5 Ideas for Using “Dear Basketball” in Your Writing Class Tomorrow

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 11.39.42 AMWhen do English teachers get so lucky as to have a major NBA star validate what we do by announcing his retirement in the form of a poem?
This week, Kobe Bryant did just that — he wrote a poem entitled “Dear Basketball” and released it to the media as an announcement of his retirement. And poets and English teachers and lovers of words everywhere cheered.

We can capitalize on this, strike while the iron is hot, and help our students connect with poetry (and poetry analysis) in the real world! Here are five ideas for ways to use “Dear Basketball” in your writing curriculum tomorrow. 

  • Study “Dear Basketball” as a mentor text

This could be a great 10-minute activity. Once students know how to read mentor texts like writers, give them “Dear Basketball” and ask them to annotate it for Kobe’s craft. They might notice the framing device he uses with the rolled-up tube socks, the personification of basketball, the letter format, the use of colons, the two single-line stanzas, and more!

After students have annotated, they can turn and talk, compare notes, share their annotations on the document camera, and create a class list of tips and techniques straight from Kobe Bryant.

You can stop there or you can extend the activity by having students write their own “Dear ________” poem using the techniques they have identified.

  • Use “Dear Basketball” to practice giving peer feedback

My students have a hard time giving great feedback to one another. Even though we’ve been working with writing partners for a while now, they need more practice listening, acting as a sounding board, and thinking about how to improve another writer’s piece. So, rather than watching Kobe’s moves as a mentor, students can also study his moves in order to practice giving meaningful, constructive feedback to a peer.

Pretending that Kobe Bryant is their writing partner, have students annotate the poem with advice they would give Kobe to take his poem to the next level. Students might note:

Specific choices they like

Moves they are enjoying and want to see more of

Places that confuse them

Instances where word choice could be improved

Questions they have

Other choices he could have made

  • Compare and contrast genres using Kobe’s poetic”Dear Basketball” and Michael Jordan’s letter “Dear Basketball”. 

When Michael Jordan announced his retirement, he presented it in the form of a letter. Another “Dear Basketball”. (You can find both texts here).  Reading both can provide a springboard for discussion about the difference between the two genres: prose letter versus poetry. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each genre?

Alternatively, you might tell students that Michael Jordan’s “Dear Basketball” served as a mentor text for Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball”. Have students read both and then work backwards as detectives to uncover which tips, tricks, and techniques Kobe borrowed from his basketball and writing mentor.

  • Study analyses of “Dear Basketball”

Wonderfully, the release of “Dear Basketball” has spurred multiple works of literary analysis (another thing we rarely see in the real world journalism of today). Here, you have four mentor texts for analysis, all looking at “Dear Basketball”. You might use these as mentor texts for authentic literary analysis:

“An Academic Analysis of ‘Dear Basketball'”

“A Stanza-by-Stanza Poetic Critique of Kobe Bryant’s ‘Dear Basketball’

“An Undergrad English Major’s Analysis of … ‘Dear Basketball'”

“We Had a Literary Expert Analyze Kobe Bryant’s Basketball Poem”

After students have studied these mentors, have them write their own analysis of “Dear Basketball” or another piece of literature!

 

  • Discuss the qualities of effective literary analysis

Each of the above analyses of Kobe Bryan’t poem is exceedingly different — in tone, in structure, in the actual content of the analysis. Having four mentor texts analyzing the same poem provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss what makes analysis effective. What structures help make analysis coherent from beginning to end? Which ideas are smart and insightful? Which are pushing things a bit too far? Allow your student to critique the critics to figure out what moves great analysts make.

 

Sadly, poetry is often only makes a brief classroom appearance in April. It’s eschewed by many state and federal tests. It’s something that scares our students because they lack exposure, experience, and confidence. Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” gives us an amazing opportunity to have students simultaneously engage with poetry, with the world of sports, and with contemporary culture.

What are some other ideas for connecting “Dear Basketball” to your writing classroom?  Leave a comment below, connect with us on Facebook, or find us on Twitter (@rebekahodell1 and @allisonmarchett). 

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One thought on “5 Ideas for Using “Dear Basketball” in Your Writing Class Tomorrow

  1. I am so excited about this post! I used “Dear Basketball” last week in my class as a starting point for students to write their own “Dear _______” poems, but now I’ll extend it using one of your ideas. Maybe I’ll have them revise their poems based on this extension activity. Thanks again for your wonderful ideas. Your blog inspires me daily!

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