Ideas for Bringing Memorial Day to the Classroom

Memorial Day is upon us.  Here are some ideas for bringing it to the classroom to remind students that it’s more than a three-day weekend and the unofficial start of summer!

Veteran’s History Project (from the Library of Congress)

Check out the Veteran’s History Project, where students can search the collection and learn about a veteran (or two or three . . . or ?).  After reading through different stories (each account has different resources — some audio, some copies of letters, official documents), students could creatively share/present their veteran and why that person’s service is important or they could write a poem or story based on one veteran or multiple veterans based on what they learned about them, their service, etc . . ..

This is a great way to incorporate the standards for using text as evidence, gathering information from sources, writing, etc . . .   You could even work with students to develop a question (yay inquiry!) about war or service or the importance of Memorial Day and let them use this source to help them answer that question.  They can search by war or by branch of service so you (or they) could narrow/expand this as broadly as you want.

If you’re World Literature, it might be interesting to look into Vietnam or Afghanistan.  Brit Literature folks should find plenty in World War I and II that they could perhaps connect to.  If you’re an American Literature teacher, you can tie this idea to the American Civil War, but check out Civil War Soldiers’ Stories instead.

United States War Memorials (from the

Check out this site called Military History, Memorials and Monuments that has links to sites about the various monuments and memorials in the United States.  This would be great with an over-arching question, “Why do we memorialize?” or “Why do we remember?”

After choosing a monument to research or read about, students could share what they learned with the class.  You could look at one or two memorials as a class and engage in a Socratic Seminar (see possible questions above) in which the memorials become the “text” that students reference in discussion.

If you’re aching for the literary-connection, there are poems about monuments and memorials, including Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Facing It” (Vietnam War Memorial) and Langston Hughes’s “Lincoln Memorial: Washington.”  Students could use these as mentor texts to write a poem about a memorial or monument of their own or as starting points for research, or for discussion or Socratic Seminar.  There are plenty of possibilities depending on what your students and you may want to do. 🙂

You could also use this information to invite students to design their own memorial in order to answer the question, “Why do (should) we memorialize?” (How?)

And if none of these ideas are moving you and you still want to do something, check out Teaching History’s list of Teaching Memorial Day resources.

Have an idea to share?  Shoot it to me in an email or leave it below in the comments!


Famous Advice from Famous Writers – Compiled in One Spot

Hey all!

Check out this compilation by Maria Popova (of of Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers.  A great resource to have for writing workshop – and a great bridge from literature to writing.


James Baldwin, Nicky Finney, and Yusef Komunyakaa, NPM Days 26, 27 & 28

So this weekend, I had the pleasure of attending some Live Arts events in NYC to kick off the year of James Baldwin.  I attended a reading and discussion of James Baldwin’s poetry (based out of a book of poems just rereleased), which included 5 renowned poets on the panel.  So this Monday, the Poetry Month posting will be inspired by those poets currently at the top of their field. 🙂

Amen by James Baldwin

No, I don’t feel death coming.
I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.

I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
between us.

I had the pleasure of meeting Yusef Komunyakaa, who was a gracious and incredibly sweet man.

From YouTube, his advice to young writers:

“To not be afraid of surprising oneself”

And one of my favorites:

Facing it by Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

In addition, I met Nicky Finney, a 2011 National Book Award Winner in Poetry.

Here is her acceptance speech for that award (video includes introductions, speech begins around 4:45)

and a poem:

Heirloom by Nicky Finney

Sundown, the day nearly eaten away,

the Boxcar Willies peep. Their
inside-eyes push black and plump

against walls of pumpkin skin. I step
into dying backyard light. Both hands

steal into the swollen summer air,
a blind reach into a blaze of acid,

ghost bloom of nacre & breast.
One Atlantan Cherokee Purple,

two piddling Radiator Charlies
are Lena-Horne lured into the fingers

of my right hand. But I really do love you,
enters my ear like a nest of yellow jackets,

well wedged beneath a two-by-four.

But I really didn’t think I would (ever leave),
stings before the ladder hits the ground.

I swat the familiar buzz away.
My good arm arcs and aims.

My elbow cranks a high, hard cradle
and draws a fire. The end of the day’s

sweaty air stirs fast in a bowl, the coming
shadows, the very diamond match I need.

One by one, each Blind Willie
takes his turn Pollocking the back

fence, heart pine explodes gold-leafed in
red and brown-eyed ochre. There is practice

for everything in this life. This is how
you throw something perfectly good away.

Day 13, errrr 15 . . . Thirteen Ways of Looking . . .

For day 15  (it was supposed to be for the 13th day, but that fell on the weekend!) of National Poetry Month, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” seemed (al)most appropriate.

I’ve always loved this poem and the possibility it has with writing workshop/student imitation.  After reading, students could write their own, “Thirteen ways of looking at . . . “.  They could be great for Writer’s Tea!


Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.


*For lesson plans on Wallace Stevens, click here.

Writer’s Tea Preparation – Ideas for Mentor/Model Texts

Here are some ideas for creative writing in preparation for the Writer’s Tea and in the name of having a little fun (click for links to the works mentioned):

* Show some spoken word poetry and invite students to write their own.  We can also use many of the tips we got from Phil Kaye & Sarah Kay in March.  Bonnie did this and her kids wrote some great stuff!  Like Bonnie’s students, yours could even use the model of “When Love Arrives” to compose a spoken word piece together (as Phil & Sarah did).   Shane Koyczan, Phil Kaye, Sarah Kay, and Daniel Beatty (especially “Knock Knock”) are among my favorite poets . . . and all available on youtube.  There was also a list on the back of our materials from Phil & Sarah.

* Complete an author study of one author (i.e. Sandra Cisneros) & model.  Include 2-3 works and identify the moves the writer makes consistently.  Then, have students choose one to model.  I’ve done this with Cisneros’s “Eleven,” “My Name,” and “Salvador Late or Early – Reading.”

Have students create a series of model poems from mentor texts.  One year, Dottie Deich did this with great success with Allen Ginsberg’s “Supermarket in California” (link includes an audio reading by Ginsberg)  Another fun idea to steal, is Wallace Stevens’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird . . . thirteen ways of looking at anything (each way in a small stanza).   I love the possibilities here!  Another good model poem/mentor text for American Literature would be Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” and Langston Hughes’s “I, too, Sing America.”  Students could write a modern version using one of the two titles.  Here’s a document-link to both: I hear America Singing 1.

* Invite students to write a short expository piece based off of a great mentor text.  Mentor texts could include Leonard Pitts (I’m a big fan of “Cruel As It Is“) or any of the texts from the This I Believe series (for even more, check out this link – click the “explore” tab).  You can engage in an annotation & discussion of the structure/language /”moves” of the piece and then invite students to use writing workshop to write their own.

* Use what’s already in the Writer’s Notebook as fodder for something new.  Refine narratives written earlier in the year or have students take an idea started and develop a new work/poem/story etc . . . based on it.

* Skim through the National Poetry Month postings to see if any post, poem, or idea moves you.  Check back each day for a new addition.

Please consider leaving ideas in the comments or emailing/sharing them with other teachers.  We have our best resources among us!