February 14, 2011

I Love...SIMILES!!

Yes, that says "similes" not "smileys."  Although I love those too!

I want to share a fun Writing Workshop lesson I taught my kiddos today.  Yesterday while I nursed my aching legs it dawned on me that I had included zero valentines-y lessons in my Monday plans.  While I am a scrooge about most holidays, insisting it's crucial that we keep working and not waste time with silly things, I often try to find a curriculum connection for holidays.  For me, the easiest place to do this is Writing Workshop.  In winter, for example, I read aloud the book Snowmen at Night, and the kids wrote stories about what other objects might do at night.  Some of them turned out fantastic!

The wonderful ReadWriteThink website and all of its lesson glory saved me on this one!  I taught a condensed version of their lesson "Lonely as a Cloud: Using Poetry to Understand Similes."  It's not technically a Valentine's Day lesson, but I made it work. :)  This lesson killed 2 ISAT birds with one stone: similes practice and a poetry overview, two things my kiddos struggle with that are on ISAT.
For this lesson, I distributed copies of the poem "Willow and Ginkgo" by Eve Merriam.  Before finding it on ReadWriteThink, I had been unfamiliar with this poem, but I really loved it both for its message and for the UNBELIEVABLE mentor text it makes for teaching similes!

Here's a quick snapshot of the poem:

The willow is like an etching,
Fine-lined against the sky.
The ginkgo is like a crude sketch,
Hardly worthy to be signed.
The willow’s music is like a soprano,
Delicate and thin.
The ginkgo’s tune is like a chorus
With everyone joining in.

The author goes on to contrast the two trees using simile after beautiful simile.  While I read the poem, the kids underlined the similes they heard on their copies.  Then, we made a list on chart paper of the things the willow is compared to, as well as the contrasting gingko comparisons.  
Don't mind my messy scrawl...I have absolutely atrocious handwriting for an elementary teacher!!!
The kids and I discussed how these columns differed from each other, and what the author was illustrating about the two trees based on these comparisons.  They did a really great job (with some guidance of course!) and understood the poem better than I had expected!  I was very impressed.  The even "got" the ending stanza, which is my favorite part of the poem:

The ginkgo forces its way through gray concrete;
Like a city child, it grows up in the street.
Thrust against the metal sky,
Somehow it survives and even thrives.
My eyes feast upon the willow,
But my heart goes to the ginkgo.

After we had discussed the trees and the reasons the author chose to illustrate them using similes, the students each chose a person, place, or thing that they love to write a poem about (aha!  The Valentine's Day connection!  I'll bet you were beginning to wonder!).  We used this graphic organizer to record traits of the "loved thing" and practiced writing detailed similes.  I pushed the students to go beyond similes like, "My bear is as soft as a brown comforter," to similes like, "My bear is soft as a brown comforter warm fresh from the dryer."  With a little prodding, most of them came up with some really excellent things!  Rough drafts are being finished for HW tonight, and I plan to make a class book of the final copies that will trickle in during Daily 3 this week.  I definitely like this lesson, and would love to follow the RWT lesson more closely if I teach this in the future.  Theirs included a few more days of direct instruction using other materials. 

I'm excited to see the finished products soon!  


  1. We have been working with similes and metaphors quite a lot recently...and the kids are so funny when they accidentally say "smiley" ;)

  2. How fun! What a great lesson and a great poem too :). Sometimes the kids can really come up with some great similes/metaphors!!


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