Poetry for ALL–3 easy activities for #NationalPoetryMonth

Another lesson plan? Fear not! As a teacher, I know the


IMG_6823 sm natural light

Thus, dear fabulous teachers, I present to you 3 activities you can use TOMORROW–with minimal prep– for #NationalPoetryMonth or those days you need just a little something extra to GET KIDS EXCITED ABOUT WORDS!


  • Minimal prep: ZERO. Read these easy instructions and try one before you share with the class.
  • Begin with a motto, theme from your Literature unit, line from a play or book, (appropriate) song lyrics.*

*This becomes the First line of your poem. 

Your poem then uses the last word or words of each line.

Line by line, the poem grows.

Grows until you are finished.

Finish your poem with words from your First line.

First line / Last line poems write themselves !

Note: The poems can be a long as you want. I usually tell my students to try for 8-10 lines total, but really it’s up to you.


2. POETRY JAM:  Begin the morning with a poem. Seriously this takes five minutes–depending on the length of the poem you choose, and if your students beg for more…

  • Minimal prep: Pick a poem or a rhymed picture book to share with the class. I’m sure you have your own favorites. If not–check out poems by Jack Prelutsky or my friend Rebecca Kai Dotlitch. 
  • For older kids–read a poem a day of one of 2015 Newbery Medal recipient Kwame Alexander’s novels in verse:THE CROSSOVER or his newly released BOOKED. (Congrats Kwame!)
2p_THE CROSSOVER jacket.indd  Booked Dust of Eden
  • What to do: No, this is not just a read-aloud by you. Line by line, you–the teacher– (or a selected student) reads the poem selection aloud with expression. *After each line, the class repeats whatever was just said.

Example using another variation: try a Tongue Twister: ; )

Whether the Weather is cold. Or whether the weather is hot. (class repeats)

We’ll be together whatever the weather (class repeats)

Whether we like it or not! (class repeats)

That’s it. Zero prep, once again, really. And why would you TAKE THE TIME to do this? It gets the words in the mouths of your students. Words they might not ordinarily use. They feel the rhythm. You’re sharing awesome poetry, but not in a way that students can easily tune out. They have to LISTEN

          3. POKER POEMS –(Tell the older kids this is Five Card Stud and they’ll get it right away!)

  • Materials needed: old business cards. *I have recycled my own, my mother-in-law’s, my husband’s–It doesn’t matter as long as one side is blank.
  • Minimal prep: Building your deck
poker poems part 1
  1. The next time your class reads a story or chapter together, have them pick out the words that zing. (Or email me and I’ll send you my Poker Poems starter list so you can make the deck(s) yourself…)
  2. Write each word on the blank side of the business cards. One per card.

Playing/writing Poker Poems: Groups of 5-6–one deck per group

  • Choose a dealer –one for each group.
  • Dealer deals 5 cards FACE DOWN to each player, as well as herself.
  • When you say “Go,” players turn their cards over.  The object is to make a “sentence” using all 5 cards. Note: Sentences do NOT have to make sense. 
  • Example: The five cards I got were moonlight, fragile, message, echo, and shattered.
poker poems part 2
  • You may add suffixes, prefixes, and as many extra words as you wish.
  • Write your sentence on your paper.

My sample “sentence” (Eventually you can have them write it as a poem.) =

The echo of the moonlight shattered the fragile message. OR–in poem format:

The echo of the moonlight


the fragile message.

  • For Round Two, players may get rid of any or all 5 words, and the Dealer will deal the same amount of new ones, so the players have five cards as before. Proceed as above, making a new sentence out of the words on your cards.  Write it down.
  • Repeat for Round Three,  and more if you have time!
  • Add to the decks any time your students find a cool word in a story. Builds #Fluency!

Happy writing–and teaching–my friends. I love sharing these activities and more at writing workshops and Teacher Inservices–and on Pinterest (Erin Dealey)– and they work with all ages. If you try any of them, I would love to hear from you. Send student writing via my Contact Erin info on my web site–or find me on Twitter or Instagram @erindealey.


We, too, are America–a play for #BlackHistoryMonth.

Need something new for #BlackHistoryMonth? A history unit? #Diversity? Because #BlackLivesMatter? As a theater teacher, I write plays for my students to perform when I can’t find what I need. And because I know how busy you are, I thought I’d share this one. (Free PDF download below) 

WE, TOO, ARE AMERICA–a tribute for Black History Month, was written for a class of any color–or MANY COLORS–to perform as an assembly or class project. (I promise you, it’s very easy to produce.)

Sojourner Truth

Students will read about and portray twenty-five African-Americans who have helped shape America.  

I’ve attached the pdf here: We, too, are America –a tribute to Black History

Production Notes:

Cast: Flexible cast.  30 speaking parts–5 narrators, 25 “masks”.  Some roles may be combined.


Masks:  Hand held masks– enlarged photos of actual historical figures with name printed clearly in large bold letters so audience can read it.  (Laminate; attach a paint stick as handle–at neck. Optional: Back side of mask can have the character’s lines on it.)

Variation:  Masks with names only, printed clearly in large bold letters so audience can read it. Combine with power point showing photos of actual historical figures.

Simple costume pieces/props may be added for specific characters, such as hat and purse for Rosa Parks, school books for Elizabeth Eckford, etc.  Others may be imagined or pantomimed.

Sound: (Optional) “Military” drums, kettle drum.

Suggested Songs*: “We Shall Overcome,” “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” “O Freedom,” “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.  *Others may certainly be used instead.

Langston Hughes

Poem: I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes.

Happy February, dear Teachers. I hope you’ll take the time to share these amazing Americans and their contributions with your students.

If you perform the play–take a pic and send it my way via twitter @ErinDealey or my web site.

Most of all, THANK YOU for all you do for your students.


Interview with a Hamster: Humphrey & Betty Birney


A certain HAMSTER took over my blog while I was interviewing my writer pal, BETTY BIRNEY.

Betty Birneyheadshot 3 X 3 300 dpi (2)

Don’t believe me? Read on…

It started out innocently enough with a few questions for Betty:

(Check out the full bio of this Emmy/Children’s Choice/Humanitas award winner on her web site.)

Q 1. Where did Humphrey get his name? 

Betty Birney: “Right here:”

Betty Birney Humphrey street“My parents grew up on Humphrey Street in St. Louis two houses away from each other and were best friends from the age of nine, so it’s an important place with extremely warm memories of my childhood.”

 Q 2. Which of the following quotes best describes your path as an author? (or your revision process?) 

a. “Sometimes you have to look-look-look to find the perfect book.”                                          SECRETS ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY

b. “I don’t know what color I’ll be when I come back.”                                                            ADVENTURE ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY

c. “If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have never been in a dark room with a mosquito.”          Betty Birney

d. “My imagination’s flying!” IMAGINATION ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY

ImaginationHumphrey_JK_2P2 (1)

BB: “d. Humphrey’s latest book, IMAGINATION ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY, is really all about the writing process. This little rhyme Humphrey writes in his notebook sums up my path and my revision process. Just keep trying over and over again.”

I tried and tried again

and then I  kept on trying

And now I am so happy:

My imagination’s flying!

Q 3. Did you base Room 26, Longfellow School on any school in particular?  Reavis perhaps?

BB: “I think most writers picture something familiar when they write. Reavis School, which I attended, is in my mind when I write about Humphrey, even though it doesn’t exist anymore. However, I am aware of how things have changed over the years (desks vs tables, for instance).”

Q 4. Since you also write for television, can you tell us how this process compares to that of writing children’s books? 

BB: “On the one hand, there’s little difference. A story is a story and there are many ways to tell it. Print or TV: you’re still telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

“That being said, there are lots of differences. The challenges in writing for television or film is the fact that it’s difficult (and awkward) to get directly into a character’s head. Characters can only reveal what they’re thinking by stating it out loud to another character, using voice-over or talking to themselves (something I dislike in film and consider amateurish). Everything is action. The action can’t stop for explanation or backstory. Film and TV are also made up of connected scenes and each scene has a beginning, a middle and an end. I still talk of writing books in terms of scenes. People tell me that my books read like a movie.

“I still find television easier to write than literary fiction because there are great shortcuts: a cut, a dissolve – the passage of time doesn’t have to be stated out loud. It’s easier in a book to make great leaps of time and place. I love writing both mediums and they present different challenges. For television, the ultimate challenge is the length. Because a show is a very specific length, a script can’t be one page too long or too short. It doesn’t work. However, once you write a lot of television, you learn to have the sense of where you are in the story and how much time you have left and you adjust as you write, which is a fascinating process.”





Q 5. What was the most surprising fact or discovery you’ve made while writing this series?

BB: “I have learned a lot about hamsters from research and from fans. In the first book, I said they were nocturnal, which is what my research told me. It turns out they are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. The funny thing is, I get up at the crack of dawn and get an energy burst late in the afternoon. So I think I’m crepuscular, too!

Q 6.  Which character is most like you? Lower-your-voice AJ? Speak-up Sayeh? Mrs. Brisbane, Mrs. Wright, Garth, Seth, Humphrey? (Or another?)

“Without a doubt, Humphrey is more like me than any character I’ve ever written. He’s curious, excitable, a dreamer and he likes to help other people (he’s much better at it than I ever was). And we both write our thoughts and ideas in a notebook. Little known fact: Humphrey loves crunchy raw veggies and so do I.”


Q 7. Given that Humphrey has tried his paw at poetry for the Valentine’s Day Festival, and I notice you mention that he took over writing the World of Humphrey books after book #3, do you think he’ll ever write his memoirs? If so, what might he “tell all” about?

1 World newest cover

BB: “Since he is very young at the start of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY and he grows in understanding throughout the series, I think the According to Humphrey books are his memoirs. And he does tell all, including his inner conflicts and deepest feelings. He’s one honest hamster.

Q 8. What would you like readers to know–about you? HUMPHREY? Life?

BB: “Many people already know this but I don’t have a hamster and have never had a hamster. But I don’t need to own a hamster to write the Humphrey books, because



humphrey (1)


BB: “I may not look like one, but in order for me to write the books from Humphrey’s point of view, I’ve had to learn to think, act, feel and write like a hamster. And when I am writing one of the Humphrey books, I really do feel like a little hamster. Sometimes when I’m writing one of Humphrey’s big adventures outside of his cage, I feel really tired, as if I were a tiny hamster doing big things.”


Q 9. HUMPHREY books are celebrating their eleventh year in print (Congrats!), not only in the U.S. but the U.K, as well as translations in Polish, Spanish, and Dutch. Are there any other countries your books have landed?


“Germany, Hungary and soon in Vietnam and mainland China. And in the UK and the U.S., there’s a new-ish series of HUMPHREY’S TINY TALES, which are shorter, illustrated chapter books:

Creepy Crawly Cover

Unlike the According to Humphrey books, they don’t follow in order and that was a nice break for me. There are three out now in the U.S. and two more coming next year.”

Q 10. Since it’s November and almost Thanksgiving, what are you and/or HUMPHREY thankful for this year? 

BB: “I will always be grateful to my editor, Susan Kochan, for publishing the first book and sticking with Humphrey and me. I am eternally grateful to Humphrey’s loyal, fun-loving, enthusiastic fans and to the teachers and librarians who have introduced their students to the series.

HUMPHREY (Come on–We KNOW it’s you!) “Teachers and librarians are the people who supported the books in the beginning and continue to support them today, so all I can say is:



Both Betty Birney and I agree with Humphrey’s wish for you:

“I hope they all get an extra piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top!”


WAIT! Antoinette Portis on #kidlit and her creative process.

FIVE starred reviews!

FIVE starred reviews!

The WAIT! is over, my friends.

Meet the fabulous NYT bestselling author/illustrator Antoinette Portis.

Portis and her editor Neal Porter of Neal Porter Books. Roaring Brook/Macmillan

Portis and her editor Neal Porter–of Neal Porter Books–Roaring Brook/Macmillan

Her amazing books include WAIT! as well as


FroodleNOT A BOX

Not a BoxNYT Best Illustrated Book and a 2007 Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor Book,

NOT A STICK, A PENGUIN STORY (also chosen as a NYT Best Illustrated Book),

KINDERGARTEN DIARY, plus two forthcoming titles,


and NOW.

Portis takes word-play to new heights–to the delight of children and adult readers alike–and I am in awe of her ability to make every word count.

Thank you Antoinette, for the fun and informative interview!

Q.  As an author/illustrator–which comes first: thumbnails and quick-sketches or a rough draft of text?
Antoinette: I usually start with text. If I can’t come up with a beginning, middle and end, then an idea is probably not worth pursuing. Endings are hard! I’m good at coming up with ideas that are all middle.

     Sometimes I sketch a character or a scene while I’m still writing—kind of a key image that cements the mood of the book for me. Once the text seems to work, I storyboard it to work out the pagination and composition and then a make a full-size dummy. I revise and tinker all along the way. I make many, many versions of each dummy.

Q. Which of your many wonderful books could be a metaphor for your process or journey as an author/illustrator?
Not a Box
Not a Stick
A Penguin Story
Princess Super Kitty

Antoinette: Most of my books are about aspects of the creative process as I experience them.

     NOT A BOX is an ode to the joy of creating. I remember the bliss I felt making up a fantasy scenario that completely entertained me, and the neighborhood kids, too. Imagination is a super power all children possess—and it’s one power they can exercise freely. I can’t stop wanting to celebrate that!

     I can look at FROODLE as a metaphor for facing down my inner critic, the voice that tries to shut me down.

     My next two books I’ve written and illustrated, BEST FRINTS IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE and NOW, are the first two I’ve done that don’t address the theme of creativity. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that theme shows up again.

Q. When you were growing up, what was one of the hardest things to wait for? A holiday? special birthday? the school bus? a sibling? the bell to ring? your driver’s license? graduation? How about now–as an author/illustrator?

Antoinette: I loved the build-up to Easter and Christmas. The wishing and hoping and preparing were the best parts. And no present was ever as wonderful as the fantasy of it.

Finishing up art for a book and then a waiting a year for the book to come out is unbearable. At first I feel like I’ll explode with impatience. Then, by the time the book does come out, I’ve finished art for another and my mind is in a whole different space. I have to make friends with last year’s work all over again. It’s a weird process. I was used to the world of graphic design where everything happens fast.

Michael PortisQ. Since your husband Michael Portis is an author too (Forthcoming titles:PINKY GOT OUT & PINKY GOT OUT AGAIN) do you two share an office? Work at opposite ends of the house? Brainstorm ideas? Throw paper airplanes at each other?

Antoinette: We both have studios in the house—at opposite ends. Our house is like a picture book bio-dome. We’re always there and we’re always working. We give each other advice and feedback–sometimes solicited, sometimes not. There’s always a lot to talk about. We met in art school, and this new life (both of us making picture books) is a continuation of that connection. We’ve made 6-hour drives to San Francisco from LA, talking picture books the whole way.

Q. Where did the idea for WAIT! come from?

Antoinette: It’s based on a little moment I observed sitting in a café. A toddler and mom walked by, but he broke away from her to come over and peer at a bug on the windowsill right in front of me. His mom came back, grabbed his hand and trotted him off down the street—clearly in a rush. I thought, “Thanks for the book idea.” I identified with the little boy, of course, not the mom. I thought how frustrating little kids’ lives can be—no control over the pace or destination in their daily journeying.

Wait_IceCreamTruck     As I’ve been talking about WAIT, I’ve been thinking about my own experience of being a working mom with a toddler. The times I slowed down to my daughter’s pace and we rambled around the neighborhood or the park, collecting leaves or interesting stuff to use making collages, were some of my favorite times ever. Her curiosity and appreciation of everything around her re-opened my artist’s eyes. The book’s ending is a tribute to those moments when the child becomes your teacher.

Visit AntoinettePortis.com to find out more.

Here’s to listening to the children around us,

and our inner child as well.

Happy beginning, middle, and ends to all!

Hurray for GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX! And finger puppets for your students : )

LOOK how cute these are! And easy to make.

LOOK how cute these are! And easy to make.

Hurray for GOLDIE!

I came home from teaching at Fine Arts Camp in July and found this from my wonderful editor at Atheneum:

Goldie 2015 reprintGOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX has been reprinted again.

Soooo…in celebration (and because teacher pals have been asking me to put this on Pinterest), I’m posting these CCSS finger puppet activities based on the wonderful illustrations by HANAKO WAKIYAMA.

PLUS  —>  Grade 2: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.6 Acknowledge differences in the points of view of characters, including by speaking in a different voice for each character when reading dialogue aloud.

Directions: Print these GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX Finger Puppets CCSS

The puppet templates are on pages 2-3 of the PDF. Cut them out and add Popsicle sticks and let your students pick a character:

Mom and Mama Bear puppetsThe fun begins when they create a dialog with another character. What voice will they use? What would these characters say to each other?

Easy-peasy, right?

Have fun and send me pics of your class with their puppets.

Twitter: @ErinDealey

And remember my favorite Zen poem, dear teacher pals:

A wise person does not teach the end.

She teaches THEY WAY,

And she is not too serious about that.


I hope it’s a fabulous year for you.