Poetry to start the day


When Billy Collins was US Poet Laureate in 2001-2003, he designed a poetry program to concentrate on high school students and teachers, because "...all too often it (high school) is the place where poetry goes to die."  The result was "Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools."  The poems in the collection were, for the most part, contemporary, and designed to be read, one a day, as a part of those daily announcements that used to be read aloud over the PA system in schools.  And, the “180" in the title comes the average number of days in a US school year.

Well, the collection is appropriate for people of any age, though some poems were specifically chosen to relate to adolescents.  The project website is still cached at LOC:  http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/p180-home.html  Here are three of my favorites from this collection; the first one is for all you mathematicians out there!

“Numbers”, by Mary Cornish http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/008.html 

“Did I Miss Anything?” by Tom Wayman  http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/013.html  (Especially for those instructors who have been asked this question by a student after his/her absence)

“Gratitude to Old Teachers”, by Robert Bly  http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/072.html

Do you ever start a day with poetry…for instructional purposes such as a writing prompt,  or just for fun?  Please contribute your suggestions!!


Susan, you posted this rich comment before my time as moderator of the Reading and Writing group, and I would like your views to come back to the forefront for consideration, especially in our Reading and Writing group. I am an avid believer that math, especially problem solving and approaches  techniques, should be taught in reading and writing sessions/classes, and vice versa.

In our Reading and Writing CoP, we don't bring up poetry much in our discussions. Why not?

I hope this thread develops into a strong resource for all of us who work with with adults who have low-literacy and numeracy levels! More, more! Leecy

Hello, Leecy,  Thanks for your response.  I agree with you that math and reading/writing sessions go together!  In fact, they are embedded in one another, at least from the standpoint of math!  So I'll add another comment on that topic, rather than mentioning any additional poems at this point.  

Here's one example I often used in teaching: pairs of students would create a word problem (real life situation) which required some form of math reasoning, decision making and problem solving. Sometimes the assignment was to create a problem involving fractions/decimals/percentages, and sometimes the topic was wide open.  The pair then would write the problem on a 3 x 5 card and put in into the "problem box".  When all pairs had done that, each drew out a card, read the problem written by another pair of students, and devised an answer.  When that step was completed, each pair read the problem to the group of students and described the way that pair chose to answer the question (thus reinforcing the truism that there are many ways to solve a math problem!). Everyone found that it is very hard to write a good, clear problem!  As you can see, there was lots of practice in reading and writing, as well as in speaking and in practicing numeracy skills.

Topics ranged widely, such as  calculating a proper tip for service at a "sit-down restaurant", following directions in a variety of situations, estimating costs for a family's trip to a nature center, or giving proper doses of medicine to children.  As we know, reading includes skills in decoding charts, graphs, tables, and maps (as well as prose and poetry).  All are rich with math!!!  So it was all the better when the pair needed to read a chart or table in order to construct the problem.

I'd love to hear how other instructors will respond to this topic.


Susan, thank you for following up on you initial post with very creative and engaging practices for integrating numeracy and language skills among adults - those of any age, in fact! With your permission, I plan to share you suggestions with folks in adult ed programs in SW Colorado.

I hope that members of both the Reading and Writing, and the Numeracy CoPs will start exchanging additional ideas here on how to bridge experiences between different academic skills.  What think, one and all? Let's share more goodies on this topic! Leecy

Leecy Wise
Moderator, Reading and Writing, and
Diversity and Literacy Communities

Leecy & Susan

Poetry...with math!  And the idea of students writing word problems to help them in all three subjects is a delight!  I've always just focused on the math aspect of this type of activity and not quite put enough effort into enlarging it to include aspects of using clear, concise writing skills along with the math processes.