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Beatnik Coffee House

By special request...here is a little something about my annual Beatnik Coffee House I throw for my students...

April 1 kicks off National Poetry Month, YIPPEE!

When I was in high school I didn't always enjoy the few poetry units we did in my classes, so when I started my teaching career, I wasn't really looking forward to teaching it. I cobbled one together by buying various books on teaching poetry, talking to  teachers at conferences, reading poems like crazy and photocopying the ones that spoke to me, and looking for lesson plans online.

What evolved from this ever-changing body of work? An awesome poetry unit that pleases even the most finicky students...the ones who groan loudly when I say we are starting the unit feel successful by the end. They dissect, discuss, breakdown, and write. And write. And write.

By the end, they have read poems over 400 years old to ones that were written in 2008. We have grand philosophical questions on word choice, sound, and figurative language. We brainstorm, write, and share.

In the end...we have a party. Well, we use code...it's a CULMINATING CELEBRATION...so much more scholarly, don't you think?

The students collate their original poems and put them into a book. That's their ticket into the club. We've talked about the beat poets at the beginning of the unit, so the students show up on the designated day in their best beatnik attire. Black clothes, berets, shades, and...if they can swipe mom's eyeliner...some sweet soul patches.

The night before our culminating celebration, I go back to my room and transform it. The main entrance has a red velvet swag rope (which I borrow from the front entrance for a while...) and beads hanging from the doorway. One of my students who needs a little boost becomes the "bouncer"...letting just a few people in at a time for crowd control.

When they enter the room the sound of jazz swirls around them, they see tables with tablecloths, a buffet line, and little twinkly lights for mood. In the front of the room is the performance area...a sound system with a mic stand, bongos and/or conga drums, and a stool.

After they get their food, I wait tables and bring them beverages. Then we get down to business. Each student reads one of their original poems. They can bring up a friend to play percussion. At the end of each reading, we beatniks all snap to show our appreciation. When all have gone, they volunteer for a second round. Fellow teachers stop by and do guest appearances, my students from last year beg to come in, and it seems as if the entire student body is drawn to the room. It's magical.

Eighty minutes later, the bell rings and they go from being cool, hip cats to 7th grade students. But for a brief period of time, they were performers...writers...poets.


Take the poetry challenge....hop on over to Katherine Quimby Johnson's livejournal blog and sign up today!


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 1st, 2009 12:13 pm (UTC)
Like cool, man.
Boy do I wish you'd been my 7th grade English teacher!
Apr. 1st, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks and I'll bet you were a great English student!
Apr. 1st, 2009 12:25 pm (UTC)
This sounds SO COOL. Can I come?
Apr. 1st, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah! The more the merrier! It is one of the highlights of my year.
Come on up to the North Country...
Apr. 2nd, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
Snap, snap, snap...
I am glad that bouncer of yours keeps that Kerouac and his bunch out! Maybe when they get to college they'll find him. These beatnik poets will definitely remember that class for the rest of their lives.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 03:58 am (UTC)
Re: Snap, snap, snap...
That's my goal...I want them to feel that rush of having people appreciate their writing. It's certainly a nice reward!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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