When I was 10, my 6th grade language arts teacher did a poetry unit with us that included tons of kid-friendly forms like haiku, diamante, cinquain, acrostic, and limericks.

I loved all of it (as you can probably tell from the profusion of poetry posts lately!), but one form that stuck out to me was concrete poetry, because it had never occurred to me that a poem’s shape could have anything to do with its meaning.

(In my later days as an English undergrad, we picked apart this idea so exhaustively that I’m now very conscious of things like enjambment and the use/omission of various punctuation for poetic effect….but I digress. :))

Of course, the difficulty I always encountered with shape poetry was my relative lack of artistic skill.

The two concrete poems I remember creating during that 6th grade poetry unit were about daisies and cats. I like daisies, and I love cats, but that’s not why I chose those topics. I chose them because pretty much the only two things I could draw when I was 10 were–you guessed it–daisies and cats.

Fast forward 20 years to Poetry 2.0, when a variety of 21st century content creation tools are just a few keystrokes or clicks or finger-swipes away.

One amazing thing this digital revolution has given to us concrete poetry lovers who lack drawing talent is this: the ability to create shape poems despite our lack of artistic skill.

And, in my case, the ability to teach kids about shape poems without forcing them to write about daisies and cats. (Because those are still pretty much the only things I can draw.)

Padlet kept me organized, as usual:

Screenshot from Padlet - click to visit!
Screenshot from Padlet – click to visit!

And to begin this lesson, I shared snapshots of shape poems from some of my favorite gems in the 811s:

A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poetry
selected by Paul Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka
image from http://www.indiebound.org
Handsprings by Douglas Florian
image from http://www.indiebound.org
A Curious Collection of Cats
Concrete Poems by Betsy Franco
Illustrations by Michael Wertz
image from http://www.indiebound.org

Okay, so after snagging these screenshots of the book covers, I realize I must still have a thing for daisies and cats after all…

In any case, I showed students several examples of shape poems first to get their brains rumbling, and then I showed them the amazingness that is Tagxedo:

Screenshot from www.tagxedo.com - click to visit!
Screenshot from http://www.tagxedo.com – click to visit!

In each PreK and kindergarten class, we browsed Tagxedo’s built-in menu of shapes, students nominated some that we thought would make good poem topics, and then we took a vote to choose our favorite.

Once we had a shape, we brainstormed everything we could think of to describe it, and I typed students’ responses into the text box. (Quick Tagxedo tip: if you want your finished image to include phrases or sentences instead of just individual words, connect the words with a pretty little tilde like this: roses~are~red.)

The magical reveal came at the end when we clicked the “Submit” button and watched our words literally take shape!

Most classes also spent a little bit of time tweaking the word layouts, fonts, and colors to get exactly the effect they wanted, and then I saved their published poems for printing and sharing.

Here are the finished shape poems (click to view larger):

Notice anything?

Like, perhaps, the all-too-familiar shapes chosen by Mrs. Smith’s PreK and Miss McGlon’s kindergarten?

Old habits die hard, y’all. 🙂