Online Learning Activities for Teachers and Students
MARCH 16, 2020
Welcome Students, Teachers, Parents, Writers, Poets, Artists:
As you know, many schools are closed for the next three weeks, perhaps longer. This is a brand new experience for most of us who are now confined to our homes without the normal structure of school and work days to guide us. We will all need educational opportunities to create and learn and thrive during these challenging times. With that in mind, I will offer a new writing activity each day for students, teachers, writers, and anyone who wants to improve their writing and document these challenging times. Each day Potato Hill Poetry will send out a new writing activity. Please feel free to pass on to others.
I welcome new ideas from all of you.
Day #25, Activity #25
The Place You Love to Be
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
—Henry Miller, American writer
Many of us have that one special place where we love to be, that one place where we feel comfortable or inspired or free. Perhaps it’s a room in your house, the backyard, a basketball court, a summer cottage, a cabin in the woods, a beach, a car, a pond, a park, a restaurant, a friend’s house or a treehouse.
Write about it.
Now, take us there. Describe how to get there and then what it looks like. Who will we find there and what will the weather be like? When do you go there and why? What activities do you do there? Make this place come to life with your attention to sensory detail and your observation skills. Give us the tiniest details about this place and what you love about it.
Write a poem about this place.
Choose your favorite spot and make a list of all the things about it that you love.
Day #24, Activity #24
“Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.”
—Will Rogers, actor, cowboy, social commentator
Who inspires you:
We’ve all had people in our lives who have inspired us. Teachers, friends, musicians, artists, writers, athletes, parents and public figures have inspired many of us at different times in our lives. Which one stands out for you?
Today, write about that one person who inspired the most? What was she or he like? How did that person inspire you? What do you remember about that person? Let your thoughts roll right from your mind through your arm and onto the page in front of you.
Check below for a short video that just might inspire you.
Day #23, Activity #23
The Tuesday List:
Art and poetry often go together and one of the best combinations is known as a poetry broadside – a poem with accompanying artwork. These can be very simple with a few lines or shadows or accents or they can be more involved with larger images. Check out the Broadsides below under Items of Interest for some great examples.
Make a list of poems that you like. Choose two that you especially like. Read both poems slowly out loud. As you read them, listen for an image or an idea that comes to you. Choose one of the poems to work with and create a drawing or some type of artistic design to go along with the poem. Take your time with this one. It might take you several days or longer.
When you have completed the broadside, write a paragraph or so discussing your process of creation. Good luck.
Day #22, Activity #22
Where’s the Sun? There it is.
“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,”
—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
After a long stretch of clouds and rain, it’s great to see the sun again. Time for a spirit boost so get outside if you can and soak up a little sun, and while you’re at it, practice your metaphor skills.
a comparison of two unlike things without using like or as. The qualities of one thing are applied to another.
“The dog is the doorbell of our house.”
“The sun is a yawning cat at noon
Spreading itself across the backyard
For a midday nap.”
Write about it:
What is the sun to you? A blanket, a friend, a treasure
What animal would the sun be? What type of transportation?
What type of athlete?
Set your course, enjoy the sun, and start writing.
Day #21, Activity #21
“We are all sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life.”
—Tennessee Williams, playwright
It’s been three weeks since most of us have been hunkering down, self-isolating,
sheltering in place, self-quarantining, and simply staying at home. It’s not an
easy task by any stretch of the imagination, but we are all trying. Despite our
best efforts at keeping busy, many of us have moments of going “stir-crazy.”
Write about it:
Today’s writing is a simple question: What do you do when you go stir-crazy?
Make a list of 25 things you could do when you go stir-crazy. Then do one of them.
Email all your friends and find out what others are doing when they go stircrazy. Then make a top-ten list.
Day #20, Activity #20
“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”
—Steve Martin, comedian
Writer Jonathan Raban likes to practice writing similes when he goes out to eat at a restaurant and always takes his notebook with him. While he may not be eating out too much these days, no doubt he’s still sharpening his simile skills as all good writers do. Now it’s your turn. Choose some of the exercises below to hone your descriptive and imaginative powers with the simile.
Write about it:
See how many similes you can write in a 24-hour period.
Write a poem using only similes about a pet or person in your house.
Write ten similes describing your home.
Search out similes on the internet or in books and make a list of your top ten.
Make a list of 25 things you could write similes about.
Simile: A figure of speech that compares two different things to draw a similarity between them. It uses the words “as” “like” or “than.”
Try these exercises to stretch out and strengthen your simile muscles. See how many similes you can create for each example.
The years pile up like…driftwood on the beach
What are things that pile up?
The days collect like…leaves in the fall
What types of things can one collect?
The moon lit the way for us like…a friendly smile in the night sky
What are things that give us light?
She was as lonely as…
He was as fast as…
The park was as empty as…
The clouds were floating like…
The days felt as long as…
Day #19, Activity #19
Rainy Day Writing:
April Rain Song
By Langston Hughes
Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—
And I love the rain.
The Langston Hughes poem above reminds us about the power of images to
create feeling in a poem. Not to mention how patterns and variations can effect
the movement and emotional tug within a poem.
So, how do you like your rain? Over-easy in a misty drizzle or sunny-side up in a
sudden summer shower? Today we will write about the rain, and there are so
many types to describe. What types of rain do you like or not? What memories
does rain evoke for you? What feeling do you get from the rain?
Write a poem using a pattern like Hughes does in the poem above and then
change the pattern.
What is your favorite type of rain? Go into detail and write a paragraph about it.
You might mention the landscape around it as well.
If you were outside in the rain, what activity would you like to be doing? Write
about the activity and rain at the same time.
Write about the rain in a way that makes it seem sad or angry.
Write about the rain in a way that makes it seem happy or excited.
Write about your favorite memory of a rainy day in your life?
Write a story with rain as the MAIN CHARACTER OF THE STORY.
Make a list of 25 things you could do on a rainy day.
Day #18, Activity #18
Reading Out Loud
“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book,
and the person reading.”
—Mem Fox, children’s author
Have you discovered the pleasures of reading out loud?
Write about them.
What are your earliest memories of reading out loud? Where were you? Do you remember the room? Do you remember who read to you? Do you remember the book? Maybe you have no memories of this. What do you think of reading out loud?
Who reads to you out loud today? Why do you enjoy listening to them? What do you like or not like about the experience? How is it different from reading silently to yourself? Did (or does) your teacher read to you in school? What’s that like? How does it affect you?
I have been reading out loud, for many years. It’s part of my job and just about
one of the best ways in the world to spend your time. And what better time to
read out loud than right now. Most of you are inside your homes with family members. So, find a good book and start reading out loud. Begin today. And be
sure to check below for a few good “Out Loud” reads.Write about your earliest memories of reading out loud.
Write about a book you would recommend to us all. Tell us about it and what effect it had on you and why we should read it.
Make a list of as many books as you can think of that you have read in your life. Or just your top ten and write one sentence about each book describing your connection to it.
Day #17, Activity #17
April Fools Day: Writing for Humor: Jokes, Gags, Parodies, etc.
See Art Connection Below.
Why did the physics teacher break up with the biology teacher? There was no chemistry.
National Poetry Month begins today. (Check out Item’s of Interest below.) Plus, it’s April Fool’s Day as well. So let’s go light and have some fun with humor writing. Writer and poet Geof Hewitt www.creativeground.org/profile/geofhewitt- 0 suggests an April Fools Day Headline or News Article.
With that in mind, write something that is clearly not true, but perhaps you wish was true. Or write something that is so outlandishly untrue, that there’s no way it could be true. (Is that even possible?) It could be a news headline or news article or any of the following:
Comedies: one-act (one-page) play
Note: Humor writing is a difficult type of writing. Beyond the comedy, it requires clarity more than any other genre. Even writing out a simple joke is great practice in building one’s writing skills in clarity.
Speaking of jokes
Here’s one sent in from poet and teacher Rob Faivre. It comes from a Conan O’Brien monologue from at least ten years ago:
Did you hear Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook are merging?
The new name is YouTwitFace.
Feel free to submit jokes all week.
Today’s Art Connection comes from Writer and Illustrator SUZY BECKER. Check out her work at www.suzybecker.com
Draw or photograph a picture to go with your writing.
Create a mini-comic. Fold a paper in half and then in half again so you have a little book one-fourth the size of the paper. Use the front for your comic title, which will leave you with three pages for your comic (a beginning, middle, and end). You can run with it from here, or, say the last page reads: APRIL FOOLS! Or JUST KIDDING! See what you come up with.
With your pencil, draw a horizontal line. Now make that into a snake (all stretched out). Now erase the top line (the snake’s back) and redraw it as a square, like the snake ate something square. Here’s the fun part: give the snake a thought or speech bubble with a matching expression. Create a background if you like. Put out in the sun. Snakes love sun.
Day #16, Activity #16
The Tuesday List: All the Things You Love in the World
“The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader.”
—Robert Frost, poet
All poets know the pleasure of writing a list poem. There are many ways of course and lots of freedom to experiment as you go. For today’s writing activity let’s work up a list poem about all the things you love in the world.
This writing activity allows anyone to write about what they love. What makes the poem interesting is the way the writer continually surprises us with new patterns and imaginative variations. Long and short lines, general and specific details (most should be specific), various subject material, and other word and line maneuvers that delight and surprise the reader. Have fun with this exercise, for it is a joy to write down what we love in the world – to stake our claim to it with words and rhythms on the page.
In addition to the pure pleasure of the writing, this activity will help the writer build skills in pattern and variation, using specific detail, repetition, juxtaposition of phrasing, improvisation, variation of line length, the power of examples and naming, listing and listening, reading and thinking aloud and of course, using the five senses to convey sensory imagery.
Some Ideas for your poem:
|Specific types of foods||Activities|
|Restaurant||Ice cream flavor|
|Day of the week||Historical figures|
|Moments in sports||Tiny moments|
As an example, here is part of the poem I wrote:
Things I Love in the World
Long walks in the woods on Sunday afternoons
Starbursts – the red ones
Riding on trains in the summer through unknown places
The sound of rain on the roof at night
A cup of tea
A wood fire
A medium point blue Bic pen
Wide Pine wood floors
Reading before bed
Day #15, Activity #15
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another
person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have
lighted the flame within us.”
—Albert Schweitzer, writer, philosopher, physician
As we begin week three of our cloistered lives let’s take a moment for gratitude. What do we have to be grateful for? Is there a person in your life to whom you are especially grateful? When we are thankful, we pause to acknowledge how others and other elements of life have enriched us. Gratitude is a form of grace and enriches us. Psychologists remind us that gratitude has positive effects on our happiness and our health in real ways. It affects our emotions, attitudes and relationships.
Today’s activity is about documenting this gratitude. It might take the shape of a letter or note or email to that person you are grateful for.
You might write a poem about gratitude. As you write, let your mind drift toward all things inside and outside that you might be grateful for.
You might decide to simply make a list of those people you are grateful for and mention an example next to their names of something they have done that you appreciate.
Maybe it’s not just people, but other things you are grateful for such as your neighborhood, your job, fresh air, your refrigerator, your pets. Choose one of these and write a paragraph detailing why you are grateful and how this helps you.
Day #14, Activity #14
Sleeping Away a Sunday:
"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by the American author Washington Irving, first published in 1819. It follows a Dutch-American villager in colonial America named Rip Van Winkle who falls asleep in the Catskill Mountains and wakes up 20 years later, having missed the American Revolution.
Hard to believe we are finishing up two weeks of our sheltered lives stuck inside. Imagine, if similar to Rip Van Winkle, your best friend had been asleep for the past month and just woke up to find out what has happened to us in America and the world. How would you describe it? That is your job here. Describe what has happened to us all. Why must we practice self isolation? What is going on here? What changes have we undertaken? What is social distancing? What do we have to do to prevent this disease from spreading? Let your friend know.
Make the writing more about you. How are you spending your time? What is hard and easy about this new lifestyle we are all living? How does it make you feel? What changes is this creating for you and your family?
Make a list of all the things you are now doing while at home. See if you can come up with 10 or 50 items.
Day #13, Activity #13
Saturday Couplets Rising:
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.
―Alexander Pope, poet, satirist
Couplet: two-lines that go together and usually rhyme
This week’s theme will be on “School”
I know you’re thinking that’s pretty cool
So share a thought from school-days past
Share some words and they will last
Of course, as always, anything goes –
Give us all your highs and lows:
Friendships, field trips, foibles, fits,
And all the juicy tiny bits
Off you go to give it a try
You will get it, by and by.
Extra Challenge: Write a poem made up of 2 or more couplets.
Submit your couplets over the next week and they might be published right here.
Day #12, Activity #12
Photos of our Lives: Part II: Writing about Photographs
"Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.”
—Diane Arbus, photographer
Six Writing Ideas:
Now that you have taken a number of photographs, go through them and choose the one’s that stand out to you for one reason or another: This could be 5 or 10 or more. Order and organize them beginning with your favorite to your least favorite.
—Write a few sentences about each one, describing why it stood out for you, what you like about it or don’t like about it, where you took it, who is in it, what they are doing and anything else you want to mention.
—Line up the photographs and write one word to go with each. That one word could be a feeling that it suggests for you or the name of the person or the place where you took it.
—Create a headline or title to go with each photograph.
—Write a caption about what just happened before you took the photograph.
—Choose ten photos you took and write a short story using all of them in one way or another.
—What do these pictures represent to you? Write a paragraph introducing your photographs as if they were to be represented in a gallery. You might write about why you took them and what decisions you made for each photograph and how they come together to create a unified whole.
Day #11, Activity #11
Photos of our Lives: Part I
(Tomorrow’s activity will discuss part II: the writing component.)
“The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people
in it do.”
—Andy Warhol, artist, photographer
Along with our words, our photographs can capture a moment in time. Today, I would like to invite you to use your phone or a "real" camera to document this time in our lives. Spend a day taking photographs.
Questions to Consider:
What’s going on outside your house?
What are you neighbors up to?
What do the streets look like?
What’s going on inside your house?
Who is at home and what are they doing?
Who’s bored and who’s not?
What are the pets up to?
Objects lying around your house
Angles of the sun and shadows
Outside landscape, trees, birds, animals, insects
Zoom in on small moments/objects/gestures
Create questions with your photographs
Create statements with your photographs
Find moments of joy and sadness, loneliness and togetherness
Find unexplainable moments and funny moments
Find weird moments and ordinary moments
Try to take one photograph that would capture this one moment we are all experiencing together, apart.
Day #10, Activity #10
“I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.”
—Steven Wright, comedian
Time for a little midweek fun.
Skeltonic Verse: A type of poem focused on one topic using short lines playing with rhymes that keep changing as the poet feels they should.
Choose the subject and let the words flow – feel the rhythm of words as they pour from your brain.
Outside is sublime
And it’s all mine
But not this time
At least not now
Oh, How I want
To get away
But I must stay
And so I look
Up from my book
To see the sky
Without the sun
How much fun
Would it be
Just to see
My friends again
Outside with me.
Day #9, Activity #9
The Tuesday List Poem:
“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in
trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
Today, let’s record one day in our lives while we are separated from the rest of the world. Each one of us is experiencing the same isolation in our own different ways. What has it been like for you? How are you living day by day. And so, I ask for your take on the world today in the form of a list or catalogue poem.
Give us one day in your life. The poem might contain quotes, news snippets you overhear, dialogue from family members, hour-by-hour details, lyrics from a song you’re listening to, your own thoughts, actions and observations about your day. Anything you can conjure is fair game for your poem. Give us a poem about one day in your life in this new world we find ourselves in.
Day #8, Activity #8
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
As we begin week two of the Coronavirus shutdown here in Massachusetts, the governor has just closed all non-essential businesses beginning Tuesday at noon. So, the door closes a bit more as we try to figure out how to keep our spirits up and spend our days.
Many of us have established routines to make our days run smoother and to get more done. In fact, it might be very important to set up these daily routines, otherwise it will be easy to fall into the slouch-on-the-couch routine of Netflix binging (which has its place) and phone-staring-zombie-comatose routines. Some of you may know exactly what I mean. At any rate, here’s your chance to write about your new routine that you’ve created. What works for you? And if you don’t have a routine yet, write about that. How has your day been unfolding? What are you doing with your days? Or as the poet Mary Oliver has written, see the quote above for guidance.
Day #7, Activity #7
So, here we are in day seven of this new world and the sun is shining in New England. Many of us have unsettled thoughts about our situations and the uncertainty of not knowing when it’s going to end. To that end, it’s time to get outside and enjoy the day any way you can. There are plenty of dog walkers in my neighborhood and the dogs don’t seem to know the first thing about social distancing. They greet each other as always, frolic and jump, race and cavort. Of course, that’s the beauty of dogs. Along with the dogs, there are people jogging and hanging in their yards enjoying a little fresh air.
Writing Activity: Go for a walk if you can. If you can’t, look out the window.
Here are some questions to consider for your daily writing session:
What does it look like outside your home, your yard, your street?
What can you observe going on outside?
Who is out and about and what are they doing?
How does it feel to be outside? How does it change your mood?
How often do you go outside and what do you do?
Why do you think the natural landscape is so healthy for us?
Can you describe your neighborhood to a stranger?
Make a list of twenty things you observe on your walk.
Day #6, Activity #6
Saturday Poetry: Couplets
Today is World Poetry Day: https://poets.org/text/world-poetry-day-march-21
A little poetry on the weekend is just what the doctor ordered so let's celebrate by writing couplets: two-lines that go together and usually rhyme.
Any subject goes.
I will offer up the first one:
What's all this fuss about staying home?
Don't you like to be alone?
Day #5, Activity #5
Friday Warm-up Writing Activity:
Note: These warm-up writing activities can be done solo or with a partner sharing a google doc.
|1.||Write as many sentences as you can beginning with the same two words in each sentence and beginning with a two-word sentence. See if you can get up to 20 words or 30 or 40 or more.|
Two examples here:
I write often.
I write each day.
I write in the morning.
I write with a blue pen.
I write with a blue Bic pen.
I write with a pen in my notebook.
I write about all kinds of things each day.
I am bored.
I am bored now.
I am bored right now.
I am bored sometimes at home.
I am bored being stuck at home.
I am not bored most of the time.
I am bored at times when stuck at home.
Choose any subject you like and get started.
|2.||Create a descriptive paragraph about the weather today. Use as many active verbs as you can. (An active verb is a word that shows action, as in The wind swept the leaves across the backyard. Notice how the subject – the wind – is doing the action.) Use the landscape outside your window along with weather-related terms as the content for your paragraph.|
Day #4 Activity #4
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
– C.S. Lewis
Ahhh, friends - the balm that makes our days rich and hopeful. As we continue this housebound journey, I'm sure many of us will be relying on friends to help us through the days and weeks ahead. How have you been connecting with your friends this week? Unless your friend lives right next door, you've probably been in touch via some form of technology.
Here are several ideas for your daily writing:
How many friends do you have and can you make a list of them all?
How are you staying in touch with your friends?
How much time are you spending each day communicating with friends?
What are you and your friends talking about?
—What is your funniest friendship story of all time?
—Who is your oldest (not necessarily by age) friend? How did you meet and what do you like the most about this person? Create a character sketch about this person. What does he or she look like, love to do, hate to do? What are his or her weird habits, funny sayings, dress style?
—What do you love to do with your friends and what do like to talk about with your friends? How do you spend your time together? Where do you go? What activities do you do?
—Write about the ups and downs of friendship – how does this work? What is the most difficult part of friendship? The easiest part? Does it require work to keep a friendship strong? How so?
Today’s Art Connection comes from Writer and Illustrator SUSY BECKER. Check out her work at www.suzybecker.com
Most of us are staying connected through our devices. How about a card? (Wouldn’t you love to get a card in the mail?) Pick a friend. Pick a metaphor for the power of your friendship. (Is it a rocket booster, or a blanket, or ketchup or … ?) Make a drawing and let your friend know what the friendship means to you. Then mail it.
How about Venn Diagrams? Make a circle that is YOU. Write five things about you in the circle. Make a circle for a friend and write five things about your friend in the circle. Then make a Venn diagram. How much do you two overlap? What’s in the overlapping part? What’s not? Which makes friendship stronger?
Pick one of your friends. Think about what you really like about them. Make a drawing of your friend that shows or maybe exaggerates those qualities.
Day #3, Activity #3
So Much Time to Read
Here we are in day 3 of our new world and during this time of home confinement, we have a great opportunity to catch up on some reading whether it be a book or a magazine or something online. So, what are you reading? I'm reading a short book of speeches Titled: Greta Thunberg: No one is too small to make a difference. It's an inspiring book full of the wisdom of a young person asking us to care about our planet and environment. She is as passionate about this subject as anyone could be. I'm always amazed at how one person can inspire so many.
Write about it.
Write about your reading habits this week or the book you are reading now and your thoughts about it. Why do you like it if you do? If it's fiction, who is the main character and what is he or she like? If it's nonfiction, what is the subject and why are you drawn to it? Or, if you are not reading just yet, write about why you are not reading? What are you doing with this valuable time of yours?
Day #2 Activity #2
The Tuesday List:
When daily schedules get tossed out the window, we must find new ways to organize our time. One such way is by making lists. Lists help us navigate our days, weeks and lives. They help us with some of our executive functioning skills - how to focus and prioritize, plan and organize, manage our time and yet be flexible as needed.
So let's get writing today by making a series of lists in our journals or elsewhere. These lists can be for work, for school, for entertainment, etc. Choose a few that interest you and write away.
Morning To Do List:
Afternoon To-DO List:
Exercise List: What is your exercise routine?
Mindfulness List: Ways to be mindful in stressful times
Kindness List: Who needs a helping hand in my family and community
Donations List: What can I clean out to donate to a charity
Friends to contact this week List:
Top Ten Lists: Books to Read, Movies to See, Places to travel
Past Top Ten Lists: All-time Favorite TV Shows, Movies, Books, Actors, Musicians, Songs
Day #1, Activity #1
How is the Coronavirus affecting you and your family?
What changes will this create for your family? Be specific.
What were your thoughts when you first heard that schools and restaurants will be closed?
How did you spend your first day home from school or work?
How is this making you feel? This is a hard question, so think about how you feel on the inside and what is stirring inside your heart and mind.