An I-Pod Inspired Poetry Lesson from WritingFix
Focus Trait: IDEA DEVELOPMENT Support Trait: WORD CHOICE

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Teacher's Guide:

Tribute to an Artist
and his/her Work

A found poem that summarizes big ideas from any artist's life

This lesson was created by NNWP Consultant Corbett Harrison. Corbett demonstrates this lesson during his 7 Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson Workshop for Teachers.

This writing prompt inspired by

"Vincent" sung by Don McLean

Click here to do a Google search for the lyrics.

A note for teacher users: These lessons are posted so that you may borrow ideas from them, but our intention in providing this resource is not to give teachers a word-for-word script to follow. Please, use this lesson's big ideas but adapt everything else. And adapt it recklessly; that's how you become an authentic writing teacher.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources:

Pre-step…before sharing the songThis lesson's mentor text is inspired by the life and art of Vincent Van Gogh, which can be a heavy topic. To begin with, you will need to have students read and discuss some developmentally appropriate reading material on the artist and his work. Here are three options:

Ask students to look over the information --perhaps working with partners or small groups--and pull out fiften or twenty words (or short phrases) that stand out as ideas that really seem to stand out as words that represent the life and art of Van Gogh. The words/phrases they choose should probably be specific nouns, strong verbs, interesting adjectives, and perhaps an adverb or two, which you may have to encourage them to dig for. Under no circumstances, should students pull out phrases longer than four or five words, and absolutely they should not pull out an entire sentence. A found poem, which is their ultimate assignment here, relies on simple words and phrases.

Ask students to assemble the words/phrases into something that looks and sounds like a poem; they do not need to use every word they found to create their "word splash" poem. They can add their own words and phrases between the ones they've "borrowed" from the research in order to build the poems.

Share several poems out loud. Have students listen for words or themes or commonalities that all the poems seem to share.


Step one…sharing the song and the poem:  Tell students you'll be listening to a song and reading a poem today that were both inspired by the life and art of Vincent Van Gogh. They might find, if they're lucky, identical words in these two mentor texts that they chose for their own "word splash" poems, but more than likely they will find synonyms. You might have students use a highlighter to pull-out these words and synonyms.

Tell students the song you are about to play is a tribute to Van Gogh and his art by a singer/songwriter who was moved by the artist's life story as well as his paintings. Play the song Vincent by Don McLean and let students go over the lyrics with a highlighter. Ask students to find a theme in McLean's song; ask, "What is the singer trying to say about Van Gogh? Can you put the message in one sentence?" Share sentences out loud.

Next, share the poem Starry Night from Tupac Shakur's poetry collection The Rose That Grew From Concrete Though shorter than the song, the same highlight and find-the-theme activity can be run and student ideas shared out loud.

If it is helpful, you might have these two paintings by Van Gogh ready to show as you look over the song and the poem. The links below are links to Google searches, where you can choose which image you will print or put on an overhead.

Ask students to do some comparative thinking based on this song and this poem. Were the themes similar or different? Were the poetic techniques similar or different? Were the word choices similar or different?

Tell students, for this poetry assignment, they will be researching information on a different artist and his/her paintings. They will be pulling important words and phrases from their research to help them create a "found poem."

To show them how a found poem works, I have provided a model of the process, inspired by the life and art of Norman Rockwell. Feel free to "pretend" this is your poem when showing this process to your students:


Step two…introducing student models of writing:  In small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson.  The groups will certainly talk about the idea development, since it's the focus of the lesson, but y ou might prompt your students to talk about each model's word choice as well.

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! In 2008, we first began accepting students samples from teachers anywhere who use this lesson. Hundreds of new published students now go up at our site annually!

We're currently looking for student samples for other grade levels for this lesson!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Visit this lesson's student samples page for details.


Step three…thinking, talking, and pre-writing:  The "interactive button” on the student instructions page will give your students twenty options for interesting artists they might choose to research for this found poem. Of course, you could assign all your students to write on the same artist, if you're studying a particular one in class anyway. Personally, I link this lesson to one of my favorite books, When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden, which sets your students up with some basic and interesting information about two great artists in the form of a delightful picture book. When I link this lesson, my students get to choose Picasso or Matisse as the subject of their found poems.

Lately, I've been thinking how this could be an excellent writing lesson in history class. Paintings often are very historical in nature, and many great artists lived in very historical times. Dorthea Lange or Matthew Brady captured American history with their photographs, and Winslow Homer and John Trumball both painted historical events.

However your students choose their artist, they need to next be given time to research and pull words and phrases from their findings that represent their artist and his/her work. Use this graphic organizer, which gives them a place to record the words as well as an opportunity to ponder themes about the art and the life.

Before students begin drafting, look again at the song by McLean and the poem by Shakur. Bring back the idea of theme in these two works, and remind students that their found poems must aim at a theme that other students can look for. Have students explore possible themes after they've researched and before they write a rough draft.

Discuss how theme can often be stressed in writing by being hinted at in poem's title, through ideas or lines that are repeated, or by making an idea stand out in a differet way. Challenge students to try these techniques as they craft a poem that conveys a theme they have planned before writing.

Share Original Graphic Organizers (for Pre-Writing)
from Your Teaching Toolbox.

We share graphic organizers with our peers, we find them in books, and we think we should also be able to find tried-and-true ones online at WritingFix. This year, if you create an original graphic organizer (or adapt one of ours) when you teach this page's lesson, and post it, we might just end up publishing it directly here at WritingFix, and we will post it here, giving you full credit.

  • Original graphic organizers for specific lessons, like this one, can be submitted as an attachment at this link. Look for the "Reply to this Box" beneath the post. To be able to post, you will need to be a member of our free Writing Lesson of the Month Network.

Step four (revising with specific trait language):   To promote response and revision to rough draft writing, attach WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates to your students' drafts.  Make sure the students rank their use of the trait-specific skills on the Post-it® Note-sized templates, which means they'll only have one "1" and one "5."   Have them commit to ideas for revision based on their Post-It rankings.  For more ideas on WritingFix's Revision & Response Post-it® Note-sized templates, click here.

Share Original Revision Techniques or
Adaptations from Your Toolbox.

Inspired by Barry Lane's Reviser's Toolbox, the WritingFix website encourages its teacher users to adapt our lessons, especially the tools of revision we have posted here. If you create an original revision tool (or adapt one of ours) when you teach this page's lesson, and post it, we might just end up publishing it directly here at WritingFix, and we will post it here, giving you full credit.

  • Original revision ideas from teacher users of WritingFix can be submitted through copy/paste or as an attachment at this link. Look for the "Reply to this Box" beneath the post. To be able to post, you will need to be a member of our free Writing Lesson of the Month Network.

Step five (editing for conventions):  After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to find an editor.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it.  The "Community of Editors" idea is just one of dozens and dozens of inspiring ideas that is talked about in detail in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Workbook for Teachers.

Step six (publishing for the portfolio):   The goal of most lessons posted at WritingFix is that students end up with a piece of writing they like, and that their writing was taken through all steps of the writing process. After revising, invite your students to come back to this piece once more during an upcoming writer's workshop block.  The writing started with this lesson might become even more polished for final placement in the portfolio, or the big ideas being written about here might transform into a completely different piece of writing. Most likely, your students will enjoy creating an illustration for this writing as they ready to place final drafts in their portfolios.

Interested in publishing student work on-line? You might earn a free classroom resource from the NNWP! We invite teachers to teach this lesson completely, then share up to three of their students' best revised and edited samples at our ning's Publish Student Writers group.

To submit student samples for this page's lesson, click here. You won't be able to post unless you are a verified member of this site's Writing Lesson of the Month ning.

Learn more about Don McLean by clicking here.
Learn more about Tupac Shakur by clicking here.


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