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Our five senses tell us a great deal from moment to moment, such as how not to burn ourselves and other fundamental survival tips dealing with the tangible. They can tell us much about things beyond ourselves as well when in the form of a poem.
Often when students approach poetry as writers, they are inclined to do so from a very personal perspective. That is, the poetry is most often directly about them. Sensory poems can aid them in learning to depersonalize (or objectify) their writing while encouraging them to deepen their descriptive sensibilities.
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1) SENSES REVIEW: On the board, list the five senses and review them with students. What are things we hear? See? Smell? Touch? Taste? List some examples called out by students. Note that all things listed are tangible.
2) TOPIC SELECTION: Emotion, being intangible and abstract, presents wonderful opportunities as a poetic topic. No two people will describe one emotion in exactly the same way. So, either write on the board or offer up handouts listing a range of emotions (you might include Peace, Fear, Anger and Guilt) and a range of colors (be sure to include Purple, Orange and Blue, as all are particularly evocative).
3) MODEL: As a class, select an emotion and assign a color to said emotion. Then, brainstorm adjectives describing that emotion—not what it evokes in others, but what it IS as its own living entity. Focus on each of the five senses.
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4) COLLABORATION: Coach the class in using those sensory adjectives (conjugated in any way that may be necessary) to write a short poem describing the selected emotion, focusing on the five senses. Six or seven lines should be sufficient. Open with a line asserting the color (e.g., Fear is Orange). Close with a line describing the feeling of the emotion. Throughout, encourage them to reach beyond the repetitive listing of lines beginning with “it is like…"
5) DISSECTION: Discuss the poem’s vivid imagery as it relates to the five senses and the depth of the emotion on which the poems are written.
6) INDEPENDENT ASSIGNMENT: Prompt students to repeat these steps on their own (selecting an emotion, assigning it a color, and brainstorming adjectives describing that emotion as its own living entity). Then, they should write sensory poems following the model set forth previously, but not using the same emotion/color combination. Remind them to focus on the living emotion, not the actions it provokes in others.
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7) REFLECTION: Once students are finished (perhaps the next day), share a few sensory poems with the class, discussing the vivid imagery as it relates to the five senses.
8) ADVANCING THE LESSON: As students’ poems are shared, identify poetic devices used within the poems. Students will undoubtedly stumble onto a metaphor, a simile, or personification. Use the devices identified in the poems as a launch pad for teaching students those lesson plans on subsequent days.