"What is it?" Poetry

By Celeste M. Scholz

Goal: To have students write a "What is it?" poem cooperatively.


The teacher presents the three poems by May Swendon during three separate classes.

This can be done in many ways, including stopping in the middle of the poem to ask for students' ideas as to what it is. Then, the teacher has the students "defend" their answers based on ideas in the poem.)


The students suggest topics for their "What is it" poem.
The students vote as a class, the majority deciding which topic is chosen.


In small groups, the students write a sentence or two of description about the object in relation to the five senses:  smell, taste, feel , hear, see.
The teacher then writes the sentences on chart paper in front of the students, eliminating repeated ideas.


The teacher questions the students about which sentences should come near the beginning, middle and end of the poem.
The teacher writes down the sentences as the group decides the order.
After this class, the teacher types and makes copies of this version.


The teacher reads the poem from the chart and the group follows along on their own copies, deciding which words/phrases should be changed.
The students decide on a title based on the final version.


The students read the poems created by the other classes and try to guess the topic.
The teacher arranges for the poems to be "published" on a bulletin board or in a school-based publication, including all the student names in the by-line.

By Morning
by May Swenson

Some for everyone
and more coming

Fresh dainty airily arriving
everywhere at once

Tarnsparent at first
each faint slice
slow soundlessly tumbling
then quickly thickly a gracious fleece
will spread like youth like wheat
over the city

Each building will be a hill
all sharps made round
dark worn noisy arrows made still
wide flat clean spaces

Streets will be fields
cars be fumbling sheep

A deep bright harvest will be seeded
in a night

By morning we'll be children
feeding on manna
a new loaf on every doorsill

Living Tenderly
by May Swenson

My body a rounded stone
with a pattern of smooth seams.
My head a short snake,
retractive, projective.
My legs come out of their sleeves
or shring within,
and so does my chin.
My eyelids are quick clamps.
My back is my roof.
I am always at home.
I travel where my house walks.
It is a smooth stone.
It floats within the lake,
or rests in the dust.
My flesh lives tenderly
inside its bone.

Poems taken from Baudoin, E. Margaret, Reader's Choice, Ann Arbor: Univesity of Michigan Press, 1988, 124-146.
Celeste M. Scholz Career Experience Professional Development Presentations & Publications