April is National Poetry Month, and in the interest of helping my budding poets use descriptive language, I decided to revisit a lesson I tried with minimal success back when I was a completely naive, inexperienced teacher (i.e., in October): Writers describe by using their five senses.
The first time I tried this lesson, it was with my first graders, and I collected various items of minimal significance (like an empty water bottle and a pencil) and dropped them into brown paper bags that I optimistically billed as "mystery bags!" I broke them into pairs and instructed them to use their senses to describe the objects inside their mystery bags.
If you are also a teacher of young children, you probably don't need your five senses to tell you what happened next: The mystery bags mysteriously ripped; the mystery objects were mysteriously strewn about the classroom; and much grabbing, shouting, and general chaos not so mysteriously ensued.
But never let it be said that Miss Brave does not learn from her mistakes! This time around, I was standing in my kitchen at 5:30 in the morning, blankly wondering what I could give my kindergarten students to describe, when in the cabinet I spied my savior: a box of California golden raisins.
Should you ever find yourself alone with a group of young children whom you aren't quite sure what to do with, remember this one rule: If you act like something is unbelievably, indescribably cool, they will start to believe you. So believe me, I talked up this raisin. Using my five senses, I described the living daylights out of this raisin. And it worked: They were captivated, their little mouths watering.
Then I paused, for effect, and dramatically announced that I would be giving each student his own raisin.
OK. Imagine announcing to a group of young children that they are going on a trip to, say, an amusement park. Can you picture it? The gasps, the screams, the excitement? Now imagine announcing to a group of young children that you will shortly be giving them a raisin. Except imagine that they have the same reaction as they would to the amusement park announcement. That's what it was like.
So I gave everyone a raisin, with strict instructions not to taste it yet. They were like little scientists, examining their tiny raisins and noticing every bump, every spot, every wrinkle. Slowly, some of them started to think like little poets: "It looks like a cloud," or "It looks like the sun" or even "It looks like a balloon with all the air taken out." We introduced fun words like "wrinkly" and "squishy" and "juicy." And then, at long last -- after a trip to the garbage can to throw away all the raisins that had fallen on the floor in the course of our examination -- on the count of three, we all tasted our raisins.
It was the most blissful kind of brief silence I have ever experienced in a classroom. And my favorite reaction came from a sweet, round-faced little boy who threw up his hand excitedly. "When I tasted the raisin," he said, "I could feel it all the way down to my toes!"