3 of 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird Gifs

I was inspired by Jason Coats’ #vizpoem students sharing poetry images on Twitter (see the whole course here) and decided to take a stab at an old favorite – Wallace Stevens Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

Source files for the crow and mountains.

her face, crow tree, crow, other crow
Source files for her face, crow tree, crow, other crow
Source for the man, woman, and bird.
Source for the man, woman, and bird.

“Small People” Limited Time Offer

As an English or foreign language teacher I’d be all over the “small people” quote by BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. It’s not going to be useful much longer so act now.


  • Should this comment make people mad?
  • What did he mean?
  • What should he have said?

It’s a beautiful entry to arguing about word choice, synonyms and nuance. In this case, one word really mattered quite a bit.

It might be fun things like have students reword famous quotes/sayings using synonyms to make them offensive or otherwise rob them of power.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
“A chopped up house, will fall down.”

Minnesota’s “Land of 10,000 lakes”
“Our state has a lot of standing water”

After you get them written, you could have them post them in some way and students could try to figure out what the original quote was.

Another bonus was I found that I could search MSNBC video by certain keywords- in this case, small people. It highlights those words in a transcript and shows the points in the time line where the words occur with colored dots for the video. A really nice way to quickly get where you want.

Weird Books

My favorite kind of edtech use- free, quick and slightly odd1.

The Weird Book Room is, obviously, a collection of really odd book titles and covers2 This is prime fodder for all kinds of entertaining creative writing activities.

Things I would want to try-

  • Show the students three or four covers/titles. Their task is to pick one3 and write a Amazon style summary of the book totally based off the odd title and cover. The focus here would be on style, looking at how these reviews generate interest and what structural components they normally contain.
  • Instead of a summary write a review of the book as if you’ve read it. Give it 1 or 5 starts and write your review accordingly. I’d put a heavy slant on opinion and bias on this one, encouraging students to put themselves in personality roles with strong opinions and assuming that voice.
  • Use the titles in poetry. Students could just use the title as the first line, or they have to use X number of words from the provided titles. Lots of options.
  • If you had the time, students could write the book or at least a pitch for the book. Have them generate a character list, plot summary, etc.
  • As a frustrated art teacher, I’d give the titles and have students create the covers.

1 Thinking about it, it’s more about access to odd information and visuals. The tech part is relatively insignificant but could be expanding in most of the examples depending on what you had access to. For instance, with the time and inclination you might want to

2 Appropriateness varies. Probably not safe to have your kids wandering around on their own unless you live in Amherst, MA.

3 Choice is always good, but not too much choice or it’ll take forever.

Wolverine poems and other gifts from the Internet

Picture CC from DuneChaser

Four people got to this blog today searching for “wolverine poems.” I hate to leave people disappointed.
I’m not sure which wolverine they’re looking for so I’m covering my bases.

Wolverine: The Haiku
Wolverine is the
man with adamantium
bones and sharp claws.

Wolverine: The Animal
Carcajou, skunk bear,
you glutton! I call you out
as a big weasel.

This did inspire me but it also got me thinking about how many fun sources for poetry/writing prompts that are out there just begging to be used.

I’d love to do things with Google Trends. Take today’s (at around 9-10 PM Eastern) trending topics- No. 1 with a bullet is “applebees menu1.” I would also be forced to use #44 “goonies 2″ Then it’s on to #64 “agent cody banks” and finish it off with #47 “19 pound indonesian baby” and #48 “sycophants definition.”

I consulted the Applebee’s menu yet again. It had answers, but not the ones I wanted. I was hungry . . . for knowledge.

Is Goonies 2 an actual possibility? Am I getting my hopes up for an inevitable disappointment?” I wondered again. My mind tends to drift when I am stressed.

I tried to relax. I knew Agent Cody Banks was on the case. I had no way of knowing that a 19 pound Indonesian baby had already changed that plan.

A man approached and sat down. He stared right at me.

“Do you have the sycophant’s definition?” he asked in an accent I couldn’t quite place.

“What is the animal with the highest blood pressure?2” I wondered. “FOCUS!” I screamed internally.

I had no idea what I was in for.

Just good, clean3, chaotic fun.

The fun thing about stuff like this to me is it’s low cost for you time-wise and has a lot of flexibility.

  • roll dice to see which numbers you’ll use
  • pass on the story with each subsequent writer picking from the list for their sentence or have them go in order
  • mix this with your vocabulary word to create some challenge and interest

Picture 4
Another random thing I’d love to do with English. On Twitter, Peter Sokolowski4, posts popular searches from Merriam-Webster’s site. He also explains why the search is popular based on what’s going on in the news. I’d love to have the kids trying to figure out why the word has suddenly become of such interest. It will also, likely, give your kids an ego boost when they know words that the English speaking world apparently does not.

Presto, change-o, you’ve got context, current events and all sorts of other interesting possibilities with absolutely no work on your part.

1 Which tells you it’s Friday and people have poor taste in restaurants.

2 #52 – I’m forcing myself to stop now.

3 Cleanliness not guaranteed. Consult Google before blindly giving this list to a class of k12 students. Make sure you know why certain searches are in the news because while it may seem innocent it may not be. I would never want to be responsible for exposing someone to Tardy to the Party, today’s #3?!?

4 Editor, lexicographer and all around interesting guy

Wolverine Love Poems

I’ve been interested in using this Garfield Minus Garfield site for a while. Here are a few ways I might use it.

Instant creative writing prompt-

  • Write a love poem to a wolverine.
  • Or write a love poem from the perspective of a wolverine.
  • Or simply write a love poem using the word “wolverine” at least once1

The image matters. Having images like this always changed the quality and engagement I got from my students.

eat my socks
And we have a vocabulary exercise, in this case, for the word consume. Depending on where the student is at, they could match words to provided comics, find their own comics matches etc. I’d probably have them find their own matching comic and create a sentence along the lines of “Though Jon consumed the socks, the meal did not quench the fiery passion in his heart.”

If you feel like really making your students work, you might white out all the words and have them use the comic of your choice to explain something complicated or leave the words in and ask them to provide the context that will make it make sense.

For instance- this comic re-worded could become . . .
pity smile_filled
a look at King George III’s thoughts on the American colonies2. Part of the assignment would be explaining why your comic makes sense and that could be in writing or verbally to the class. A collection of these would provide for some interesting review material. I might even use them as test questions. I’d present the comic and then ask them to explain it.

It’s all simple stuff, I know but it might be interesting to someone out there. The Internet is a big place after all.

1 Bonus points for including a Red Dawn reference.

2 If students don’t have image editing software, just put it in Word and put text boxes over the speech bubbles. If you don’t have it, just use picnik or something similar

Not Very Punny . . .

. . . but I couldn’t resist. Not timeless certainly, nor broadly applicable but I’d have some fun with this in an English classroom. It’s along the same lines as the remixed “Read” posters Dan started and I did a few of a while back.

Lil Wayne and one of his lines from A Milli1.

Not sure if I need to be this obvious but it’d depend on the class.

If, for some reason, you want the big version of either just click on the image.

1 A good song but probably not playable in most classrooms and if you can get away with it I’d play the version with Jay Z instead.

A Little More Wordle and Poetry

Well, you know how I love Exhibit and I’m also a poetry fan. So after messing around with it some the other day and seeing some interest from a few people who put in their own poems- I decided to see what other poems might be on there and see if I couldn’t display them in an interesting way.

Go mess with it.

Add your own wordle poem if you’d like (the css in the embed code will likely mess things up temporarily but I’ll fix it).

Now, if I had a class1 I’d get a bunch of these done for a number of poems from the same author and probably the same genre. Then you could sort them by author or genre and do a surface analysis. Do the big words matter? Are the “big words” shared between poems, across authors? Does it matter?

Where things could get interesting is creating fake Wordles that do represent the words you think matter most2. Students would falsely elevate the number of words to make them larger regardless of occurrence. Then the explanation of why becomes an interesting conversation- especially when comparing the two.

1 or more free time

2 Oddly, most of my favorite lessons involve faking data, rap, animal attacks or, hopefully, all three

Looking at Poetry Through Wordle

I know, late to the party, but I wanted to do a little more than say “Hey, wordle is pretty cool and stuff. You should use it.” So here’s how I’d use Wordle to attack poetry.

Take a few poems from the poets you cover, mash a few of the poems together, and create a wordle for each poet. Then have the students match them to the author.

The Stevens one is pretty obvious with blackbird standing out that way but the other two will require a little more attention. The key is to make them identifiable but difficult. Too easy and it’s useless. If you presented these as problems to be solved at the beginning of the unit then you’d be able to get some interesting conversation going1. I’d post them on the wall as big posters and maybe let people put their votes as to the author under each. Then they move their vote each day as students find out more about the poet and their works.

So for Wallace Stevens I picked the poems available in Wikipedia – “Anecdote of the Jar,” “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” “The Idea of Order at Key West,” “Sunday Morning,” and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

And I did a few Richard Hugo poems as well- “Death Of The Kapowsin Tavern,” “Degrees Of Gray In Philipsburg,” “Farmer, Dying,” “The Church On Comiaken Hill,” and “Underwater Autumn 2.”

And finally, some Marianne Moore poems.

Maybe you end it with the students creating their own wordle based on their favorite works from their favorite poet. They pick and justify the font, orientation etc. of the wordle they create for the poet based on his/her personality3. If you’re looking for a paper, the student could also explain how the wordle accurately/inaccurately portrayed the poets work.

Alternately, it’s not a bad assessment. You can have students ID the author based on wordles you create showing their understanding of the poets and the vocabulary and subjects they tended towards. Or go to the next level and have students hand create4 wordles for poets explaining how and why they made certain decisions.

1 Especially if you were say looking at poets from the same genre as opposed to my odd personal selections.

2 Believe it or not, I did my first web project on Richard Hugo in grad school during a brief flirtation with a Masters in Liberal Arts which ended when the free classes did.

3 Hugo’s wordle should have had pretty depressed, muted colors for instance.

4 adding the words they see as representative as opposed to creating them by cutting and pasting poems