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Monday, October 12, 2015

Perspectives from Powell, Part I: Building a poetry team

This fall, Writing Coordinator Mira Smith is coaching writing at Powell Elementary School in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, DC. The Powell Panthers love soccer, but are also learning how to express their feelings about the beautiful game -- and much more -- through the poetry aspect of DC SCORES. Follow along as Mira takes us on a journey, through her words and those of her poet-athletes, leading up to the Poetry Slam! December 2.


Written by Mira Smith
Writing Coordinator

Written by Katie C., grade 5
I like poems
They make me feel like I am someone
Poems are like flowers
They don’t make me feel shallow

The teams are huddled together, focused and ready to play. The clock ticks down and the score is tied. Some students glance to their coaches for support while others check out the other team. Coach Matt counts down and yells “Ball!” Both teams scramble for a piece of paper and begin writing down as many words as they can think of that rhyme with the word ball. The classroom fills with whispers because, of course, this is the final round and no one wants the other team to hear their words.

“Fall, waterfall, call”
“shawl, wall, sawl”
“Sawl isn’t a word!”
“Write it down anyways!”

The back and forth continues until Coach Matt yells “30 seconds left!” With a final push the two teams complete their lists. With a close game of 16 to 14, Team 1 wins the Rhyming Games.

The Powell Panthers perform at the 2014 Poetry Slam!. This October they're beginning the process of
writing original poetry for the 2015 Slam! on December 2. 

The Powell Power Panthers are entering into their second month of the DC SCORES season and with registration complete we are beginning to truly feel like a team. We begin each poetry session with a warm-up writing prompt to help poets feel comfortable writing their thoughts and feelings on paper. Our first soccer game is coming up this week and so it is only fitting to write about the upcoming game. About half of the team write about their excitement, the other half on their nerves.

“Is it possible to play a good game but still lose? What is one thing you will do tomorrow that makes you a good teammate?” asks Coach Matt.

“I will not give up and I always perseverance,” one poet shares.

Although it has been challenging convincing the poets that there is no correct answer to our prompts, every poet seems to write a little more each session.

During the past month we have learned some of the basics of poetry writing. Coach Matt and I have taught about lines and stanzas, descriptive language, similes and now, rhyming. During our descriptive language lesson we asked poets to write about imaginary worlds. Here are some of my personal favorites:

Bad Luck World
This world is bad luck
It tastes horrible
It looks ugly
It smells like horrible food
But hey, at least it’s quiet

Poem of My World
It smells like fresh air
It feels so exciting
Because we could go on every roller-coaster for free
But it tastes like metal
It’s loud of people screaming from roller-coasters

Coaching poetry to a high energy group of students passionate about soccer continues to be a challenge. It is not that the Powell Power Panthers do not enjoy poetry sessions, rather most of them have deep connections to soccer highly influenced by their families, a connection much deeper than to poetry. My students barely go ten minutes without talking about their favorite players or positions to play.

The other day while walking around the classroom during individual writing time I noticed that a group of 5th graders decided to list as many soccer players as they knew instead of completing the writing prompt. On a beautiful sunny day I often find myself feeling bad about keeping the students indoors for longer hours and convincing them that I would rather be inside the classroom than outside. Every session though, I try to give tools to the students to help them express their love for soccer with words.

I look forward to sharing throughout this blog series the new and creative ways I use to engage students less interested in poetry. Soon I hope I can share the story of a team member who starts to look to poetry as a fun and creative outlet for expression rather than “the practice that’s not soccer.”

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