Photo by Hillary and Anna
Let’s remix a famous Christmas poem, give it a Thanksgiving theme, and teach our students advanced poetry concepts at the same time.
Students learn about rhyme scheme, but meter is a great way to extend their understanding of poetry. Meter defines a poem’s rhythm through stressed and unstressed syllables.
Introduce stressed/unstressed syllables using students’ names:
- Jennifer, not Jennifer
- Melissa, not Melissa
- Dennis, not Dennis
They need to be comfortable identifying stresses before moving on.
Shakespeare and Seuss
Shakespeare is famous for alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. If exaggerated, it sounds like “da dum” repeated over and over.
A pair of syllables with the “da dum” pattern is called an “iamb.”
Here’s Sonnet 18:
Dr. Seuss also dabbled in “iambs”:
Dr. Seuss is more famous for three syllables in a “da da dum” pattern.
The “da da dum” pattern is called an “anapest.” Since Suess uses four anapests per line, and tetra means four, this meter is called “anapest tetrameter”. It gives a poetry a fun, galloping feel.
A Visit From St. Nicholas
A Visit From St. Nicholas is the most famous poem built on anapest tetrameter.
Note: Detail-oriented students will catch that not all lines perfectly obey this meter.
Building The Remix
Here’s where rookie Ian would have gone wrong. Rather than scaffolding this task, I would have tossed the kids in. Some would have succeeded, but many would have struggled.
Instead, let’s build up to the large task by scaffolding smaller pieces and modeling the process.
1. Brainstorm Vocab
Let’s begin by brainstorming Thanksgiving-related words. Multisyllabic words are best since they have both stressed and unstressed syllables.
|autumn||corn on the cob||horn of plenty|
2. Break Down Stresses
Then find the stresses:
|autumn||corn on the cob||horn of plenty|
We also need some single-stressed-syllable words like: pie, fork, and plate.
You could even group these into categories based on stresses so kids have ammunition when they attack their own poem: first syllable stressed, second syllable stressed, etc.
3. Build An Anapest
Now model building an anapest for your students. We’ll start with “turkey.” It might help kids to have a table to fill out with 12 boxes to help structure their lines:
- The stress is on the first syllable: “turkey.”
- We need two unstressed syllables to go first: “We’ll have turkey.”
- Finish off that second anapest: “We’ll have turkey and pie.”
Now we have two anapests for our first line. Let’s fill in our table:
4. Finish Line
The original poem uses tetrameter, so we need a total of four anapests per line. I love that “cranberry sauce” already has an anapest built in, so let’s use that:
We’ve demonstrated how to build one line in anapest tetrameter that mirrors the famous poem A Visit From St. Nicholas. Now let’s rhyme it!
5. Rhyme The Line
Since the original poem’s rhyme scheme is an AABB pattern, we just need to rhyme “sauce.”
Show students that before writing this second line, it’s a good idea to plan the rhyme first. I’m going to end with “floss” and build from there.
We’ll have turkey and pie and some cranberry sauce.
We will eat so much food that I’d better bring floss!
Building The Final Product
Novices think creation happens linearly, but anyone who’s filmed a video, written a song, or penned an essay knows that creation is organic and often chaotic. My first lines might end up in the middle or the very end of the poem.
To emphasize this, have students write each line on a notecard, then move the cards around, finding the best order as they write.
How Long? The original poem is dozens of lines long, which will burn your kids out. Try remixing just the first six lines.
Groups? I’d limit this activity to friendly pairs or singles. Highly creative tasks don’t work well when we force kids to collaborate.
- Of course some type of classroom reading is a must.
- Consider traveling the school and reading to younger students.
- Add illustrations and build small books.
- Use Garageband to record readings, adding music and sound effects as well.
- For kids intrigued by “iambs” and “anapests,” let them browse this page for others syllable patterns.