Monday, March 13, 2006

Rediscovering Silverstein

Today I taught one of my most successful, most fun, most disgusting lessons ever. After discussing chores that we hated to do at home, then taking a quick poll and constructing a bar graph about our least favorite chores, I introduced my students to the poem "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out" by Shel Silverstein. It's a rather long poem by fourth grade standards, and I had written it on a sheet of butcher paper that I had taped to the ceiling, then rolled up where the kids didn't see it until I stood up on a desk and unfurled it. The collective gasp from the students as the paper came down, reaching to the floor, was awesome.

I then read the poem to them. It is often said that when students see that their teacher loves something, they get more easily caught up in it. Today was complete evidence of that. We read the poem, students got up individually and pointed out their favorite parts, then each student completed a comment card, telling why they would or would not recommend reading the poem.

The final and best portion of the lesson was for each student to write a poem about what would happen if they never did the chore they hated the most. Instantly, my students morphed into professionals in imagery and metaphor. One student who hates to dust described having to shake the dust out of her hair whenever she left the house, leaving piles of it everywhere she went. Another student who hates to clean the tub completely grossed me out by giving a detailed account of a scum ring that takes over the entire house, including the occupants. Yet another, who almost always refuses to write, filled an entire page about rats in military garb that take over the kitchen after he hasn't done dishes for nine years. His ending line has the lead rat saying, "And next, world domination!" then charging out the front door.

We were cracking each other up as we became more and more disgusting with the descriptions. And the kids were writing, with excitement and motivation, for nearly 30 minutes. I've seen them this excited before, when we built volcanoes or when I brought in my perfectly preserved, dead rhinoceros beetle, but never over poetry. It was one of those days when I am so thankful and ecstatic that I am a teacher.

5 comments:

Me said...

Ah, the teacher's greatest joy--true learning happening in the classroom. I love to read about the moments where being a teacher is the greatest thing in the world. A scroll from the ceiling is a stroke of genius, by the way.

Nice work, Ms. Writingsam.

PVision said...

Nice with the Shell Silverstein!

I used to be able to recite "Backwards Bill."

Anonymous said...

Did you know Shel Silverstein also wrote "A Boy Named Sue," Johnny Cash's big hit? Pretty talented guy, eh?

writingsam said...

I only just learned that Silverstein wrote "A Boy Named Sue." Another one of the best things about teaching is all the random things you get to learn through your research and preparation.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

I Love everything by Shel-- except the Giving Tree, but the description in your poem is so good that it just screams out for use!

I also like Sister for Sale-- who'll give a dollar-- a nickel-- a penny?