Collective Poetry

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Overview: 

Collective poetry is an exercise designed to encourage students to work from a shared pattern in order to join their voices in a collective rhythm.

We all have stories. In telling our personal narratives, we come to know each other and ourselves. What are the lyrics of your students' favorite songs? What happens when children begin to imagine this country or their homeland before they were born? What happens when children and their teachers begin to explore the stories of ordinary people, families and self?

This activity creates opportunities for students to write poetry, investigate history, distinguish between the ideas of fact and opinion and participate in the dramatic reading of a story poem.

Woven into the curriculum is the theme of patterns. People are connected to each other through societal patterns. Families are woven into a genetic pattern based on ancestry. And poets and artists often use patterns to express their art. The lesson objectives include student exploration, analysis and creation of patterns.

Collective poetry is an exercise designed to encourage students to work from a shared pattern in order to join their voices in a collective rhythm. It builds community and encourages participation from those too shy to share individually.

Collective Poem Procedure

  1. Give students a 3-by-5 card.
  2. Ask students to number 1 to 5 on the left border.
  3. Then ask them to list:
    • Your parents/guardians say that annoys you, makes you laugh, makes you feel safe or scares you.
    • Your favorite sound three times.
    • Your favorite place in the world.
    • Your favorite color five times.
    • Your favorite thing to do.

Ask five students to collectively read their poems. They take turns each reading one line at a time. They read each line in any order until they each have read all five phrases. For instance, the first student might choose to first read his or her favorite sound. After the others choose and read a line, then the first student chooses a second line to read, as do the others, until all five students have read all five lines.

Here is an example of how the first line read of a collective poem might sound with five readers participating:

  • Student 1: blue, blue, blue, blue, blue
  • Student 2: in my pink bedroom with my butterfly bear
  • Student 3: not until you finish your homework
  • Student 4: tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock
  • Student 5: Whatever!

The lyrical and rhythmic way the collective poem flows often pleasantly surprises both audience and actor. Introduce the idea of patterns with this activity, explaining how the pattern they used to create their list transfers into the rhythm of the collective poem.

Maria Winfield, doctoral student
University of Georgia
Athens, Ga.