"grammar in context" poems that work well with writers...
Prepositional Phrase Poems
a simple formula poem that: 1) teaches students what prepositions are and do; and 2) allows students to explore descriptive techniques
I devoured and analyzed Constance Weaver's "Grammar in Context" texts when I was working on my Master's Degree. Her writings encouraged me to develop writing techniques that provided students an opportunity to think about grammatical concepts in their own writing as they were composing it, as opposed to correcting grammatical errors in something someone else had written for them. I saw notable differences in my students' knowledge of grammar when I used these techniques and had students create grammar-inspired structures--like the Prepositional Phrase Poem.
My bottom line with this assignment is this: the topics for these prepositional poems MUST be the students' own topics; otherwise, they will not care enough about the writing to learn about the grammar that builds each poem's structure. That's what I when saying "grammar in context," because students are creating their own written contexts in which to practice a grammatical idea.
This poetic structure here is also one I use to "fool" my students who insist they can't write a poem into writing a "poem."
Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:
How does varying sentence structure--especially sentence beginnings--create language that is more appealing to a reader?
What's the purpose of a prepositional phrase in writing?
How can prepositional phrases be used--structurally--to craft a better variety of sentences in one's own writing?
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.3 -- Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.*.3 -- Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.9-10.1a -- Use parallel structure (possible acceleration for your advanced writers)
An even deeper EQ: How can parallel structure and interesting sentence structures be used to create a piece of writing that's interesting to read and poetic in structure?
A prepositional phrase poem is a fairly simple structure poem. Its formula is as follows:
Line 1: Prepositional phrase #1,
Line 2: Prepositional phrase #2, (no prepositions may be repeated, by the way)
Line 3: Prepositional phrase #3
Line 4: Subject + Verb (or Verb + Subject sometimes works)
An EXAMPLE Prepositional Phrase Poem:
Line 1: Between the two lamp posts,
Line 2: Out in the empty street,
Line 3: Among swirling Autumn leaves
Line 4: Stood a policeman.
I can't say that I invented this format of "poetry," but I do distinctly remember reading a story as a pretty young child, and that story memorably began with this sentence: "Through the forest ran the deer." Even though I didn't understand grammar at all back then, I loved the way the sentence sounded when said aloud because it didn't sound like other sentences. It had a unique structure to it, which I was unable to put into words back when I first encountered that sentence: it started with a prepositional phrase, which allowed the author some grammatical liberty with the remainder of the sentence.
The sentence stuck with me over the years. "Through the forest ran the deer." I have no idea what story it came from, and believe me, I've looked for it. If you know, e-mail me.
Usually sentences share their subjects and predicates in a predictable and linear order, and prepositions start those fun phrases that can move to different places in the same sentence when you're struggling with a revision plan. Typically, you'd read: "The deer ran through the forest." The moveable preposition can jump to the sentence's beginning too: "Through the forest, the deer ran," but the author of the sentence I remember reversed the subject and predicate when creating the sentence. "Through the forest ran the deer."
One day, I was working in my writer's notebook, and I scrawled out:
Through the forest,
Beneath an evergreen canopy,
Under a concealed azure sky
Ran the deer.
Above, I expanded the memorable line from my childhood by adding two more prepositions and wrote the whole thing to resemble a poem ("You just have to use really short lines," as Jack narrates and explains in Love That Dog). I believe I invented this simple format for a poem, but if something out there inspired me that I've forgotten, I hope you'll let me know so I can share the credit for the idea with you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Teaching the poem's format using mentor texts: A few days before I even say the words "prepositional phrase poems" to my class, I display and use the first sentence from Fox as a story-starter one day. I ask students to try and impersonate the structure of the sentence with a different topic, or I allow them to continue the description to see where they go poetically.
When we write our "practice preposition poems," I tell my students they can choose any topic they'd like to explore using the poetry format. If they struggle for topics, then I bring them my wordless picture books and say, "Choose a page with a fun-looking picture; plan to write your poem using the picture as your inspiration."
The picture less books I have the best success with are as follows: