Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Recipe & How to Make... Poems, Part I

More than a dozen years ago, when I was teaching second grade, I purchased a book entitled A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature. The book, written by Lorraine Ferra, was published in 1994 by Gibbs-Smith and is still in print today. I highly recommend the book to teachers who enjoy writing poetry with their students and would like to connect their students to the natural world. Ferra gives suggestions for poetry field trips and for helping children to build a “nature wordscape.” Here is a sampling of some of the section headings from the chapter entitled Other Explorations to whet your poetic appetite: Wandering, Noticing, and Writing; Creating a Landscape; Nature in Your Hand; Rhythms in the World and in Words; Growing a Poem Naturally.

Written by Lorraine Ferra
Illustratuins by Diane Boardman
Gibbs-Smith, 1994

I got an excellent idea for a poetry-writing exercise from Creating a Landscape. In this section of the book, Ferra includes a poem written by a twelve-year-old boy named Andrew entitled Recipe for a Meadow.

Here’s how the poem begins:

Take a clearing
in a dark, thick forest.
Place grass in it
grown to its full, rich height.
Slice flowers around
the now grassy clearing.

That poem sparked an idea for writing a "recipe" poem with my second graders. First, we discussed the purpose of recipes and the kinds of directions they provide. Then I elicited from my students some of the words typically found in recipes. We built a “recipe” poem vocabulary. I printed the words in large letters on chart paper for my students to refer to when we set about writing a collaborative class poem.

Here’s the list of words we made that first day:

add, bake, beat, blend, coat, cool, cover, cut, drizzle, dust, fill, frost, heat, ladle, layer, melt, mix, mound, pour, slice, spoon, sprinkle, stir, swirl, whip

And here is the first collaborative "recipe" poem I wrote with my second graders.

How to Make a Chocolate Chip Cookie
By the Students of Mrs. Magliaro’s Class
October 1996

Soften some golden butter in a big blue bowl.
Add a cup of dark brown sugar and beat till fluffy as a cloud.
Crack two jumbo eggs into the bowl and mix.
Pour in a little vanilla flavoring.
Blend in two cups of flour until mixed well.
Sprinkle chocolate chips over the sweet dough and stir.

For sure, How to Make Chocolate Chip Cookie isn’t a great poem. But it got us started with the process of thinking about selecting specific verbs with which to begin each line of a "recipe" poem and how to sequence the directions.

After working with my students on that poem, I thought I would expand on the idea of a "recipe" poem. I tried a slightly different version that I call a “how to make…” poem. We used a process similar to the one we followed when we wrote How to Make a Chocolate Chip Cookie to write our first collaborative “how to make…” poem. As we worked on the poem, I guided the children in selecting the best and most appropriate verbs for each line.

How to Make a Beach
By the Students of Mrs. Magliaro’s Class
October 1996

Crash waves against some rocks and crumble them to smithereens.
Pour in an ocean of salt water blue as the sky.
Dot the sky with seagulls.
Skitter crabs sideways across the wet sand.
Swish seaweed back and forth in the cool waves.
Scatter clamshells everywhere.
Sprinkle diamonds of sunlight on the water.

Click here for Recipe & How to Make... Poems, Part II.


Anonymous said...

I love this book, Elaine! It always makes me want to go back and be a teacher again. And what a terrific beach poem you guys wrote!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I think Ferra's book is a great teacher resource. I loved writing poetry with my students.

Charlotte said...

If I were a teacher, I'd steal this idea in a flash! That sounds like a great book, too.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I hope some teachers do try writing recipe and how to make poems with their students. For me, it was fun trying out new kinds of writing exercises in my class.