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A Celebration of Bees
Helping Children Write Poetry

by Barbara Juster Esbensen

reviewed by Molly Watkins, 3rd grade teacher

A Celebration of Bees by Barbara Juster Esbensen, has been reprinted and will certainly inspire teachers of writing who may have missed the first volume, published in 1975. Esbensen invites teachers, parents and anyone who enjoys the company of children to play with words, to inspire our young ones to use their wonderful imaginations. The wordplay activities detailed in the book are both practical and effective in helping children plunge into creative writing, focusing on poetry.

After completing a science unit in my third grade Spanish bilingual class, we brainstormed words the students associated with water. The list included weather words such as rain and hail and adjectives describing how water tastes, feels, sounds and smells. Esbensen suggests this idea-generating activity as a warm-up for all poetry writing, including cinquains, haiku and less restrictive forms of poetry. The students responded enthusiastically to the activity and were eager to read their poems to their classmates. Recognizing that some children are not confident enough to read their work in public, I was delighted to see that even the usually reluctant participants were impatient to share their work. We focused on haiku, and here are a few examples:

Las gotas brillan
saladas, frías, suaves
azules, locas

- Jesús, age 9

The beach on Sunday
giant waves, noisy and strong
taste like salt water

- Chris, age 9

The river is small
beautiful between the trees
it ends in the ocean

- Dustin, age 9

El sol brillante
da luz caliente
es lindo, quema

- Monica, age 9

As a teacher, I am always searching for new ways to bring joy and a feeling of purpose to the writing process. I had never been an avid reader of poetry, and so it is not surprising that my first attempt at writing poetry in the classroom came after reading A Celebration of Bees. The thinking that went into creating lists of words describing the seasons, the city or people--all ideas from Esbensen's book--was focused and energetic. Every one of the 25 children in the class wrote at least one poem; they all experienced success. This has been the perfect assessment of their writing in that it has given me another tool to improve student learning.

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