Saturday, April 11, 2015

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater: Inspiring Young Poets

Poetry and spring just seem to go together.  There's something about a fresh outlook on the earth and a fresh look at words that helps the world to sing this time of year.  Maybe it's all the green.  Maybe it's the parade of flowers popping up here and there.  Maybe it's the change in temperatures or the way the sun feels just a little closer.  

Forest Has a Song
by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
This week we had the privilege of Skyping with poet, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.  To say I was excited about the opportunity would be an understatement.  I first came to know Amy's work when she was taking on the challenge of writing a poem every day for a year.  It wasn't long until I became familiar with her website and the many resources she shares there.  At the Poem Farm you can find a gaggle of poems to read with students or use as mentor texts.  You can search by topic or poem type.  Not to mention the writing advice you can find tucked inside each post.  Now, of course, we can enjoy Amy's work in Forest has a Song.  

Advice for Young Poets
Our first graders had the privilege of talking with Amy on Tuesday.  It was a-maz-ing!  Students had written a variety of questions for Amy about writing.  She chose some to answer.  Students read their questions and she talked about her thinking as a writer.  Here are a few of the tips she gave young poets (paraphrased from my quick notes): 

  • To get ideas pay attention to the world around you, consider memories, search in books, and jot ideas down where you will remember, and can grow, them.
  • Talking with family, friends, and other writers can help you think more about your poem.  Have someone read your poem to you to see if sounds the way you hope it will.
  • Making poems is like making other things you enjoy.  Do it with feeling.  Be a time machine.  Think about new things.  
  • As a poet, work to say something in a way someone else can connect with as they read.  
  • Poetry can rhyme (and Amy shared her love for writing rhyme), but it doesn't have to rhyme.  The poet decides.

Creating Energy
The best part about the time we spent together was the way Amy created energy around poetry.  Connecting with an audience via Skype can be a tricky thing, but Amy really knew how to keep the attention of these young writers.  Our first graders were spellbound for the entire conversation.  Amy was magical as she kept students engaged throughout the conversation.  
  • She won them over with her puppet greeting.  
  • "Think about this..."  Amy continually invited students to think beyond the conversation.  She gave them ideas to try, ways to think about the writing, and suggestions for sharing poetry.
  • Poetry sharing.  How would a Skype visit be complete without sharing a poem or two with the poet?  Amy invited students to join her in poetry.  She picked poems that would allow students to participate in the sharing.  
  • Invitations.  Amy continually invited students to write a poem, share a poem, try an idea, think about favorites, and publish poems in ways the world can enjoy them.
  • Movement.  Amy found ways to incorporate movement in a poem and in poetry conversation in just the right places.  
Since our conversation the first grade rooms have been filled with poetry.  They've been reading poetry, sharing poetry, writing poetry --- and even singing poetry.  It's just the lift we needed for these final weeks of learning together.  


Coming Soon
Everyday Birds (Scholastic, Spring 2016)
Read!  Read!  Read!  (Wordsong, Fall 2017)



  1. Cathy - What an incredibly generous post you have written about the fun I had with your first graders. I would like to add that a strong Skype visit can only happen with well-prepared, thoughtful, generous hosts...which is exactly what you, your colleagues, and your students are. I feel lucky to be getting to know you in this way and look forward to our next visit. Thank you for these words. xo, a.

  2. This just sounds great, Cathy, to spend time with Amy must have been a delight for your first graders. Hurrah for you for setting it up, and for Amy connecting with the little ones.

  3. Love this post. So much info about both poetry and Skyping. Amy is wonderful. I agree.