Classroom Activities: Poems in the style of Alice Walker

Alice Walker signing autographs at the Zora Ne...

Image by State Library and Archives of Florida via Flickr

One of my colleagues, Erin Kiley, reports a highly successful activity for teaching writing.  Asking students to write a poem “in the style of” another poem teaches them about the form of the language and forces them to choose their vocabulary thoughtfully and succinctly.  

She reports that her students responded well to this activity.  For those who might be more resistant, you should point out that there is a long tradition of imitating the masters in the artistic world.  Master painters often honed their skills by imitating the work of those who came before them, learning to control brush strokes and light.  The skills were needed before they could find their own “voice,” so to speak.  Poetry and other writing skills benefit from much the same process, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing so as long as you pay homage to the original author and credit their work.

Below you’ll find a link to Alice Walker‘s web page/blog.  If you click on this link, you will find the poem She.  I think you will find that its repetitive phrase structure lends itself well to this exercise.  Have them write about a woman who is important in their own life (“She is the one who…”), or have them write about another noun all together (“[noun] is the one who/that”).  Either way, Erin and I are confident that you’ll be thrilled with the results.

She – Alice Walker |The Official Website for the American Novelist & Poet.

(Note: This might be an adorable thing to do with small children right before Mother’s Day or Father’s Day when the motivation to create something special for their parents can also help to inspire!)


About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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