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Naming the World
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Nancie's Introduction

Naming the World

A Year of Poems and Lessons

By Nancie Atwell

Harnessing the power of poetry, Nancie Atwell's Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons empowers adolescents to make sense of their personal place in the world while honing their critical reading and writing skills. Naming the World's 200+ poems and accompanying five-to-ten-minute lessons are used by Nancie every day to jumpstart her reading and writing workshops.

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Harnessing the power of poetry, Nancie Atwell's Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons empowers adolescents to make sense of their personal place in the world while honing their critical reading and writing skills. Naming the World's 200+ poems and accompanying five-to-ten-minute lessons are used by Nancie every day to jumpstart her reading and writing workshops. Poetry is the foundation upon which her students build excellences as writers in every genre. This is your chance to make the first few minutes of your Language Arts class really count!

Naming the World:

  • makes it easy for teachers to find great poems—Nancie has culled the best of the best from more than ninety anthologies, collections, and journals;
  • enables even inexperienced teachers of poetry to teach poems—shows how to read them with understanding and pleasure and highlight their features for students;
  • empowers students to read poetry, love it, take it into their lives, learn its lessons about fine writing, and apply them to poems, narratives, and exposition of their own; and
  • provides a common text for students and teachers to discuss a piece of literature together, and develop a vocabulary for talking about literary elements, without depriving young readers of essential opportunities to read books of their own choosing.

The 200+ Poems:

  • are compiled from contemporary poets
  • were nominated by Nancie's students as their favorites
  • speak to adolescent interests and issues
  • include poems by Nancie's kids to teach and inspire yours.
The 150 Lessons:
  • are used daily by Nancie to jumpstart her reading-writing workshop
  • apply a range of interactive and independent learning strategies
  • present the language Nancie uses with her students.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)

Contents

In Naming the World, 15 groups of poems help students and teachers enter, enjoy, analyze, and learn from the ideas and approaches of outstanding poets, both professional and students.

Group 1: What Poetry Can Do
Nancie begins the school year with a collection of poems that helps middle schoolers discover poetry's potential to give voice to their experiences and demonstrates that poetry can be about anything and everything. This section also establishes the routines of reading and discussing a poem a day.

  • "'You Can't Write a Poem about McDonald's'" Ronald Wallace
  • "Maybe Dats Youwr Pwoblem Too" Jim Hall
  • "Footsteps to Follow" Kelli Carter
  • "SIMS: The Game" Elizabeth Spires
  • "America" Tony Hoagland
  • "Patterns" Anne Atwell-McLeod
  • "Remembrance of a Friend" Ben Williams
  • "The Little Boy" Helen E. Buckley
  • "Defining the Magic" Charles Bukowski
  • "Valentine for Ernest Mann" Naomi Shihab Nye
Group 2: Your Life

Your Life helps students think about and identify what matters. Twin themes of choice and reconsideration run through these poems, as the poets explore what's important, what's not, and why.

  • "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" Portia Nelson
  • "Fat Man" Niall Janney
  • "New Eyes" Adrienne Jaeger
  • "Unlucky" Michael Conley Carter
  • "Guilt" Jed Chambers
  • "Mail Call" Adrienne Jaeger
  • "Long Dream" Michael Stoltz
  • "Someday" Michael Stoltz
  • "Where I'm From" George Ella Lyon
  • "Where I'm From" Jacob Miller
  • "Where I'm From" Hallie Herz
  • "What's in My Journal" William Stafford
  • "What's in My Journal" Niall Janney
  • "What's in My Journal?" Julia Barnes
  • "Famous" Naomi Shihab Nye
Group 3: The Ideas in Things

This section emphasizes the importance of focusing on concrete specifics-real people, objects, and moments. Students learn how the particulars of a writer's experience involve a reader and create a shared vision and meaning.

  • "The Red Wheelbarrow" William Carlos Williams
  • "Poem" William Carlos Williams
  • "Between Walls" William Carlos Williams
  • "The Tree" Eben Court
  • "Seasons of the School Oak" Eben Court
  • "Watermelon" Nora Bradford
  • "What Came to Me" Jane Kenyon
  • "Shell" Harriet Brown
  • "Puddle" Siobhan Anderson
  • "The Bowl" Carl Johanson
  • "Seven in the Morning" Zoë Mason
  • "Deer Print" Ben Williams
  • "Swingset" Grace Walton
Group 4: Games

These poems about sports and other physical activities help students to consider and name the satisfactions and the heartaches of competition, speed, power, and fandom.

  • "First Love" Carl Linder
  • "Six Minutes Twenty-Six Seconds" James Morrill
  • "Speed" David MacDonald
  • "The Double-Play" Robert Wallace
  • "Sestina for Michael Jordan" Jay Spoon
  • "Execution" Edward Hirsch
  • "Elegy for a Diver" Peter Meinke
  • "To an Athlete Dying Young" A. E. Housman
  • "Ping Pong Alfresco" Cameron Blake
  • "What's Not to Like?" Michael Conley Carter
  • "Mystery Baseball" Philip Dacey
Group 5: Dogs and Cats

Adolescents love their pets. Soulmates who listen, love, entertain, comfort, and never judge, pets provide a compelling focus for middle schoolers' strong affections, as well as some of their best writing.

    "Dharma" Billy Collins
  • "Man and Dog" Siegfried Sassoon
  • "Love That Cat" Michael Stoltz
  • "Cat Smile" Niall Janney
  • "Dog in Bed" Joyce Sidman
  • "The Cat Whose Name Is Mouse" Joanne de Longchamps
  • "Cat" J. R. R. Tolkein
  • "Dogs" Mary Oliver
  • "Dog's Death" John Updike
  • "Birch" Karen Shepard
  • "Shelter" R. S. Jones
  • "Sonnet for Shoelace" Ben Williams
Group 6: The Senses

Poems rich in imagery show how well-chosen words invite readers to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell the physical world in our imaginations. The poetry in this section transcends description to evoke imaginative sights, sounds, textures, tastes, and aromas.

  • "The Fish" Elizabeth Bishop
  • "Tree Heartbeat" Siobhan Anderson
  • "Campfire Lullaby" Zoë Mason
  • "night songs" Molly Jordan
  • "Peaches" Peter Davison
  • "Craisens" Michael Conley Carter
  • "I Can't Forget You." Len Roberts
  • "Afternoon Beach" Molly Jordan
  • "Lines" Martha Collins
  • "Let Evening Come" Jane Kenyon
Group 7: Growing Up

These are the poems that speak most keenly to Nancie's students about their identities as adolescents on the cusp of adulthood. This poetry helps lend perspective and hope to the process of growing up.

  • "Nothing Gold Can Stay" Robert Frost
  • "The Death of Santa Claus" Charles Webb
  • "After Watching Peter Pan Again" Marley Witham
  • "Quotes" Ben Williams
  • "Living in Rings" Anne Atwell-McLeod
  • "Fifteen" William Stafford
  • "Evening on the Lawn" Gary Soto
  • "Practically Triplets" Hallie Herz
  • "Call Me" Chris Kunitz
  • "the drum" nikki giovanni
  • "On the Road" Ted Kooser
  • "The Dream of Now" William Stafford
Group 8: Metaphor

Here, Nancie offers her students an accessible entrée to figurative language-how metaphors, similes, and personifications invite readers to view the world, and their feelings about it, through new prisms.

  • "Metaphors" Sylvia Plath
  • "Poem" Julia Barnes
  • "Dreams" Langston Hughes
  • "Harlem (2)" Langston Hughes
  • "Flowerless" Alison Rittershaus
  • "Trinity" Alison Rittershaus
  • "Skylight Man" Niall Janney
  • "Adirondack Chair" Jacob Miller
  • "Hypodermic" Ben Williams
  • "Litany" Billy Collins
  • "How Can I Describe" Zephyr Weatherbee
  • "The Skirmish" Nat Herz
  • "Job Description" Phaelon O'Donnell
Group 9: The Natural World

Nancie uses these poems to inspire pop-culture-oriented adolescents to venture outside, to notice and care about nature, and to draw connections between their inner landscapes and the landscapes of the natural world.

  • "Homemade Swimming Hole" Michael Stoltz
  • "As Imperceptibly as Grief" Emily Dickinson
  • "Out" Brenna Hagen
  • "When I was searching for a poem" Zoë Mason
  • "Deeper" Robert Langton
  • "The Lake" Sophie Cabot Black
  • "The Pond" Marnie Briggs
  • "Golden" Siobhan Anderson
  • "There's a certain Slant of light" Emily Dickinson
  • "Through the Eyes of Morning" Anne Atwell-McLeod
  • "Viewed" Niall Janney
  • "Traveling through the Dark" William Stafford
  • "Thoreau's Nightmare" Alison Rittershaus
Group 10: Madeleines

Inspired by Proust's madeleine, the sugar cookie that triggered intense memories of childhood, these poems live in both the past and the present and help students glimpse the essence of both.

  • "On Turning Ten" Billy Collins
  • "Looking Back through My Telescope" Eben Court
  • "Wax Lips" Cynthia Rylant
  • "Digging for China" Richard Wilbur
  • "Almost Hollywood" Marley Witham
  • "Dandelion Wars" Liam Anderson
  • "Revelations in the Key of K" Mary Karr
  • "Trouble with Math in a One-Room Country School" Jane Kenyon
  • "Proustian" Edward Hirsch
Group 11: Gender

The poems in this section examine what it means to be a boy or a girl in our culture-and what it might mean to become a man or a woman. This is poetry that frames gender-related feelings in ways that both reassure and offer perspective.

  • "Boy's Life" Nat Herz
  • "The Tyranny of Nice or Suburban Girl" Sarah J. Liebman
  • "When My Dad, Gordon, Cried" Michael G. Nern
  • "Eye of the Beholder" Mark Vinz
  • "Bones in an African Cave" Peter Meinke
  • "Why I'm in Favor of a Nuclear Freeze" Christopher Buckley
  • "What's that smell in the kitchen?" Marge Piercy
  • "uncurled" Alexis Kellner Becker
  • "First Practice" Gary Gildner
Group 12: Some Forms

Here, Nancie introduces her student readers and poets to the expressive potential of more complex poetic forms, from traditional structures like the sonnet and sestina to some appealing inventions of 20th century poets.

  • "Two crows" Bailey Irving
  • "The Old Fence" Nora Bradford
  • "Swimming Haiku" Niall Janney
  • "reading on a wet day" Wyatt Ray
  • "Starry Night Tritina" Molly Jordan
  • "Gardening with Mom" Rose Beverly
  • "Christmas Tritina for Marshall" Bailey Irving
  • "Car Ride: A Sestina" Marley Witham
  • "Quintina: Night" Alison Rittershaus
  • "The Summer We Didn't Die" William Stafford
  • "A Pantoum for Blue" Bailey Irving
  • "Sonnet 18" William Shakespeare
  • Arizona Sunset" Lincoln Bliss
  • "Concord Sonnet" Alison Rittershaus
  • "Ode to the Apple" Pablo Neruda
  • "Ode to a Star" Nora Bradford
  • "Ode to Subway" Hayley Bright
  • "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" Wallace Stevens
  • "Nine Ways of Looking at a Hammer" Michael Stoltz
  • "Seven Ways of Looking at a Cup of Espresso" Siobhan Anderson
  • "Eleven Ways of Looking at Paper" Jim Morrill
  • "Mom," Nora Bradford
  • "I Once Knew a Girl" Nora Bradford
  • "Aubade" Robert Pack
  • "January Thaw" Brenna Hagen
Group 13: The Larger World

The poems in this section compel students to look outward, beyond their selves, to connect with the larger world and begin to consider the social and ethical implications of what it means to be human.

  • "Patriotics" David Baker
  • "At the Cancer Clinic" Ted Kooser
  • "We the People" Alexis Becker
  • "Richard Cory" E. A. Robinson
  • "To an Old Black Woman, Homeless and Indistinct" Gwendolyn Brooks
  • "Lucky" Tess McKechnie
  • From the Preface to Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman
  • "Dulce et Decorum Est" Wilfred Owen
  • "Naming of Parts" Henry Reed
  • "A Bummer" Michael Casey
  • "What Were They Like?" Denise Levertov
  • "Stained" Marley Witham
  • "It Is Dangerous to Read Newspapers" Margaret Atwood
  • "A Prayer for the 21st Century" John Marsden
  • "I Care and I'm Willing to Serve" Marian Wright Edelman
  • "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" Langston Hughes
  • "American Heartbreak" Langston Hughes
  • "The Bitter River" Langston Hughes
  • "Langston's Time" Henry Workman
  • "The low road" Marge Piercy
Group 14: Reading and Writing

These poems invite students to experience reading and writing through the minds and hearts of poets who are on fire with words and who share and shape their literary experiences as poems.

  • "Reading Myself to Sleep" Billy Collins
  • "Chapter One" Mark Aiello
  • "The Mechanic" David Fisher
  • "Kidnap Poem" nikki giovanni
  • "Rescued" Carl Johanson
  • "Down" Margaret Atwood
  • "The Osprey" Mary Oliver
  • "Did You Ever? (For Mary Oliver)" Marcia Conley Carter
  • "An Afternoon in the Stacks" William Stafford
  • "You Know Who You Are" Naomi Shihab Nye
  • "Shoplifting Poetry" Martin Steingesser
  • "The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm" Wallace Stevens
  • "The Next Poem" Billy Collins
Group 15: Farewell

The poems in "Farewell" offer an inspiring way to end a school year. They give a teacher and his or her students a last chance to pause, take stock, and celebrate: together, they have named the world.

  • "Aristotle" Billy Collins
  • "The Month of June: 13 ½" Sharon Olds
  • "The Ponds" Mary Oliver
  • "You Reading This, Be Ready" William Stafford
  • "The seven of pentacles" Marge Piercy
  • "Love After Love" Derek Walcott
  • "Wild Geese" Mary Oliver
  • "Adios" Naomi Shihab Nye
  • "To be of use" Marge Piercy
  • from "Song of Myself" Walt Whitman

In Depth

Why Poetry?

"If ever I had to choose just one genre to teach in a middle school English program, it would be poetry. The lessons it teaches kids about good writing, about critical reading, about the kind of adults they wish to become and the kind of world they hope to inhabit, extend the best invitation I can imagine to grow up healthy and whole."- Nancie Atwell

Anyone can have something to say about the Daily Poem. Poetry is the workhorse of Nancie's curriculum for its brevity and generosity and she counts on the opportunities it affords to explore the writer's craft with kids.

Nancie believes there is no genre that can match Poetry in terms of teaching about diction—about precise, vivid words. In fact, she begins every lesson about good writing with the daily poem. What students learn about diction, specificity, intentionality, theme, voice, audience, organization, and punctuation shows up in students' writing across the genres.

Poetry is an extremely effective, versatile genre to teach writing craft. Poetry appeals and matters to kids because they can find or write a poem about any subject that appeals and matters to them: growing up, every sport, childhood, siblings, gender stereotypes, American history, comic book heroes, friendship, war, peace, toys, nature, God, parents, chocolate, identity, dogs, death, computer games, school, prejudice, even poetry itself. Naming the World brings this power directly from Nancie's classroom to yours.

Finding Poems

To find poems that middle school kids are eager to talk about, Atwell read her way through collections, anthologies, and poetry journals. The poetry presented in this resource had to meet her four important criteria.

  • The poems must be likable, by both Nancie and her students
  • The writing is memorable and leaves an impression in the mind
  • Adolescents will be intrigued by the poem; it demonstrates some of the range of what poetry can do, so students will begin to understand what their own poetic capabilities
  • Also included is poetry by her students-brave poems, sensory ones, first attempts, interesting experiments, prize-winners, gifts for loved ones, and noble failures.

Samples