Introducing the Ladies and Narrative Poetry

I copied the file onto my server only to prevent the hot-linking that would occur otherwise, given the media plug-in I use on this site. The song is from here.

First period finished up “Ballad of Birmingham” by paraphrasing each stanza and then listening to the song version:

Ballad of Birmingham

Second period continued with Romeo and Juliet.

Juliet and the Nurse (engraving by James Parker)
Juliet and the Nurse (engraving by James Parker)

Second period went through two scenes from act 1: scenes 2 and 3. Students looked carefully at the natures of Juliet, Lady Capulet, and the Nurse, coming up with three adjectives for each, and backing up those descriptions with quotes from the play.

(We actually did 2.5 scenes, as we really did the last half of scene 1 at the beginning of class.)

Fourth period did much the same as first period.

Sixth period was a little behind from yesterday. We went through “Ballad of Birmingham” and played catch-up with first and fourth periods.

  • First period: paraphrase the following lines from “Runagate, Runagate”
    • 1-7
    • 21-29
    • 45-53.
  • Second period:
    • read act I scene 4;
    • complete questions from study guide.
  • Fourth and sixth period: none.

“Juliet and the Nurse” from WikiCommons.

Ballads and Brawls

Second period began Romeo and Juliet. We made it through the brawl scene that introduces the first conflict in the play. It’s already clear that this will take a bit longer than I thought, due to the challenging language of the play.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (Wikicommons)
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (Wikicommons)

First, fourth, and sixth periods continued working on ballads. We finished “Boots of Spanish Leather” and began working on “Ballad of Birmingham,” which deals with the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.

We used the two ballads to determine what are the characteristics of a ballad in general.

  • First period: continue working on poetry project.
  • Second period: re-read Act I Scene 1, looking for stage directions hidden in the dialogue and preparing parts for tomorrow.
  • Fourth period: no homework.
  • Sixth period:
    • read “Ballad of Birmingham”;
    • quiz tomorrow.


The semester exam for English I honors will be Wednesday 14 January 2008. The stude guide is available here. (Note: only students — i.e., individuals with accounts — will be able to access this document.)

Intro to the Bard and the Ballad

Christmas break is over. Everyone seemed anxious to get back to learning. No — really. No joke.

First, fourth, and sixth periods began a two-day lesson on ballads. Today we began by looking at Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather” and using it to determine the elements of a ballad. Tomorrow we’ll be continuing with “Boots” and then moving on to “Ballad of Birmingham.”

94px-shakespeareSecond period began the much-anticipated Romeo and Juliet. We watched a short film about the plot and spent some time going over the study guide, which includes a bit of information about how to read Shakespeare like a pro. We looked very briefly at the prologue, and we will begin in earnest tomorrow.

It should be fun!

  • First, fourth, and sixth periods:
    • complete the ballad;
    • answer the comprehension questions.
  • Second period:
    • read Act I Scene 1 through Romeo’s entrance (pg 741);
    • answer applicable study guide questions.

I took some time to share something very special and very dear to me: Christmas in Poland. We began by freewriting about snow, but from there, ELA was out the window and it was, quite honestly, more social studies than English. But once a year — it can’t possibly hurt!

We started with winter in Poland — it can be severe. Finally, we looked at a traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner.

[album id=4 template=extend]

Happy holidays to all. See you in January!

First period began the last section of poetry for the week: imagery. We looked at one particularly amusing poem called “The Country” by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins (Wikipedia overview).

I particularly like Collins’ work. His poetry is very accessible and yet has a certain calm depth to it. I use “The Country” for a couple of reasons. First, it’s in the book — an obvious reason. Second, there’s an animated version that kids enjoy and that really highlights Collins’ use of humorous imagery.


The original is available at “Billy Collins, Action Poet.”

After a quiz on the reading for the day, second period looked at Odysseus’ slaying of the suitors and how that ties into the ever-present theme of hospitality in the Odyssey.

Fourth period finished up figurative language and worked together as a group to create two things:

  1. a step-by-step guide for how to write a poem;
  2. a poem (by following the guidelines as we write).

The poem we initially created reads:

Writing a poem is easy: all you need is a topic.
It takes no artistic ability.
It takes time.
It takes alliteration and onomatopoeia.
It takes courage and effort.
You’ve got to have heart.
Don’t settle. It can always be better.

A bit of revision brought about this:

Writing a poem is easy. It takes no artistic ability.
All you need is a topic.
a good minute,
alliteration and onomatopoeia,
courage and effort.
You’ve got to have heart.
Don’t settle. It can always be better.

We realized this is starting to look like a recipe, so we might head that direction tomorrow with the additional revisions.

Sixth period had a quiz on the language in “The Concrete Mixers”, then followed fourth period’s lead.

Their poem so far reads,

Writing a poem is like riding a bike.
You ride through the lines like writing through the rhymes.
When you mess up you get back up.
No matter how hard it is you must not give up.
You never forget how to ride a bike and you never forget how to use words
Because they always fly through your head like birds.
Your pencil is your pedal. the words are your wheels, and
the paper is the road. That’s how I feel.
The closer you get to the end, the harder things get.
The bigger the bike the bigger the words.

We’ll begin revising tomorrow.

  • First period: none.
  • Second period:
    • finish the Odyssey;
    • answer questions 1-4 on page 950.
  • Fourth period: none.
  • Sixth period: none.
Figurative Language Completion and Hospitality

Everyone, once again, was working on poetry today.

First period finished looking at figurative language today. We ended by adding a poem to the poetry project list of required poems: a poem about urban and/or rural life. (All three poems we read for figurative language dealt with the city.)

One of the poems we read, “Harlem Night Song,” was by Langston Hughes.

Langston Hughes in 1936 Carl Van Vechten
Langston Hughes in 1936, photographed by Carl Van Vechten

Second period looked in depth at the question of hospitality in the opening sections of the second part of the Odyssey. Specifically, students discussed in groups the hospitality shown in Eumaeus’s tent as well as the role hospitality plays in Penelope’s continued patience with her suitors. Students worked on materials for their response journals.

From John Flaxman's illustrations for Odyssey
From John Flaxman's illustrations for Odyssey

Fourth and sixth also continued working on figurative language. Fourth period finished up “Concrete Mixers” and took a quiz, ending the day by looking at personification in “The City is So Big.” Sixth period completed “Concrete Mixers.” Both fourth and sixth periods went over the tests from yesterday as well.

  • First period: write first draft of city poem.
    • Second period:
    • read “Death in the Palace”;
    • possible quiz tomorrow on the reading.
  • Fourth period:
    • read “Harlem Night Song”;
    • find one example of figurative language in the poem;
    • write first draft of city poem.
  • Sixth period:
    • study for vocab quiz (words from “Concrete Mixers”);
    • write first draft of city poem.
Poetry and Homeric Similes

First period finished up the mini-unit on sound devices and moved on to figurative language:

  • simile,
  • metaphor, and
  • personification.

We began by looking at one poem (“Concrete Mixers”) in pairs for examples of all three forms of figurative language.

First period at work
First period at work

We’ll be having a quiz tomorrow on the vocabulary terms in “Concrete Mixers”.

Second period worked on Homeric similes before starting with the second part of the Odyssey. Students discussed examples from the text; afterward, students worked in pairs to create their own examples.

Discussing Homeric Similes
Discussing Homeric Similes

Fourth and sixth periods had short tests on sound devices. After the test, we began working on figurative language.

  • First period: vocabulary quiz tomorrow on “Concrete Mixer” terms.
  • Second period: complete Homeric similes.
  • Fourth period: vocabulary quiz tomorrow on “Concrete Mixer” terms.
  • Sixth periods: none.

No update yesterday as I was at home sick.

Today, fourth and sixth periods went over a review of sound devices and the three poems we used to learn about them.

Second period reviewed the first part of the Odyssey.

Scylla, Charybdis, and Sound Devices

odysseyscyllacharybdisSecond period read one of the most famous episodes in the entire Odyssey: the Sirens, and the passage between Scylla and Charybdis.

First period continued working on sound devices. We also switched at the end of class from examining the language of the poems to examining more carefully the meaning of the poems.

Fourth and sixth periods are continuing with sound devices as well.

  • First period: complete the paraphrase of “Ring Out, Wild Bells!”
  • Second period:
    • complete part one of the Odyssey;
    • prepare outline for discussion (see for details).
  • Fourth and sixth periods: revise your poem about your favorite animal in order to include three of the following four sound devices:
    • alliteration
    • onomatopoeia
    • rhyme
    • rhythm

Images from Wiki Commons

Poetry, the Odyssey, and a Mistaken Allusion

First things first: I made a blunder during second period. We were looking at Odysseus’s journey to the underworld and his meeting with Tiresias. I mentioned the two famous victims of the underworld, Tantalus and Sisyphus; I elaborated on Sisyphus and the 20th-century French philosopher who designated him an “absurd hero.” I attributed this to Jean Paul Sartre.

551px-punishment_sisyphSisifo, olio su tela di Tiziano Vecellio

Sartre?! What was I thinking? Sartre is the heavily analytic, dense existentialist; it’s the man that wrote L’Être et le Néant (Being and Nothingness) — not exactly the easiest read in the world.

It was Camus who was more literary in his presentation of existenialism.

412px-johann_heinrich_fussli_063Johann Heinrich Füssli
Theresias erscheint dem Ulysseus während der Opferung

Naturally this is an oversimplification. Sartre wrote plays — No Exit and Nausea come to mind — as well as philosophical monographs. He wrote literature, but he wasn’t quite as literary as Camus.

All that aside, I wanted to make the correction. I’m sure Sartre would be flattered, but my philosophy professor from college would be horrified.

First period continued with sound devices; fourth and sixth periods began working with sound devices. All three periods working with sound devices are doing group work, and quite successfully, I might add.

  • First period: vocabulary handout.
  • Second period: five-panel storyboard of your vision of the meeting with Tiresias.
  • Fourth and sixth periods: write poem about your favorite animal.

First period worked on poetry. Specifically, we finished up the selections by Jacqueline Woodson and began the next collection of three poems.

Second period spent some time in the library doing research for their cyclops poem and project.

Fourth and sixth periods looked at a second poem by Jacqueline Woodson, “Almost a Summer Sky.” We used this to examine:

  • simile,
  • repetition,
  • and free verse.
  • First period: complete reading the three poems from class (roughly 600-606).
  • Second period: none specifically for tomorrow (standing assignment: cyclops poem/project)
  • Fourth and sixth periods: answer questions on pages 227-229 in workbook.

First, fourth, and sixth periods worked on poetry, specifically Jacqueline Woodson’s “Describe Someone.” We practiced as a class revising lines to add alliteration and consonance. Students will be doing the same to their own poems for homework.

Second period went over the Cyclops episode in the Odyssey.

  • First period:
    • read “Summer Sky”;
    • answer questions on pages 227-229 in workbook.
  • Second period:
    • semi-long term assignments (part of reader response journals for Odyssey):
      • a poem from the cyclop’s point of view;
      • read page 809 then work on the question of hospitality as it’s presented throughout the Odyssey;
    • for Monday: read “The Witches’ Circle”
  • Fourth and sixth periods: work on adding consonance and alliteration to your poem.

Second period began looking at the elements of the Coen brothers’ film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? that are taken directly from the Odyssey. We’ll be watching five scenes, and we began today with the Coen brothers’ take on the Lotus Eaters.

First period worked on a rather lengthy quiz, then created signs in Microsoft Publisher for our bulletin board on poetry.

Fourth and sixth periods began poetry by looking at consonance and alliteration, two sound devices used in our first poems. Then we watched a short video in which a poet, Jacqueline Woodson, described her work as a poet.

  • First period: none.
  • Second period: read the section on the cyclops.
  • Fourth and sixth periods:
    • write a poem that describes someone;
    • complete “Works Cited” page (to be turned in tomorrow)
Poetry, Poetry, Poetry Everywhere

All classes are working on poetry. First period has spent a couple of days doing a refresher on the basic elements of poetry. We’ll have a quiz tomorrow.

Fourth and sixth periods began poetry today. We took a leisurely time discussing poetry and what it is for us personally.

Second period is working on the poem, the foundation of Western literature: the Odyssey. Today we finished up Odysseus’s adventures with Calypso, comparing what we read in the epic with Suzanne Vega’s song “Calypso.” I would quote the relevant portions, but this is what I got when I went to find the lyrics online:


You can find the lyrics here.

  • First period: quiz tomorrow on basic terms.
  • Second period: complete reading “I am Laertes’ son.”
  • Fourth and sixth periods: none.