Poetry Challenge

Poetry Challenge

Every word holds worlds of stories.  One thought leads to another.  To demonstrate how easy it is to get started, I challenge students each month to write a poem inspired by a single word.  I call it Word of the Month Poetry Challenge, W.O.M. for short, which takes place on my blog (see link below at the end of the post).  Surveys of young people confirm that they spend a lot of time texting and working their computers and actually prefer these vehicles as two of their five top choices for reading and writing.D_Harrison-with-students

Published Work
Students like blogging because they can spontaneously interact and share thoughts.  When a teacher posts poems by budding poets, students adore seeing their work “published.”  They love even more reading positive comments posted by teachers, family, friends, and numerous adults who follow W.O.M. and routinely offer encouragement to the young poets they read there.

Florida high school teacher, Lisa Martino, says, “I am grateful that you allow my students a platform for their expression at their level.  If you could only see their faces when I bring up their poems on the Internet and show them all your comments, strangers who write words of encouragement to them.  They are beaming.  Writing for your contest definitely has encouraged them to write with conviction.”

How It’s Done
During a school visit in Missouri with fourth graders, I helped them brainstorm using the word “feather,” which was the word for February 2011.  Their list started with practical words: chicken, bird, flying.  Then someone made the leap of association.  “Feather pillow?” she asked.  “YES!”  And we were off and running.  In two or three minutes we added down jacket, tickled with a feather, snuggling under a comforter, and writing with a quill.  I added Dumbo’s magic feather because that was the subject of my own monthly poem.  (I have to write with the students!)  I read my feather poem, which begins like this:

I never thought I’d fly again,

or want to,


my original owner,

all caw this and caw that,

dreadfully dull, self-centered.

Scruples? Don’t ask.

Stuck in his tail,

I want out of the business.

When the old cheat helps

this chubby kid,

the only decent thing he ever did,

you could blow me away

with a . . .

When I finished reading the whole poem, I asked who was speaking.  Dumbo?  His mouse pal?  The crow that donated the feather?  The limb that Dumbo sat on?  Nope.  It could have been any of those, but in my poem it was the feather itself telling the story.  This led to thinking about how the poet must decide on who is telling the story.

A Classroom of Poets
All this sprang from a single word. In twenty minutes we covered a lot of ground.  In a follow-up note, teacher Roxie McQuarry said her students were excited and couldn’t wait to get started on Word of the Month Poetry Challenge.  That’s a typical response.  In New Jersey, a 4th grade student wrote, “I keep getting my notebook to write poems.  I showed them to Ms. Propersi. Guess what she did?  She screamed so loud the world heard and New York heard it too.  Your friend Ariel”


Author bio

David Harrison, Litt. D.

David Harrison, Litt. D., Author

David Harrison, Litt. D, is a nationally acclaimed author and poet. He has written more than seventy-five books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for young readers, and much of his work has been anthologized in countless others. David holds degrees from Drury University and Emory University and honorary doctorates of letters from Missouri State University and Drury University.