Images of superheroes
Books of poetry (Shel Silverstein or other children’s poets)
Chalk (lots of it!)
A few extra adults to supervise and help
The goal of this class is to show students how poetry can jump out at you anywhere—and when you know this, you start to see it in places you never expected to find it.
After the students are seated, the instructor mentions that we have some company today, and that students will see them if they look down at the table. In front of each student is a picture of a superhero. We explain: each one of these superheroes was chosen because of his or her ability to jump out from nowhere—Spider-Man swings down from his string, the incredible Hulk jumps out from behind a building—and scares the pants off everyone walking along the sidewalk. The students have five minutes to come up with what their superhero would say if he/she/it jumped out from behind a dumpster/telephone booth/bank and saw something bad going on. (We can also make the sound effects that would obviously happen if our superhero were really riled up.) After we do this exercise, the instructor calmly explains that as scary as that was, we know something that can be just as scary: finding a poem somewhere you didn’t expect it to be, and having it talk to you like a superhero would.
We’re going to write poetry that talks as loudly as your superhero does. Since superheroes disapprove of vandalism, we’ll be using notepaper and chalk.
Then we launch into the “flash poetry” assignment. Tell students to look around the classroom and find a spot (which can be any surface but the ceiling or the floor) where they want to hide a poem later. They have to be sneaky about deciding where their spot is, because no one else can know about it until the end of the lesson. Give them a few minutes to pick out the hiding spot. If you have a small class, you can let them get up and look around, but if this would create chaos, just have them choose a spot from their desks.
Next, they’ll write flash poems—poems on the spot—to hide. The poems can be suited to the hiding place the student chose (for example, ode to a chair, old-gum-stuck-on-table blues, poem about a cold, dark cabinet—you can write these ideas on the board) or something they already had in mind. Alternately, they can choose poems they like from a book of poetry and copy them down. Give them 15 minutes or so to complete the assignment.
Then we go around the room and share our poems, or a few lines that we like from a poem, standing up and reading with a loud voice (this can also be done at the end of the lesson instead). Students can share the flash poem, a poem they found in the poetry books, or both. After they’ve shared, we’ll collect the flash poetry poems and tell them that the super-secret project will continue later.
Then the instructor explains the next part of the lesson: we’ll be going outside to the schoolyard and writing, in chalk, some lines from the poems we’ve just shared. To minimize chaos, it helps to designate a set area for them to write in. A few extra adults will also come in handy here. Students can chalk drawings next to their poems and write their poems in funny ways—anything to make it look like street art.
While students are chalking, have a grown-up helper take a few students at a time back into the class to hide the flash poems they wrote earlier. We’ll come inside after all the students have hidden their flash poetry poems.
The lesson ends with a hunt to find all the poems. If there are any undiscovered poems at the end of the session, the poets can reveal where they hid their poems.