Personification In Poetry Writing Lesson

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Figurative language can be a challenging concept for young writers to grasp. Many are fearful to play with language and want to be literal with their words. It is almost like un-teaching the rules of writing and words that typically go together. Today I worked with second graders to examine personification and how authors can make objects and items take on humain traits!

I started my lesson asking students to think about a time they have played with their toys or action figures and thought, “I wonder what would happen if this came to life?”. I explained how authors do this when writing and consider how to make ordinary objects or items feel like they have come to life by using vivid action words and give them human traits.

I read excerpts of the book, “Water Dance” by Thomas Locker. This remarkable book is a collection of poems that describe parts of the water cycle through poetic riddles. The illustrations in the text are breathtaking paintings and show movement. However, the emphasis was not on the illustrations as I read aloud. I told the students that this author will be giving them clues to help them figure out what natural element is being described. The students were so excited to try and solve the riddles! As I read the poems I emphasized on asking students to think about the human actions that were described.

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It is always a wonderful feeling to be sharing a book with students and to see their eyes light up with excitement to see what will happen. This book does exactly that and truly inspired them to start considering how they might write their own poems and riddles!

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We started our writing by brainstorming as a group to think of weather events and things in nature that we could write our own personification riddles. Students came up with great ideas including tornado, earthquake, lava, frogs, rainforest, and even a blizzard. I chose “tornado” as our class personification poem and as a group we thought of human actions that could be used to describe it. Students had some trouble at first coming up with the human actions or emotions. It required some support from me to help guide their ideas by pushing more vivid language.When a student suggested “picking things up” I nudged her to think about “lifting” and putting rocks “over their head” to use more specific language. Students then went to their notebooks to choose their own topic and brainstorm the actions.

After brainstorming we came together as a class to then write our own class personification poem, using the brainstorm we came up with. I encouraged students to use the phrases we had already written and pump up the creative language. Below is what they came up with:

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I lift rocks over my head.

I get dizzy from spinning all day.

I destroy everything in my path.

I run fast like a scared cheetah.

I am a tornado.

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It was then time to unleash the writing beasts and let them begin writing their own poems. While some chose to continue adding to their brainstorms, many were feeling extremely inspired to write! I was so impressed with the creative word choice and active verbs they wrote. It certainly helped that their amazing teacher had the idea that these riddles could be shared with 2nd graders in other classrooms. There was a huge sense of pride and excitement in the air.

Check out our writers as they share their amazing personification poems!

Creating Scranimals With Second Graders

I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching writing for younger students and how I can make less enthusiastic writers more engaged in the writing process. A big part of me has been so used to working with motivated upper elementary students that I forget how younger writers need time for processing and creating before they can even put pencil to paper.

I came up with this lesson idea for students to create their own creature after reading the fabulous poetry book, “Scranimals” by Jack Pretlutsky. This text is so rich and inspiring for children and adults. It pairs witty rhyming poetry with quirky illustrations of Peter Sis as it describes the behaviors of Scranimals, an imaginary creature made up of an animal and food. Some of the Scranimals my students loved reading about included the Potatoad, a potato and a toad who is lazy and doesn’t want to eat, drink or even think and the Radishark , a shark and radish who wants to consume everything in its sight. It certainly helps that Jack Pretlutsky’s witty lines cause even the most reluctant poetry reader to giggle at that thought of a radishark trying to eat your behind.

I tested this lesson out with Ms. Howland’s 2nd grade classroom. They are such talented writers and are so eager to try new types of writing with me. I really wanted the students to feel like their creatures would come to life and I wanted to allow them to create 3D models of their creatures. Cheap playdough at the dollar store (8 containers for $1!) was the answer to my prayers. For less than $5 I had enough playdough for each child to get their own container and they were instantly hooked on my lesson.

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I didn’t want the purpose of the lesson to just be making creatures out of playdough. I wanted to really pull in a teaching point to illustrate a specific writing strategy. I wanted to teach students that writers create characters (human, animal, or imaginary) that have traits we see in ourselves and other people. I wanted students to be able to connect to this lesson for their future writing projects and make text-to-text connections as they read favorite books. As we read each poem about a Scranimal, I asked students to share what they thought this creature liked to do, eat, disliked doing, and even their hidden talents. I really tried to push students to infer and think beyond the text to consider what this creature might be like in real life.

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Working with younger students has taught me that creating structures is really important. I made a “Character Profile” sheet to assist students as they planned out their character. I wanted to give them a tool to help them when they begin writing their own stories and poetry about their creature. I took time to brainstorm possible animal combinations with the students before modeling the character profile sheet. This really helped the students envision what their own character profile sheet would be like therefore easing the process for them to work independently. It also helped having a planning sheet that needed to be completed before they could begin sculpting with their dough.

The students took off writing down ideas and creating their own creatures. They were SO creative and excited about making their own animals. Being able to use words, sketched pictures, and create a 3D model really helped make these creatures come to life. Rarely do I love hearing a noisy and loud writer’s workshop but there is nothing better than hearing excited whispers from students on what they are working on. Students were completely motivated to make a creature that they loved and wanted to make just so. It really made me think back to the Katie Wood Ray presentation I heard in the fall when she said, “Students must have a vision to do their work”. I couldn’t agree more. In this lesson students had total control, choice, and vision for their work. Students who were struggling to have vision were able to use examples from the book and their peers to become inspired. Following this lesson, students will take their creations and profile sheet to write their own poetry and stories about their creatures.

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