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Lesson Plan

Put That on the List: Collaboratively Writing a Catalog Poem

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Put That on the List: Collaboratively Writing a Catalog Poem

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Susanne Rubenstein

Susanne Rubenstein

Princeton, Massachusetts


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



In these contemporary times, our lives are often driven by lists—to-do lists, shopping lists, wish lists. Working in small groups, students brainstorm a list of human emotions such as anger, guilt, and happiness. Then, as a class, they select six to eight emotions from the list. Students then add more specific ideas, words, and phrases that describe and provide examples of each emotion. Next, students read and discuss Raymond Carver's poem "Fear" as a model for writing their own powerful poetry. Finally, working with one of the emotions listed by the class, each group composes their own list poem. These poems, stripped down in the most minimalist fashion, allow students to concentrate on important aspects of poetry, including word choice, phrasing and rhythm as well as the all-important "heart" of the poem.

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ReadWriteThink Printing Press: Use this online tool to create a newspaper, brochure, booklet, or flyer. Students choose a layout, add content, and then print out their work.

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Through their reading of Carver's work, students ultimately understand the true spirit of poetry. Carver wrote, "Every poem is an act of love, and faith" (McCaffery and Gregory 72), and any lover of poetry would agree. But adolescents aren't typically lovers of poetry, and often they see the structure and substance of poetry as enigmatic and incomprehensible-and not very interesting. Which...is just how Raymond Carver felt.

Rilke is quoted as saying, "Poetry is experience." That's partly it. In any event, one always recognizes the real article from the trumped-up ersatz product which is so often top-heavy with technique and intellection and struggling to "say" something. I'm tired of reading poems that are just well-made poems (qtd. in Stull, "Matters of Life and Death" 179).

Carver's poetry offers readers something beyond the "well-made" poem. His poetry often tells a story, and it treads the same fine line between truth and imagination that one finds in his fiction. So too does it mimic Carver's fiction in its compression, its simplicity, and its precision. And always at its center is the truth of human feeling, often expressed in quite mundane terms. For these reasons, it's poetry that students can readily read and comprehend. When students understand, both on an intellectual and an emotional level, what a poet is saying, they can respond to his poetry in a meaningful way.
(Excerpted and Adapted from Rubenstein 64-65)

Further Reading

Rubenstein, Susanne. 2005. Raymond Carver in the Classroom "A Small, Good Thing." Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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