About two years ago, I happened upon How to Read and Write Poems by Margaret Ryan at a bookstore shortly before I started teaching writing and picked it up because I thought it might be helpful. I’ve fallen in love. Ryan’s writing style is informative and lively, and jam-packed with poetry and lyrics that remind us of the life-giving nature of writing poetry. I also highly recommend If You’re Trying to Teach Kids How to Write, You’ve Gotta Have This Book! by Marjorie Frank. As a creative myself, and as a teacher, Frank’s book has helped me look beyond the final product and see the writing process as fluid and ever-changing. If you’re at all interested in writing, you should pick up these books.
Yesterday, I taught a mini lesson on metaphor and simile to my 5th and 6th grade students. We discussed the difference between the two and the importance of figurative language in poetry. We talked about how you can portray a moment or a feeling with a phrase. Ryan discusses how one can easily picture a motherless child, but picturing “lonely” takes more effort. When we express how we feel with metaphor, we can help others understand us better, and that brings us together as people.
Then we discussed the example, “Life is just a bowl of cherries.” I asked my students what this line was saying about life.
“Life is sweet.”
“Life tastes good.”
“It’s sour,” one student said.
“Yeah, some cherries are sour.”
“Mm, it can be sour, can’t it?” I answered.
We sat for a moment and pondered this. Though my students are young, they are not immune to heartache, to trials, or to strife. The original song compares life to cherries, encouraging the listener to cheer up and remember, it isn’t the berries’ fault. It almost makes you think the original singer didn’t see the sour side of cherries, but the figurative language is so good there.
Ryan includes Langston Hughes’ poem, ‘Miss Blues’es Child,’ so I read it to my students. Though they are young, they found the metaphors and empathized with the sadness of missing someone who was important to you. We discussed not knowing for sure who Hughes was missing, nor knowing if the person had died or simply left, but that the feeling was strong all the same.
This morning, I was reminded of our class time and felt the bittersweet truths we discussed in my heart. Thus, as I listen to a radio station based on “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” I treasure the moments when my students teach me just as much as I teach them.