creative Writing Camp

If you are sweet chocolate milk, then I am the one who drinks you

Posted June 13, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Engaging a child’s creativity–and your own–can happen almost any time or anywhere.  Years ago, I studied improvisational acting, which encourages actors to listen closely to one another and “find the game” in a conversation.  Bringing these ideas into parenthood has produced wonderful interactions with my son, who is three years old.  As he’s been learning and exploring language, we’ve invented a few of our own call-and-response games.

One game began suddenly as we were driving.  From his car seat, he mischievously called out, “Mama, you are a tree.”  Seeing an opening for a game, I responded “If I am a tree, then you are a small green leaf.”  Delighted, he offered several more “You are” statements to see how I’d respond.  This “You are” game, in which he calls me an object and I call him something connected to that object, has become a way of understanding relationships and creating metaphor.  Occasionally, he’ll disagree with my metaphor and offer his own, as in a recent exchange:

“Mama, you are sweet chocolate milk.”

“If I am sweet chocolate milk, then you are the cup that holds me.”

“No!  If you are sweet chocolate milk, then I am the one who drinks you!”

Also, learning that some comparisons can be perceived as insults has let him to be more descriptive and specific, moving from “You are a baby” to “You are a sweet baby” to “You are a sweet little baby that I like to keep in my pocket.”

Simple games like these are fun, easy ways to transform mundane events, such as waiting in line, into moments of silliness, learning, and poetry.  Why not try the “you are” game with someone you care about?

posted by Tria Wood, Writers in the Schools

[photo by hleo via Flickr]