Here's the prompt-poem I used on this particular day in November 2004:
The north wind doth blow
And we shall have snow,
And what shall poor robin do then, poor thing?
He'll sit in a barnI don't remember the details of the class discussion, nor do I remember exactly how I prompted them to begin composing their own piece. But in general, with children at this level, I give them structural rather than word cues. They have vivid, chattery imaginations but not much plot or syntactical control, so my goal is to help them build a natural framework to support their ideas.
To keep himself warm
And hide his head under his wing, poor thing.
I suspect that I began by giving them a choice: "Should the north wind talk to the robin, or should the robin talk to the north wind?" Then my line prompts went something like this:
"Okay, now somebody give me a line; somebody tell me the first thing the north wind said to the robin."Here, again, is the poem they created:
"Now I need a second line; what else did the north wind tell the robin to do?"
"Okay, line 3: why does the north wind want the robin to get off the tree and go south?
"Hmm, very interesting. What will the north wind do while the robin is gone? Let's look out the window and see what it's doing now."
"And how will the north wind feel without the robin around?"
The North Wind Talks to the Robin
Get off my pine tree.
Go down south.
I want to be alone
to play with the windy clouds
and blow the leaves off the trees
and be sad because you’ve gone
and I want you to come back.
As you can see, my questions did guide dramatic structure, but they didn't put words into the students' mouths. Nonetheless, I always push even young children to rethink snap decisions. I'm sure I asked, for instance, "What kind of clouds?" and that some kid shouted back, "Windy clouds!" and that some other kid screeched, "Windy-windy clouds!" and that three or four kids instantly starting making wind noises. C'est la vie in a K-1 poetry class.
This poem gives me pleasure because the structure reflects the actual thinking process of five- and six-year-olds. It's typical for young children to say, "Go away!" and "Come back!" in nearly the same breath, but this little poem shows how they are using these rapid contradictions to figure out the balance between actions and consequences, solitude and companionship, now and later, bossiness and wistfulness. Moreover, while it's not a poem that most adult minds could write, it is a poem that an adult reader can take seriously, can learn from, can ponder.