How I Made Poetry my Favorite Writing Unit

My personal journals had always been something of a mix of scrapbooking, diary entries, flaps of papers with short stories, pasted in notes, etc. The rise of Bullet Journaling speaks to my love of creativity, planning, and writing. In fact, my favorite subject to teach is Writing. When you google bullet journals, though, you’ll see layouts that make you cringe under Pinterest Pressure. Smashbooks, on the other hand, are meant to be messy. They went through a quick flash of popularity some years back; here’s the K&Company introduction to the smashbook if you want to see a video of the idea. The description at the front of my K&Company smash book says:

Smashbook Description

“It’s OK. Just smash it in. There’s always room, just like the junk drawer.

Nothing’s right. Nothing’s wrong. It’s all YOURS. We say glue in the gladness.

A note. A quote. A thought to jot. A snipping, a clipping, an idea that’s caught.

A card, a regard, a tidbit, a smidgen, a doodle of a poodle or the feather of a pigeon.

It’s the smatterings of ordinary, extraordinary life. Messy and Beautiful.”

A smashbook has all the beauty of a scrapbook without the stress. My haphazard creative brain loves this, and the fact that it’s supposed to be messy helps release some of my perfectionist tendencies. My sixth graders without fail love this project, and I could see it working for many different types of projects. While I allow them to purchase a smashbook (search on Amazon for different styles), any notebook allows for great creativity. I always offer multiple craft supplies in my classroom, but for the month of this project, I create a decoration station as you can see below.

Supplies Station

The goal of our Poetry Smashbook is to gather examples of poetry from popular culture as well as create our own poetry. We analyze songs and different texts to find and describe the figurative language embedded in the language we consume all the time. Students also read and write both traditional forms of poetry (ballad, haiku, limerick) as well as more free verse/free form styles of poetry. Here is the Table of Contents which students must complete:

Table of Contents

If you want to follow along with my unit exactly as is, you can purchase it from Teachers Pay Teachers. I personally think this is an amazing deal, as I created this unit from scratch and most of this is grab and go. Of course, if you were encouraging students to decorate, I would recommend gathering those materials.

Below are some examples of student pages. As a freebie, here’s one guided page I’ve done whole class or as a station: Alliteration in Songs. For reference, here’s my calendar that I used this past year: Smashbook Calendar 2018

Although the examples I showed are more teacher guided (I didn’t want to put their most prized and unique pieces online), the best smashbooks I’ve seen from kids have entire pages dedicated to their passions (such as drawing, wolves, One Direction, or their summer camp), pictures, memes, drawings, and in general extra stuff. They don’t just meet the requirements; they go far beyond my expectations without my prodding. All I have to do is tell them they CAN. Even though I use this structure for one specific unit of study, I could see the idea of a smashbook being used for so many other things.

Here are a few more ideas I have:

  1. Freewriting – I have considered having the freewriting and drafting notebook that kids keep all year long be more like a smashbook. At the beginning of the year, we make lists upon lists of “50 things I love” or “My Writing Heart” or “I remember…” but imagine if those pages weren’t just lists. They could be colorful, bursting at the seams kind of places for idea generation.
  2. Word Work or Grammar Notebooks – Using the “sentence stalking” technique that is discussed in one of my favorite grammar books, Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson, kids could scavenger hunt for sentences and copy or paste them into their notebooks. Post-its don’t have to be thrown away when they’re released from the pages of a book used in a book club; they can be kept and tucked away in a notebook without it being an “improper” place to keep them.
  3. Math – How interesting would it be to bring something like this into a math class? Pictures of math in the real world could fill up entire sections. Freewriting about problem solving could become the norm. Instead of getting frustrated with a lack of organized step by step problem solving, we could encourage the messy thinking of a mathematician in their early problem solving phase, testing out new theories and methods without knowing what will work.
  4. Science – Similar to math, you could find tons of pictures out of magazines and articles out of newspapers/online that could be pasted into a notebook. This would encourage the connections and reflections we always want kids to be making anyway, and if it has the freeform feel of a smashbook, I think kids will be more willing to make those connections.
  5. Current Events – I know some teachers have students specifically keep Current Events notebooks that have a more rigid structure. What if that structure could be loosened for something like this? You could even have kids include things that are currently popular on Social Media and reflect on why this particular topic or story is big right now. What makes certain stories stick around longer than others? What makes certain tweets get millions of likes? What is the psychology behind the way people swarm around ideas? This could make for some fascinating discussion, and it would open you up to all kinds of things that might otherwise stay hidden from your view. What a way to learn about students and what strikes them as important!
  6. Dialogue Journals – Who says they have to only be in the format of letters? Why not have kids share all sorts of things with you as their teacher? They could paste in pictures and annotate their favorite comics. They can draw out scenes for you. I’ve had a student make a little drawing of every student in her class and annotate them! It was so fun to see how she depicted her peers.
  7. Book Logs – Students can keep quotes from favorite books, jot down ideas to share in books clubs, keep running lists of books they want to read from book talks in class, draw pictures, do one pagers and thinking routines inside of the pages, and so much more! Instead of trying to tighten a structure of a reading notebook, maybe open it up more.

These poetry smashbooks give me SUCH insight into every kid. It’s amazing the things that they write about and let me see. They share so much if they’re just told that they can. The assessment piece of this makes them nervous, which is why I use the Table of Contents. I tell them I’m only grading the stuff THEY marked in their Table of Contents and not anything else. This is by far my favorite project, so I hope you can try something like it!

Could you see yourself using this for a certain subject area? What ideas do you have? Any questions about my poetry smashbooks? Check out the unit on TpT and feel free to let me know what you think!

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