Learning From Poems: Grand Finales

This year on Moving Writers, my “beat” returns to poetry as a foundational element of a writing classroom. Each month’s post will examine how we can learn about an aspect of writing from a specific poem or poems, then look at what it might sound like to extend those ideas to a writing lesson in any genre. Earlier this school year, I have written about learning brevity , learning to use imagery, learning the music of language, and using poems as mentor texts for titles.

Image via Brittanica.com

I grew up near Dorney Park, an amusement park in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In May, we could hear the clatter and screams of the wooden rollercoasters from the playground of my elementary school during recess.

Three times a year, the park held a fireworks show, and the picture window in our living room gave my family the perfect view. From the comfort of our couch, we could watch the rise, pop, and scatter of sparks, eagerly awaiting the best part of the night: the grand finale.

Without the grand finale, what is a fireworks show, really? Imagine if it just moved at the same pace and then . . . just . . stopped, petering out like all along the show had been nothing but a backfiring car about to run out of gas.

As much as we understand the importance of the finale in a fireworks show, our students do not naturally understand the importance of crafting a good conclusion to an essay. Sometimes it is because they feel rushed by a deadline or just done with a project, and sometimes it is because they have been conditioned to believe that good writing must “restate the thesis” or “sum it all up” at the end. In fact, when I ask students, “What should a good conclusion do?” They almost always say “sum it up” at first.

I share a simple slide with them, pictured below.

“How would you fill in these blanks?” I ask. And it does not take long until someone gets it right: thinking and feeling. It is the work of a good conclusion to leave readers thinking or feeling deeply, often simultaneously .

Poets are experts at this, winding their way to the perfect closing note, and spoken word poetry makes those closing notes audible. Here are three spoken word poems with excellent grand finales. You can watch them all in less than ten minutes, and my words to follow are brief.

But also, feel free to fall down the rabbit hole that is Button Poetry on YouTube. You won’t regret it, and you’ll come out energized with something to share.

“Complainers” by Rudy Fracsisco

“When They Look Right Through You” by Guante

“When We Were Kings” by Rachel Wiley

We listen to each of these poems and talk about what students liked, but then we go back for a second listen to the last twenty seconds or so, this time \on a mission: “What do you notice about how the poet concludes their ideas in the poem? What moves does the poet make to leave us (the reader) thinking or feeling deeply about the topic?”

Invariably students notice a few things:

  1. repetition of key words
  2. short, simple sentences
  3. powerful imagery, sometimes shocking
  4. motivation to change or do something

Then I share how some essays use these same techniques, while others use a little story, a series of deep questions, a shocking statistic, or a memorable, image-heavy comparison. I encourage risk: “If you can make the reader of your essay feel the same electricity as the grand finales of these spoken word poems, you have the perfect ending. It may not sum up or restate anything. More often, published writers propel their ideas into higher skies or deeper waters at the end to achieve the depth of thinking and feeling they want from readers.”

Our students can write strong conclusions, but they need some time to hear what a strong one sounds like, and nowhere can we find conclusions more riveting than in spoken word poems.

What are your are your favorite mentor texts and language to use when helping students craft strong conclusions? You can connect with me on Twitter @theVogelman or engage on Facebook at facebook.com/movingwriters to continue the conversation.  

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