November 2012


  • Photography by Sedrick Miles
  • Editors:
    Tishon Woolcock
    Caits Meissner
    Anna Meister
    Nora Salem
  • Editor's Note:
    Other Names for Home

November 2012

In the Classroom: Exploring Neighborhood and Community Through Mythology

Age group: High School/University

Goals and Objectives: For students to explore their neighborhoods and communities through mythology and storytelling.

Warm Up: Defining Community

1. On chart paper write “community.” Ask students to contribute all words, phrases and ideas that contribute to the definition of community. For example: culture, food, family, religion, ethnicity, common interests, proximity, etc.

2. Using these indicators of community, task students with writing their specific community’s version. For example:

Culture: West African/Ghanian
Food: fish, rice, beans
Religion: Christian
Proximity: West Harlem, apartments
Music: High Life, hip hop, gospel

Pre-Writing Exercise:

1. Defining the Landscape

Ask students to paint a picture of their community. What do they see on their walk to the train? How would you describe it to a stranger?

For example: lots of corner stores and people on the street. Some look well off, some are struggling or visibly on drugs/homeless. There are tables selling books, DVDs, incense, oils, Shea butter and other goods lining the streets. Some big department stores and hole-in-wall restaurants. In the summer the hydrants are openedon the side streets for children to play. Men play chess in the park. We live in crowded apartments and projects and beautiful brownstones…

2. Excavating Memories

In pairs, have students interview each other on memories of growing up in their neighborhood. Memories can be happy- “the first time I felt like a man getting my hair cut at the Barber Shop,”or challenging- “the first time I saw my neighbor hit his girlfriend.” Each student should get three timed minutes to share this memory in as much detail as possible to their partner, with no interruptions, then switch.

Example Work: Share and discuss Things the Block Taught Me by Camonghne Felix from the Well&Often Issue Two. After reading, discuss the mythological language occurring in the poem. Where does the author exaggerate or create a sense of magic in the scenario?

For example:
“zippered open”
“splayed swan”
“the bold swagger of knuckle to bone”
“l am a giant extinguishing a bulb”

Writing Prompt:

Using the affecting memory from your “block” that you shared, write this memory in the form of a myth, using magical language to exaggerate, heighten and mystify the story. If easier to start, use Camonghne’s title as a jumping off point, “What the Block Taught Me.”


Group Voices & Extended Poem:

Borrowing Camonghne’s “lesson one” format, create a larger creative writing piece in chapters: lesson one, lesson two, lesson three, etc. to include many memories. If students come from the same community, let it become a group poem, with a lesson contributed from each group

Post-Critique: Peer Edits

In pairs, students should critique a partner’s work. Where can the metaphor and imagery be pushed? Is the piece clear? Is there a reason this story is being told? What feeling does it give the reader. Does it push the reader’s imagination?

Giving students a rubric or a check list grading sheet based on their identified “what makes a good poem” elements will help guide the process.


Using the advice given by peers, students retool and revisit their piece, adding imagery, metaphor and simile in areas identified and clarifying problematic/unclear language. It is helpful to scaffold this process into “draft one” and “draft two,” so students can see their own growth.

Share Out

Students share out in front of the class. It is always a positive experience to have students build in an element of positive feedback. Some ways to guide this process:

– Create a performance environment: Identify a student host to “lead” the “open mic.” Each student is introduced with a brief biography. Hand claps or finger snaps set the stage. Assign a student to “DJ,” intro-ing each poet coming to the “stage,” or front of classroom, with appropriate music.

– Sharing aloud: After each poem shared, ask for a few students to verbally share out parts of the poem they enjoyed.

– Index Cards: Have a list of guiding questions on the board. Ask students to give specific, positive feedback to each piece shared aloud that can be collected. At the end of class, distribute the index cards to each poet.

– Assigning “positive feedback” partners. Each student is assigned a fellow classmate to “grade” or “positively assess” a peer on their work using a rubric or pre-planned feedback sheet.

Beyond the Classroom:

Create an experience for the student work to live beyond the four walls of the classroom. Consider compiling a photocopied “chapbook” of the poems, asking an artistic student to illustrate the cover, or a blog where the poems can live and be shared with parents, school administrators and peers. Another option may be a lunch time “poetry open mic” where the students act as the “feature,” having a few brave class members share out their class pieces to a wider audience.

Related Article: Things the Block Taught Me

Written and Developed by Caits Meissner for Well&Often

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