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A Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes and Anecdotes from A to Z by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

A must have book for upper elementary classrooms

On April fifth, I found myself in a strange situation of having to create a classroom community out of two separate cohorts for the remaining ten weeks of the school year. A few of the questions running through my mind were:

  1. How do I do that when we can’t gather together in a circle on the rug?
  2. How do I do that when they already have an established relationship with me and half of their peers?
  3. How do I do that when there’s so little instructional time and so much to cover before I say goodbye and wish them well?

A Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham and Charles Waters answered all of my questions.

For the first question, I decided we needed a unifying symbol since we don’t have the sacred rug space in the classroom anymore. Since my team had already planned on students making a flower for a cohort member and introducing them to the class, a flower seemed like the way to go.

Plus, you know, April showers bring May flowers, and this year more than ever I needed spring to come quick.

I chose six poems from this glorious book that highlight the tenets I want our classroom community to uphold: kindness, intention, wonder, zest, humility and respect. For the flower’s center, we all signed our names. Each petal showcases a poem’s title and each week we introduce a new poem. The students read the poem during morning work and then put their thumbprint on the petal and initial their print as a promise to uphold that value while in our classroom.

There is a copy of each poem at the end of the petal that showcases the book’s gorgeous art and then I copy the poem on chart paper and hang it in a visual place in the classroom for everyone to see. I want several visual reminders of our classroom’s social emotional expectations.

For the second question, the action of placing one’s thumbprint on the petal in and of itself is an activity that brings us all together. This week when a kickball game with the substitute P.E. teacher degenerated into name calling, I used the poems as a reminder to the class of the values we have all agreed to uphold. Building the flower together every week is a reminder that for the rest of the school year, our classroom is one entity, not two cohorts.

For the third question, well, let’s just say my class was not excited when I told them we’d be reading a poem each week. They groaned. When they read the first poem, kindness, they exclaimed, “This isn’t poetry. It doesn’t even rhyme.” Needless to say, the activity lent itself to instruction from the very beginning-the debunking of the myth that all poetry needs to rhyme.

One activity that would have complimented the reading of a new poem and the signing of a new petal each week would have been to have the students write a social emotional goal for the week on a small petal of their own. That way, by the end of the school year, we would have had our own social emotional flower garden on the back bulletin board in addition to the centerpiece flower in the front of the room.

Something to look forward to for next fall…

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