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Thursday, February 5, 2015

"You can't write a poem about McDonald's"

"You can't write a poem about McDonald's" has been one of my favorite poems for years now. I have been teaching it annually because I want my kids to understand that poetry can be different than what they expect. Most kids hear the word poem or poetry and 
shut down immediately. Honestly, I am not a big poetry fan myself, so it is far from being my favorite thing to teach. For the benefit of my students and for me, I do my best to find off-the-wall poems. 

The focus for this lesson was making inferences from sensory details. To get them thinking about this, I had my students complete a pre-reading writing assignment, describing their favorite meal in as much sensory detail as possible. 

I then introduced three vocabulary words from the poem: fanatic, salvation, and cannibalism. To confuse them, I threw in the phrase "hip huggers and halter tops", showing them a picture from the 1970s. We focused on their meanings, and tried to figure out how they could possibly be connected and used them to make a prediction about the poem. Most of the kids focused completely on 

The next day, we worked on a sorting game. On one set of index cards, I glued images for the five senses. On a second set, I glued phrases from the poem. In groups, my students decided the sense being used to create each description. Adding the words and phrases to the vocabulary from the day before, the kids wrote a new prediction. Again, they seemed fixated on the cannibalism, and I began to question them about the type of teacher they think I am. 

At this point, they were completely suckered in, and I gave them the title of the poem. Many of the kids did not believe me (probably because I am known for pranking them). After a bit of convincing, the resigned their suspicions, and the lightbulbs above their heads began sparking as they made connections between the title and the phrases I had given them: crisp as a pickle, brown as a bun, greasy air, fingers thin like french fries

Once I let them read the poem, there were some realizations that out of the original words I taught them, they should have focused on fanatic rather than cannibalism. I think a few kids were disappointed that the poem was not about a savage murderer ("You did teach us that story about the guy who cut up the body and buried the heart, Miss."). But the more we discussed the sensory details, the more the poem came to life for them. 

As a culminating activity, we are drawing visual representations of the poem. Some kids are creating scenes while others are working on collages of images throughout the poem. So far, I have seen everything from the crazy fanatic to very interesting renditions of a hamburger cashier. Images to come!


  1. What an awesome way to bring poetry to life! I remember in high school we were reading poems about nature and our teacher had us meet at the local daffodil fields on a Saturday morning (it was voluntary but almost everyone went) and we read poetry sitting on the rocks looking out at acres of daffodils. I still remember it all these years later. :)

  2. ...and here I sit, after teaching my grade 8 art students about the power of words through this "found" poem. They too are illustrating it (over four pages of a slim class/home-made booklet) each student, carving up the words according to the strongest imagery for them personally.
    Conversely, I read the poem 3 times aloud to them as they jotted down words that spoke to them.And i chose not to tell the meaning of the words. I asked them to use their imagination instead (and I will teach them the literal meanings later).
    Then they starting sketching, planning the illustrations to best bring their words to life...
    Now they are creating the book with mixed media- pencil, pen, paints, etc... whatever they wish.
    I looked up R.Wallace and they were shocked (13 and 14 years old as they are) to see who he was. I know they expected a younger person. Of course, I explained he was younger when he wrote it ;)

    ... we shall continue creating for the next two classes