This Is Just to Say: I'm very sorry for tying you up and making you watch educational television

Elizabeth Falconby Elizabeth Maria Falcón

Teaching 5th grade this spring at Corbett, I had a tendency to over-pack my lesson plans.  There were so many activities, poems, discussion topics, and other exciting things I wanted to share that it was often a challenge to finish the lessons in the sixty minute class period.  So one day, I decided to simplify.  I created a lesson plan that involved only reading and discussing one poem, individual writing time, and sharing time.

We started out by reading William Carlos Williams' poem, "This Is Just to Say."  I asked a volunteer to read the poem aloud, then I read it aloud, then we talked about the speaker and the intended audience, the motivation behind writing the poem and the tone of the poem.  

My students needed no prompting to know that this "apology" note was no apology--they loved how the last stanza of the poem rubbed in the crime:

 

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.  

Then I asked each of them to think about a time they had done something they weren't supposed to do, that they weren't really sorry for, and that they might just do again.  We went around the room sharing stories.  The confessions that came out into the open were incredible, and many involved theft--from stealing gum or the last piece of pizza to stealing a bike or a sister's cell phone!

The excitement in the room was palpable, so I gave the assignment--write your own "apology" poem.  "Nooooo!" they groaned.  I quickly amended.  "I mean, fake apology poem."  "Yeaahh!!!" they shouted, and looked around the classroom, grinning.  I asked them to try to be "subtle" like Williams in how they show they aren't sorry; to let the words take a back seat to the tone.  When I helped students individually, it was a great chance to point out the detail Williams uses in his poem to rub in how he isn't sorry, and to show students how they could be more specific in their poems.  (The difference between "I liked it" and "delicious...so sweet and so cold.")  

I was amazed at how many different elements from the Williams' poem the students picked up on in their writing.  Some picked up on the humor, others the line breaks, others the tone.  Some students made a valiant effort to be subtle, others couldn't help being overt when given the chance to express themselves this way.  But what surprised me most is how even though we all started out with "This Is Just To Say" as a model, the students allowed their own voice, style, and flair to shape their writing and to ultimately create poems unique to themselves.

Student poems:

I am very sorry for tying you
up and making you watch
educational television.  I am also
very sorry for not letting
you go when you were very
late to bed.  It was not awesome
having my bed to myself.  What
time did you get out again?  I forgot.

Your Brother,
-David
 

I'm sorry for
breaking your
cell phone
when you weren't looking

I stole
the memory
card you
have a lot of stuff
in it

sorry
for stealing
your rat
and letting
it go away

I put some
cheese on
a mouse trap
and it got killed

- Rafael
 

I'm sorry I stole your $20 bill and
spent it.  I loved how you punched my
arm.  I love the way my arm turned
purple.  But the 20 dollars turned into
a great basketball.  Thanks for letting me
steal your money.

- Dimitri
 

I'm sorry
for stealing 50
bucks from you

I just like the color
of the money
and when I get sick
it cures me

Besides I dropped it
at Quick Mart

- Deandre

Created on: 
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Arizona Board of Regents