Saturday, December 18, 2010

Have you ever read a poem about a saguaro cactus?

The English textbook that my school uses is so terrible that I spend a great deal of my time just trying to figure out exactly what I'm supposed to be teaching on any given day. The themes repeat every year (“Having Fun,” then “Healthy Living,” then “How Many or How Much,” and finally some variation of “Animals.”) The grammar is confusing. The vocabulary is useless. The exercises are boring and rarely helpful. And I'm pretty sure that the editors spent a grand total of 17 minutes proofreading each book, but only 14 minutes on the 6th grade book, which is particularly full of typos.

Recently in the 7th grade we had the topic “The Green World.” For this, the students had to learn useful vocabulary like “spine” and “giant,” and then read a text about saguaro cacti (which informed them that saguaros grow to over 50 feet in height.) After the reading, they had to answer a series of questions, which included what is quite possibly the best question you could ever ask at a cocktail party: “Have you ever read a poem about a saguaro cactus?” How do you fill one and a half hours with a lesson like this?

That was when I came up with a very daring idea. I decided to take a chance, teach the kids the names of some trees (including “saguaro cactus,” which is apparently an honorary member of the tree family), and then have them write poems about those trees, presumably so that, if any one ever asks them if they've read a poem about a birch tree, they can answer “yes” with confidence. The prospect of asking my students to write poems was daunting, considering that most of them can barely string two sentences together about what they like to do. Therefore, I was amazed when they got very excited about the assignment and churned out some surprisingly fluent poems – although I'm not nominating any of them for a Pulitzer. Below are a few of my favorites, unedited and in their original “poetic” forms.

“Saguaro Cactus” by 7b class
The biggest saguaro cactus
The evergreen cactus
Saguaro cactus – king of plants
It grows in Arizona

Now you have a definitive answer when someone asks you whether you've ever read a poem about a saguaro cactus.

“Apple Tree” by Asel
Very spicy apple tree
Very beautiful apple tree
When there is autumn
it falls down

I believe she's referring to the apples and not the tree itself, although there is a little confusion regarding her use of pronouns.

“Birch” (a riddle) by Dilyara
Color is white, green
and little black.
It grows in forest.
It's not a crab.

This rhymes quite nicely if you read it with a Kazakh accent.

“Christmas Tree” by Rizat and Kumustamshi
Christmas tree, Christmas tree
Evergreen, beautiful tree
It is very wonderful.
It makes us cheerful.

“Christmas Tree” by Aktoty
The holiday Christmas tree
It's light and big.
We are decorate it
and it will be beautiful tree.

“Oak” by Dana
Oak, oak, oak
You very big tree
Oak, oak, oak
You me love tree

“Apple Tree” by Aigul
The green apple tree
The sweet apple tree
The beautiful flower it is
I love you red apple

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