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Murray Journal

Twenty-year Poetry & Popcorn tradition keeps students learning

Jul 03, 2019 04:31PM ● By Julie Slama

Fifth graders munching on popcorn while reading poetry isn’t a common sight, but it has become a beloved tradition at Longview Elementary. (Tina Nilsson/Longview Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

On a Friday afternoon in late May, 10-year-old Brisseidy Martinez munched on popcorn and shared poetry with her classmates.

“It was fun,” she said. “We got to share the poems we’ve been writing. My favorite was to write about my life through my shoes.”

Brisseidy, and her classmates, included about 20 poems in bare, or blank, books and then shared them with each other before taking them home to read with their parents. 

“In the last weeks, after testing, students are wanting to do something fun, but I still have ways for them to learn,” said Longview fifth-grade teacher Tina Nilsson, who even at the end of her 24-year teaching career didn’t want to wash desks and turn on a movie. “I introduced the poetry books in the 1990s and then spiral-bounded them. Now, students are practicing their computer skills on Chromebooks and we glue in their work.”

Nilsson teaches figurative language, homonyms and rhyming words as she introduces several methods for students to creatively write poems.

In Brisseidy’s favorite poem, Nilsson introduces the idea of looking back on their childhood in the form of shoes. For example, students may write about wearing pink booties and writing about winning a baby contest and the next stage of their lives, wearing red tennis shoes and scuffing them when riding a tricycle.

“It’s a way to write a biographical story in a form of a poem,” she said.

There’s the inside-outside poem, which may describe their inside self as being uncertain or thoughtful to their outside self as being outgoing and active in sports. The color poems beg students to include all their senses as they write about a certain color.

Students also may use the acrostic poem, in which the first letter of each line spells out a word or message. Often students learn that form with identifying who they are in association with their names. And for students who prefer math, there’s the mathematical poem, such as condensation + electricity = lightning storm, or perhaps more common, brother + me = fight.

“Some poems may be simple or silly, but they are opening their brains. Most kids have a sense of humor and are able to come up with some amazing work,” Nilsson said. “I’ve had students who come up to me and say that they are not excited about poetry. Many of those are the ones who later tell me what all they’ve learned, including the fact that they’re great poets.”

Through the poetry unit, as well as during the school year, Nilsson has students focus on learning Latin roots.

“We learn 10 Latin roots every two weeks instead of learning spelling words. We study their meaning and it has helped with students’ reading comprehension. They’re understanding the language and how it evolves and it has inspired students to use these words in their writing, including in their poetry,” she said.

While Nilsson said the annual Poetry & Popcorn party isn’t anything big, it has become a fun tradition for students.

“I’ve looked forward to doing this as soon as I knew I had Mrs. Nilsson for a teacher,” Brisseidy said. “My book is sitting on the mantel next to the book my sister made when she was in her class. It’s something I’ll keep forever.”