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Literacy: Possessive Nouns and Shape Poetry

May 18, 2021 | Heather Palmer Welesko

Today’s post is a hybrid one, much like this year. Literacy, actually, is a hybrid subject that includes grammar lessons and its usage, spelling and phonics, writing, and reading lessons. So, inside every hour of literacy, children move through at least four subtopics. That’s a lot of mental transitions! Fortunately, all these topics are interconnected and flow together, and moreover, your children are transition experts!

This post will focus on two of those four sub-topics, and those are grammar and writing. Put simply, this year in grammar lessons, students have learned the use of punctuation, capitalization rules, and parts of speech. The parts of speech we focused especially on included noun forms (possessive, pronouns, common nouns, singular, plural, and proper, and the various reiterations of these forms, ie: possessive pronouns), verbs, adjectives, adverbs, articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. One of those parts of speech, possessive nouns, was extra tricky. Children struggled to learn when to use the apostrophe to show possession (the cat’s tail), and when to use it as a contraction (the cat’s eating). They not only had to identify the part of speech, but also use it accurately in sentences. This meant knowing whether the possessive noun was singular or plural. So of course, we had to study singular nouns and plural nouns. Eventually we learned that “a cat’s tail” is very different from “the cats’ tails.”

How did we do all this? The simple answer is, one day at a time. But the fun answer is, with lots of practice, and sometimes the use of an illustration.

One day, when we were especially stuck, I saw on Ms. Kuperus’ whiteboard this prompt:

Draw “the cat’s tails”:                                   Now draw “the cats’ tails” :

I thought, aha! Genius, and stole it! This illustration was the linchpin that secured the use of apostrophe in singular and plural possessive nouns. And, as a bonus, we created some really fun drawings.


This is an example of one MUGS lesson, or mechanics, usage, grammar, and syntax. After MUGS, we usually practice spelling and phonics, and then move onto reading or writing (depending on the day).

During poetry, each lesson we learn a new poetic device that poets might use. For instance, we’ve learned about alliteration, simile, the use of punctuation, line breaks, rhyme, and shape-making with words. After learning the technique and seeing several model poems, the student-poets try the technique out.

Here are some great examples of shape poems and poems that use punctuation. Notice, the model poems here are by e.e.cummings and Susan Howe. For those who don’t know, Susan Howe is a visual poet. Her poems strike vibrant conversations on what makes a poem a poem, and this is great. In the classroom, we had this same discussion. Is this poetry? Why? Why not? (We decided her work is poetry. You can make your own conclusions).


After all this, we are still not finished with our poetry unit! In the end, we will learn to revise poetry using critical questions and have a publishing party. Then, the year isn’t over! What’s next? Informational article writing (don’t tell them, but we’re going to make a class magazine…shhhhhh).

We are working so hard in literacy to master the rules of grammar, spelling, phonics, decoding patterns, and various styles and forms of writing. Please congratulate and encourage your children on how hard they work at school.

Every day is a poem; every child is a poem! We are writing with our lives!

Heather Palmer Welesko

Literacy and Assistant Teacher, Grades 4 & 5

Heather Welesko has taught at Mustard Seed School for nearly a decade as a literacy and assistant teacher. She has taught literature and writing at Kean University and Harold Washington College of Chicago. Heather holds an MFA in writing and poetry from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MA in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from Evangelical Seminary.

Ms. Welesko is enthusiastic about professional development, and has advanced training in the Handwriting Without Tears program; the Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Program, and the Responsive Classroom/ Development Designs Program through Origin. She continues professional develop through The Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She’s passionate about literature, creativity, comprehensive education, and believes strongly in teaching identity and diversity awareness and inclusion.

Ms. Welesko is a poet, artist, and yogi, and is still, always learning.

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