Too Darn Cute

Friday, January 31, 2014

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends
Written and Illustrated by Shel Silverstein

Okay, obviously this is a classic. It's been around for decades and just never gets old. This book is chock full of fun, silly, sentimental, entertaining poems that children and adults can enjoy. My husband and I started reading a few poems each night this month to our one-year-old as part of our bedtime routine. We just finished all of them and I'm sad it's over! While I'm not sure our little guy picked up on the subtle hilarity of Silverstein's poems, we sure got a kick out of rereading all of our favorites and I have no doubt he will learn to love them soon. I definitely recommend rereading this one with your kids or even by yourself (because I'm sure you've all read it at least once already, right?).

I also enjoyed sharing a few of my favorites with my class during a poetry unit when I was teaching in an elementary school. There are lots of fun activities you can do with his poems, but I chose just two poems to talk about here.

"What's in the Sack?"

        What's in the sack? What's in the sack?
        Is it some mushrooms or is it the moon?
        Is it love letters or downy goosefeathers?
        Or maybe the world's most enormous balloon?

Accompanied by a picture of a solemn man carrying a ginormous sack, the poem continues with all the silly and random things that people suppose he is carrying around on his back. With a fun subject, kids would have fun adding stanzas to this poem. This would be a great practicing lesson after having introduced rhyme schemes to a class. After students are familiar with a few basic rhyme schemes such as AABB, ABAB, and ABCB, students should be able to identify the scheme in this poem. Then, they can create a new stanza for the poem using the ABCB pattern in Silverstein's poem. This is a fun one to use because the man could be carrying just about anything in that sack, so children can be really creative. They need only come up with 3-4 possibilities and rhyme two of the objects (the second and fourth lines). Advanced students could be challenged to create multiple stanzas or think about the number of syllables in each line to make sure their poem flows the way Silverstein's does.

When the activity is finished, you will have to let students read their poems, because I'm sure they will be dying to share their silly ideas!

A real life man traveling with a giant sack! 

"Invisible Boy"

        And here we see the invisible boy
        In his lovely invisible house,
        Feeding a piece of invisible cheese
        To a little invisible mouse.
        Oh, what a beautiful picture to see!
        Will you draw an invisible picture for me?

The only picture for this poem is an empty white box. I love the idea of the invisible boy because it opens the door to imagination. All creative writing is using our imagination to create an image or a story, but the invisible boy helps to provide a bit of structure to this vague idea for children. Since we cannot just watch the invisible boy to see what he is doing (like passively watching a movie), we must use words (the more descriptive the better) to create the scene for our reader. He can do just about anything just about anywhere, but it is up to them to "draw an invisible picture" using words.

Showing versus telling can be a difficult skill to learn and takes a lot of practice. Depending on the age and ability of your kids, this activity might best be done as a creative writing prompt rather than a poetry prompt. Using the idea of the invisible boy (or girl), students can write a story about their character, the setting, and what their character is doing. Encourage students to give as many details as they can to help us see their picture just as they see it. One of my favorite activities to do during revising is to have students share their writing with another student. Afterward, the partner must ask the writer a question about his writing, such as, "While reading about _____, I was wondering, ______." This activity would be a great way to help students find things in their invisible story they can describe in more detail. While sharing stories at the end of the lesson, it might be fun to let the listening students actually draw a picture of the author's story as she reads.

And just in case you were wondering, a few of my personal favorite poems are "Boa Constrictor," "Sick," "Smart," and "Colors." What are yours?

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