Poetry, Nature, and Students

Students typically have writers block. Most students, that is, based on my experience as a teacher. I think we don’t give them enough opportunity to get comfortable with themselves as writers, but I know a sure-fire fix. Nature. Bring your students outside to a school garden or tree, or even just a patch of grass if that is all there is. In one square foot of “nature,” observant students can make myriads of discoveries that naturally stir the imagination, which is the mother of all creative endeavors such as drawing and writing. But here’s the rub. If you do it as a shot-in-the-arm one-time activity, it won’t work. Make it a habit.

My most successful year with second grade writers happened when students adopted a plot–a special spot within the boundaries of our gathering place. Some adopted a spot with a tree. Some adopted a spot with just grass. Some adopted a spot with dirt and decaying leaves. I took them outside once a week, weather permitting, and armed with their journals and pencils (colored or not), they were only required to sit and notice. If they were moved to draw, so be it. If they were moved to write, so be it.

Nature provided the magic, and eventually, all students started writing. At first, they wrote simple discriptions of what they saw, but eventually, their spot took on a life of its own, and their writing matched their imaginations in depth and breadth. My favorite essayist adopted an old tree with thick pieces of bark. He made up family names for the insects that lived on and visited the tree, and from there, he began telling their life stories, complete with all the drama one might expect in an overly large family of ants.

To make this happen, you–the educator–must be so invested in the idea that you are consistent with it. Further, you must also adopt a spot and model the behavior you want. And of course once you are all back inside, allowing time for students to sit in an author’s chair and share is a must. If they have drawings too, make sure they can share them on a document camera. Make writing a culture, and let nature be the leader.

Reaching, by Leigh Ray

Start at the bottom
in the damp, dark soil,
near the talking fungi,
the mycorrhizal network.

It’s a long way up,
but the rewards,
the sweet honeydew,
motivate you.

Sticky feet defy gravity
so no fear, ant.
Arolia, arolia.
Up you go.

Weave among the cracks;
navigate the phellem.
What’s in that hole?
Rotted wood for a home?

Do you seek the crown?
If you want the sun
and the raw wind,
reach high.

Looking up the trunk of a tall tree on a sunny day.
Photo Credit: Leigh Ray, 2023



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