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An Original Compare and Contrast Lesson from WritingFix
this poetry assignment encourages deeper student thinking

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You Can't Ask for That! Poetry Lesson

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You Can't Ask for That! Poetry

This comparison/contrast lesson was created by NNWP Teacher Consultant Dena Harrison. Check out all of Dena's online writing lessons by clicking here.

The intended "mentor texts" to be used when teaching this writing across the curriculum lesson are the song Love Song by Sarah Bareilles and the poem Valentine for Ernest Mann by Naomi Shihab Nye. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing of both authors.

Purchase Love Song at

Search for Valentine For Ernest Mann at Google.

This seven-step, teacher-created lesson was inspired by the NNWP's Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide. Click here to inquire about ordering your own copy of this resource.

Step #1:
Demonstrating a High-Quality Comparison:

On the board, write "Poems versus song lyrics...what's the difference?" In pairs, have students whisper and think of three or four differences between song lyrics and poems.

Inform students that you are looking for answers to this question that show deep thinking. Saying, "A Song is sung and poems are not," well, that shows thinking, but it's very obvious--and not very deep--thinking. Saying, "A song is more likely to have lines repeated more than once (because songs have choruses)," well, that shows that deeper thinking has been done about the comparison. Write both these differences on the board.

That being said, now have students work in groups of four and try to think about deeper comparisons than what they came up with when working in pairs. Ask each group to come up with one or two "deep" differences between song lyrics and poetry.

Have each group share an idea and add them to the list on the board.

Tell students to now rate all the answers for "depth of thinking." Tell them that a rating of 1 means shallow thinking (and write a 1 next to the "songs are sung and poems are not" answer). Tell them a rating of 5 shows deeper thinking (and write a 4 or a 5 next to the "songs have more repeated lines" answer). Have students rate the answers from the class on the board. Tell them you are looking for the 3 or 4 deepest ideas about the difference between a song and a poem.

Put stars next to the answers on the board that the class decides show the deepest level of thinking about the differences. Say "Let this be your standard when I ask you to compare things during the lesson we're working on today!"

Step #2:
Introducing the Topics to Be Compared:

Tell students they will be looking for similarities and differences in a song and a poem today. To start the comparison, have them compare the following word clouds.

A word cloud can be created at the Wordle Website. At the website, you can paste or type text into a box, and the word cloud is created in the following way: 1) words in the original text that are repeated the most appear as the largest in the cloud; the smallest words are not repeated but once. 2) common words, like the and I and and do not appear in the word cloud.

To make the word clouds below, I simply pasted the song (Love Song by Sarah Bareilles) in the box and made the first cloud. The second cloud is a word cloud for the poem (Valentine for Ernest Mann by Naomi Shihab Nye). When passing out the word clouds, do not tell the students the source names...just explain why some words are bigger than others. If you click on the clouds below, you can view/print them in larger form.

Tell students that one word cloud is a song and one word cloud is a poem. They'll immediately see the word poems and songs in the clouds, which should be a give-away, but that's an obvious--and not very deep--observation.

Ask, "Why else do you think the first cloud is a song and the second cloud is the poem?" Have students work in their groups to generate answers. Share answers. You might even write them down and rate the answers on the 1-to-5 scale.

Finally, have students predict what they think the song and the poem might be about, based on the word clouds.

Step #3:
Establishing a Purpose for the Comparison:

Now it's time to share the song from your classroom iPod and the poem in written form.

You can do a Google search for Love Song by clicking here and copying/pasting the words into a word processor and then printing. Having this will allow students to follow along as the iPod plays.

You can do a Google search for Valentine for Ernest Mann by clicking here. You can also purchase this poem in Naomi Shihab Nye's wonderful poetry collection called Red Suitcase.

Before and after reading/listening to these two mentor texts, draw students' attention back to the word clouds. Ask them to watch for the words that will appear most often, and ask them to look for a word (of any size) from both that caught their interest when predicting what the two were about.

Tell students you would them to now do a "deep" comparison of the song and the poem...both their words and their content.

After reading the song and the poem, briefly share the following facts about the two mentor texts:

  • Song-writer Sarah Bareilles was told by her record producers that the new album she was working on needed a love song. She didn't feel it did, so she wrote Love Song as her response to their request.
  • Naomi Shihab Nye visits many schools and classrooms as a guest speaker on poetry. At the end of one of her presentations, a young student--Ernest Mann--handed her his address and asked her to write him a poem and send it to him. The poem she wrote became one of her most popular poems.

Step #4:
Introducing the Comparison Tool:

Pass out the graphic organizer to your students; they can work on this graphic organizer alone, in pairs, or in groups. The graphic organizer will have them analyze both mentor texts' words on the left-hand side, and the mentor texts' content on the right-hand side. Be sure you point this out to the students before they begin.

To fill out the left-hand side, students should refer to the two word clouds. To fill out the right-hand side, the students should refer to the printed versions of the song and poem.

(click on the graphic organizer to view/print it.)


Step #5:
Model the Comparison Tool:

To get them started on the left-hand side of the graphic organizer, write "thought" in the first box (and let the students find the word thought on both word clouds). Challenge students to find more words that are exactly the same on the word clouds.

Next, write "heart & valentine" in the synonyms box. Explain how these words--in the right context--do mean the same thing. Challenge students to find more synonyms on the word clouds.

Finally, write "believe & know" in the antonymns box. Explain how these words seem similar but they really are opposites. Challenge them to find more antonyms on the word clouds.

Allow students to dig for words for ten or fifteen minutes.


Step #6:
Posing a Deep Question to Students:

Now for the big question, which will be thought about on the right-hand side of the graphic organizer: "What are these two mentor texts about, and are their messages similar or different?" To have them think about this, have students find similarites and differences in the poem and the song; the focus should be on the content or the message here. Stress that you're really hoping they'll go "deep" with their comparisons, not "shallow."

Allow students time (in pairs or groups) to search the content. Although your students will probably find many ideas--hopefully most of them "deep"--, the big idea we hope they find is this: both the song and poem discuss things that, according to their writers, shouldn't be asked for.

Step #7:
Writing About the Comparison:

Ask students to brainstorm a list of things someone shouldn't be able to ask for. Remind them that Sara Bareilles didn't think you can ask for a love song because she personally believed that idea; Naomi Shihab Nye wrote about not being able to ask for a poem because she personally believed that idea. Students need to find a topic for this poem that they personally believe in.

When I asked my students to brainstorm, this was a partial list of what they came up with:

  • you can ask for trust
  • you can ask for responsibility
  • you can ask for loyalty
  • you can ask for honesty
  • you can ask for love
  • you can ask for knowledge
  • you can ask for respect
  • you can ask for the wind not to blow
  • you can ask for the sun not to shine
  • you can ask for the snow not to fall
  • you can ask for the waves not to crash
  • you can ask for the moon not to shine

Once they have decided on a topic for something they personally believe that no one should be allowed to ask for, they will write a free-verse or rhyming poem about this belief. Before writing, you might want them to review the format/structure of the song and the poem you have compared and contrasted. You might also want to review the following poetic devices: personification, word choice, and imagery.

Take the poems through the entire writing process, including revision and editing. To help them revise, you might have them use WritingFix's Word Choice Revision Post-it® Note-sized templates.

When poems are published, have students compare and contrast them with other poems from the same class.

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