Storytelling through poetry writing modeled after "The Red Wheelbarrow."

"The Red Wheelbarrow" by Williams Carlos Williams is one of my favorite poems to use when teaching poetry writing for children. I also enjoy using it to teach poetry writing to the students I work with when I travel to the Mathare Valley slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

We take our time reading through the simple lines and then wonder why someone would write a poem about a wet wheelbarrow next to some chickens? The wonder of the poem is that we are not told why the wheelbarrow is so important, so we have to use our imaginations about its significance. While reviewing the poem I often do a lesson on adjectives and prepositional phrases. I also ask the students count the words in the poem. Are there 16 or 15? I ask them to write a poem about something simple, yet significant in their lives, to start with, "So much depends upon," to name the object using an adjective, to describe it, and finally to give its location using a prepositional phrase.

But first I model how their poems may look and in doing so, I tell the class that I will tell them some stories using poems.

The first poem is about a strange bike that they have never seen. I explain how I used to love running, but after hip surgery, I can no longer run. I tell them that running allowed me not only to have fun, but to relax my brain and body. I tell them that I found this strange ElliptiGO bike and it allows me to get those good feelings back. After reading the poem, I tell them that thIs photo is from a race I had fun winning, but I am not bragging, I simply haven't told them "why" so much depends on the ElliptiGO.

I then read them the poem about this beautiful painting. They like looking at the castle, but then I show them the ElliptiGOs in front of the castle. I explain that the race director wanted to find a way to help the school children in the Area 2 slum they that attend in the Mathare Valley in Nairobi, Kenya. I tell them that the artist had painted the painting and then allowed it to be auctioned in order to help sponsor a child at their school. I told them that the painting made enough money to sponsor a child for more than half a year. At this point every class I did this lesson with broke into wide grins and started clapping. "Wait," I told them, "That is not all!" I then explained that some of the riders in the photo on the back also donated money to help pay more of the sponsorship fees. Now they were really happy and the teachers were leaning forward intently. I told them that still that was not all. There is another half-marathon that the race director had invited me to help with last year. I rode my ElliptiGO at the front of the race to guide the front runners. This year, I explained, when they run the race in November, some of the proceeds from the race will be used to sponsor another child at the Area 2 School for a year. I got a chorus of, "Wows!" when I said this. I then told them that this was what was really so important about my ElliptiGO.

Following that I told them that I had another poem for them and read them the one of the spin bike in my classroom. They thought that having a bike in a classroom was very funny, particularly when their own classrooms are so sparse. I explained that some of the boys and girls in America have a hard time sitting still and need to move a lot which makes concentrating on their work difficult. I told them how an ElliptiGO riding friend in Canada, helps schools put these spin bikes in classrooms and that after students who are feeling antsy take a ride on the bike that they are able to focus and concentrate more on their work. I also wondered aloud to then why the students I see in Kenya are able to sit still and concentrate on their work, when some of their counterparts in America struggle with this?

I then gave them a new poem. This one was about their school last year when I visited. I told them I was teaching in the hot classroom after lunch, when I noticed that two students had their heads down and appeared to be asleep. Not knowing what experiences they had in the slum the previous night, I just mentioned to the teacher, Stanley, that these two boys seemed tired. Stanley immediately went to the two boys and gently woke them up. Then he told the whole class to stand up and he led them in stretching exercises. The class immediately joined him, with laughing and giggling, then once rejuvenated got right back to work. When I posted the photo of the stretching teacher that night, my ElliptiGO riding, spin bike advocate friend immediately offered that Stanley was a natural at teaching something called "self-regulation" and that he was teaching them how to refocus and calm down through movement, something that the spin bikes do for my class and the ElliptiGO does for me. I still however told the class that there was something else in Kenya, because not all teachers can stretch with their class like Stanley does.

That something else was the subject of the final poem. When you go into a Kenyan class, you are rewarded with song of greeting sometimes filled with dance moves. I think this is one of the reasons that Kenyan children can sit and focus so well. They are singing and dancing as a regular part of their day, in and out of school. There are other reasons, too. They walk everywhere, are outside most of the day when not in school, and are constantly moving from one place to the next without the use of a car. I noticed at the boarding school, that the children's day is filled with school lessons, extra study time, and an endless amount of chores: cleaning, watering plants, and helping all over the school. They are always active and moving.

Girls at Joska doing daily chores.

After this story told through poetry, I think I have made some good connections between myself and my students in America and the teachers and students in Kenya and believe me they are ready to write their own poems after this introduction.

Created By
Jim Hansen
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