In the Classroom: Where Were You?: Exploring Shared Experiences Through Poetry
Goals and Objectives: For students to connect their lives to an experience that “shook” the world through examining Sandy Hook. Students will tell their own story of where they were when receiving the news.
This topic is weighty, and you may consider making this a multi-session project, being mindful of the deep emotion these exercises may unleash in response to community/world trauma. We also strongly suggest taking care to make sure the space is safe before delving into this lesson. If you are passionate, but nervous, and need some extra pointers and/or help with scaffolding this topic, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Begin with reading this fact-based CNN article about the Sandy Hook shootings. Instead of speaking aloud, ask students to write a first-gut response to the piece.
Ask students who feel comfortable to share out. Discuss what different emotions traumatic events bring up, even when watching on the news as a spectator. You may consider bringing in some of the exercises from the Talking About Gun Violence in the Classroom lesson plan.
1. Read Blue Skies: For Sandy Hook Elementary by Cheryl Boyce Taylor
and engage in discussion using the following questions, or your own:
– Cheryl’s poem is quiet and not overly emotional. Why do you think the poet chose this metro of quiet response?
– Why does it resonate with the reader when Cheryl describes that she was cooking when she heard the news of the Sandy Hook shooting?
2. Where I Was When…
Over the years, when historically traumatic events have occurred, people often discuss where they were when receiving news that shook the world. Parents may have their own stories about events such as JFK’s assassination and 911. Ask students if they have heard stories like this from their own families. Share aloud and read some accounts from bystanders on the Internet:
Where I Was When JFK Was Assassinated:
Where I Was When 911 Happened:
Ask students to identify a moment that “shook” them when hearing the news. Perhaps it was Obama’s win, or this experience of learning about Sandy Hook. It does not necessarily have to be a traumatic event, but one that touched them in its largeness.
Following Cheryl’s format, ask students to write about the event, ending on where they were when they heard the news:
1. the tv won’t shut up
What media outlet did you hear the news from? TV, Internet, newspaper, a friend or parent. Personify the source of the news as it delivers, as Cheryl does with this line.
2. the first night is restless
a wild wing of winds
no, it is not god
where is the white river they spoke about
the blue spruce
they say there was a brook that babbled
What was the setting of the event? Try to describe where this event occurred. What was the scene like? Written in beautiful pictures, this part of the poem should create a sharp and jarring juxtaposition.
3. blond curls blew in the morning breeze
Relating to a beautiful image of a person lost- pick one person affected in the experience. Imagine what they look like, and in a single, telling line, describe them.
4. here is your son America
his shirt button is loose
his heart a cratered moon
Personify the action, or the perpetrator as Cheryl does here.
5. I was making my grocery list
organic chicken soup nine grain bread Caribbean coconut water
Describe the ordinary action you were performing when the news reached you, as Cheryl does here with the simple task of creating a grocery list for a meal. What can you tell us about this moment that reveals something about you? Cheryl’s ingredients tell the reader that she is from the Caribbean, giving us a clue that she comes from a very different place than Sandy Hook.
6. this blue sunrise is tender I could almost stroke it with my hands
and twenty pairs of curious fingers
who will turn the soil
End the poem with the weather, what the air is like around you when learning the news, take it a step beyond yourself. Her last line refers to the children’s death and their tiny hands buried in the ground. Try a line like this, that gives us a clue where the people affected by the event are now.
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.
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: Blue Sunrise: For Sandy Hook Elementary
Written and Developed by Caits Meissner for Well&Often