When I was in Seattle a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of working with an incredibly bright and insightful, young man named Herman. Herman had never used RPM before and he picked it up fast! Over the course of the workshop, we learned a lot about Herman. One of the many things that impressed me about Herman was his observations about nature and humanity! Here are his responses to a lesson on Emily Dickinson’s, A Bird Came Down the Walk.

A bird came down the walk

A Bird came down the Walk
by Emily Dickinson

A Bird came down the Walk— He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves And ate the fellow, raw,
And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall To let a Beetle pass—
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought— He stirred his Velvet Head
Like one in danger, Cautious, I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers And rowed him softer home –
Than Oars divide the Ocean, Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon Leap, splashless as they swim.

Spell Emily Dickinson: EMILY DICKONSON (I pointed out that this was a great phonetic spelling of Dickinson but that her name is spelled with an i following the k. Then I moved on. I find that simple, informative spelling feedback like this is well received by the kids!)

What do you think this poem is about? I THINK THIS POEM IS BIRD MAKES NEST

What does the bird drink? DEW


How are the birds eyes described? LIKE BEADS

How does this poem make you feel? CAUTIOUS

What is the bird cautious about? NOT SURE OF PEOPLE

What point of view does Dickinson give the reader? OBSERVER

What message does this poem tell us about nature? HUMANS CANNOT CONTROL NATURE

If you were with Emily Dickinson when she was observing this bird what would you want to tell her. I WOULD SAY NOT TO BE SAD EVEN GOD DOES NOT CONTROL NATURE


Poems are great to use as RPM lessons! You can find poems to address a particular topic you want to discuss or you can just focus on the poem and the art of poetry itself. I am a fan of the latter. I generally read the poem out loud once and then start to ask questions about the poem. (Read it only once?! Yes! Presume competence and bet that your student can listen to, understand and retain a poem of reasonable length when you read it once – even if you have been told a million times that she can’t! If your student isn’t able to respond to the questions – then go back and read pertinent lines – but until then, believe that your learner can do more than you expect!) Poems are perfect for RPM lessons because you can take almost any poem and meet your learner at his or her level!

If you are the choice level, start with simple teach-ask choices (e.g., “What animal are we talking about? A bird or a mouse?). Is your learner great at making choices and you want to transition to spelling on the boards? After your student makes the correct choice, ask him to point to the first letter of that word on the board (adding more spelled letters as you and your student become comfortable!) If you are just beginning to spell on the boards (the 3 boards or 26 letter board) stick with asking questions that only have one answer: spelling (“Spell bird); offer a choice and ask your student to spell the correct answer or; present a fill-in-the-blank (e.g., “The bird came down the _______.”  When you know the correct answer it is easier to know what your learner is trying to point to on the boards!

When your learner is a little more proficient on the boards, build the complexity of your questions as you proceed in the lesson. This gives even a skilled RPMer a little time to warm up his brain and motor skills! Notice that I did NOT do that here! (DOH! Yes, I get excited and rush ahead occasionally too!) Also notice that this was not Herman’s best response. This was not his fault, it was mine for asking an open ended question too soon! Ok, no harm done! We picked up right back up with a more concrete question, “What did the bird drink?”. Confidence now restored, we continued happily ahead! (Get my point here??!!). Finally, I build to one final open ended question for creative writing. When it comes to creative writing – I ask the question, zip my mouth and let the student respond. (If you are a Chatty-Chatterton like I am, resist the urge to jump in with a barrage of questions!) You will be amazed at what comes out if you just let it!

Need a little more Herman? Of course you do! In a subsequent lesson about books, (the book lesson will be in a blog coming your way soon) Herman indicated that he would like to hear his parents read Mark Twain. This was a surprise to his parents but they were eager to meet Herman’s request. When they got home and pulled the book off the shelf this is what they found….

Mark Twain had been decorated!

Herman had “decorated” the outside of this Mark Twain anthology some time ago. His mom sent me this picture and commented,”We’ve seen that before but never realized he is interested in the inside of it!”  As she attached this picture she also noticed that Herman had decorated book in the background that his Dad has been reading (look just beyond the letter board) – Math in Minutes . WOW! It makes me wonder what other clues these incredible kids have been leaving us! ~Elizabeth


4 thoughts on “Observations…

  1. Thanks so much for posting this. I’ve been doing RPM with my 7 year old son since we saw Soma at the beginning of May and he’s just starting to use the full letter board so I’m able to ask him more open ended questions. I really enjoyed doing this poem with him and just wanted to share how his personality came out a little bit :). When I asked him how the poem made him feel he said I FEEL EXCITED. So I asked him if there was something in the poem the bird was excited about and he said GOOD FOOD. This made me smile because good food is what my son gets most excited about so it’s what he took from the poem. When I asked him what the poem tells us about nature he said IT IS INCREDIBLE. Thanks again!

    • Lisa! I LOVE your comment and your son’s responses! Thank you so much for sharing this. Please tell your son that food is what gets me excited too! I am very glad that you used this lesson. Many people (I am referring to people in general) find poetry a little intimidating but it I believe that ANYONE can relate to poetry at some level. There are a wealth of teaching opportunities in poems.

      It looks like you are breaking into some great communication on the letter boards! Congratulations! I know this comes from hard work and persistence from both of you. It is only going to get better and better! Please keep sharing your journey with us. ~Elizabeth

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