An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Middle School English: Connecting through poetry

Nov. 2016

Rules about food in class were relaxed on an early winter day, as 8th graders in Erin Armstrong’s English class sipped tea and munched on rice crackers as they experimented with a form of writing that stretches back several hundred years.

The students were collaborating on Renga: Japanese “linked poems” consisting of alternating three-line and two-line stanzas written by two or more poets. The collaboration is one of many projects that become part of each student’s yearlong poetry portfolio.

Sitting in groups of eight, students alternated between quiet contemplation and inspired bursts of writing, as each added a stanza to a poem-in-progress before excitedly sliding the sheet to a classmate. “When students collaborate on writing, they have a chance to engage their creative skills in a slightly different way, which ultimately leads to the creation of interesting and original pieces,” says Armstrong. Some stanzas connected through metaphors, some through repeated themes, ideas, or emotions, and many – not surprisingly for 13-year-olds – connected through humor.

The thrill of taking someone else’s poem in their own direction was topped only by the end of class when each poem made its way back to the original author. Students giggled and grinned as the funny and sometimes weird results of the poem’s journey were revealed. Notes Armstrong, “It gives students a great deal of amusement and pleasure when they read what they’ve written together.”