MAKEShift Poetry
Project Plan Materials
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Creative Commons License
MAKEShift Poetry by Scott Swaaley, 2014 Allen Distinguished Educator is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Project Overview

In this project, students work in pairs to write a short poem that demonstrates understanding of figurative language. They then design and fabricate a mechanism that illustrates the meaning, theme, or concept of their poem.

Scott Swaaley

School: High Tech High

Type of School: Public - Charter

Location: San Diego, CA

Population: 5,000

Demographic: 62% minority students

% Free/reduced lunch program: 42%

Learning Outcomes

This project integrates physics, engineering, and language arts concepts and meets learning standards from 4th to 12th grade in language arts, literacy, engineering and design, energy and motion, and stability. 

Download the open-source Project Plan Materials to view a complete list of standards and learning outcomes addressed in this project.

How Scott Does It

  • Grade: 9th grade
  • Timing: Scott teaches this project in first month of school and takes 6 weeks
  • Subjects: physics, engineering, language arts
  • Materials: Scott's students use Adobe Gear Generator and laser cutters to build and design gears
  • Project Steps: Scott’s students write their own poem or narrative then develop a figurative representation using gears.

How You Can Do It

  • Grade: 4th -12th grades
  • Timing: You can teach this project at any time during the school year and take between 3-6 weeks
  • Subjects: You can build or adapt concepts to include history, math, art etc.
  • Materials: You can use pre-made gear templates and pre-cut these for your students to use
  • Project Steps: In your class, you can use and interpret an existing poem
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Comments (6)
Pothitou-West Lena
8/14/2017 10:42:15 PM

Teacher from Bellevue, WA
I selected the Makeshift Poetry project because I saw it as a way to marry my students' interest in designing and constructing along with their love for poetry. A major challenge that I faced with this DIY Guide was that it was originally created for high school students, so I had to modify it to make it relevant to my 4th grade class.
The major difference between the project meant for high school students and the project that I presented to my kids was that I introduced a journal to aid my 4th graders each step of the way to the project's completion. This made it much more accessible to the students, as well as allowing for more thorough engagement and self-reflection, as they were required to write about each stage of the project once they finished. Students wrote various forms of poetry specifically focused around figurative language, and then they created a system of gears which simulated the movement captured in their poem. Initially I had planned to cut the gears and engrave the students' poems on the mounting blocks using my personal CNC machine. However, the machine was not large enough to accommodate the demands of this project. Instead, after the students designed their gear systems on paper, I ordered and purchased pre-cut gears. Finally, because most of my students are bilingual, another way I adapted the project was to highlight their home language by having them write their poems in both languages. This also allowed parents to become involved in the project because they helped their child interpret the poem.

Jenny Burns
8/16/2016 10:52:04 AM

Allen Distinguished Educators Moderator
Hi Diana,

It’s great to hear that you were able to use your school maker space and collaborate with another teacher at your school. What grade were your students and your colleagues’ students? I’m curious to know more about your experience collaborating with another class on this project. I’m also happy to know you added more artistic and engineering elements with the vinyl and the motors.

How did the parents and school administrators respond to this project? I’m also curious to know more about the iPad app you used for laser cutting.

- Jenny

Diana Dull
8/15/2016 12:58:27 PM

Teacher from Austin, TX
I adapted the types of materials I gathered for this project. My school was able to provide some of the tools through its Maker Space. I didn't need to purchase the same items. My students wanted to etch their poems on cardboard. I bought a wood burner for engraving. I was able to work with another teacher and get wooden gears cut with a laser cutter at another school. I bought a Cricut and some vinyl to add mixed media to the poems. Students learned to design and cut with an iPad that we borrowed. We started with MakeShift Poetry on paper gears, moved to cardboard gears, and then ended with wooden gears on the very last day of school. One thing that I had modeled to the students is connecting a motor and battery to make the gears move automatically. We were not able to do that this time, but I hope to use motors with next year's gear project. I'm excited to say that I'm looping up with my 3rd grade engineers and designers to 4th grade.

Jenny Burns
6/30/2016 12:22:50 PM

Allen Distinguished Educators Moderator
Hi Laura,

Your adaptation to this project is very creative. I like how you incorporated engineering concepts through balance instead of gears. It’s great to hear this project had a positive impact on your students. Did they seem interested in learning more about balance or poetry after the project was complete?

Trial and error seems like a fun, hands-on method for learning these concepts - especially with this grade level. I’m interested in knowing more about their problem-solving experience during this process. Did they help each other figure it out? How many trials did it take for them to find the right balance?

Thanks for sharing this Laura and I’m happy to hear this was a good challenge and learning experience for both you and your students.


Laura Kristek
6/30/2016 6:37:30 AM

Teacher from Evanston, IL
I modified the movement and poetry theme to accommodate my unique students. My students are young, k-2nd grade. Some of them are on the autism spectrum and some are considered developmentally delayed. I realized the original guide was not accessible for my students and would require intensive modifications. It required a large amount of thinking before I could even begin. I decided to try to have my students create haikus and mobiles. While I was in the process of figuring out how to implement my idea, I immersed my students with many different haiku poems, as well as other types of poetry. I was certain they were unfamiliar with poetry as it is not a part of the common core curriculum.

I created a 5-7-5 physical structure for the students to produce their poetry with visual options to fill in the spaces. The students choose themes of nature for their projects: summer, bees, flowers, and one student choose “mommy”(the only vocalization he initiates). I then provided them with a wide variety of themed objects to create their mobiles. They were tasked with figuring out how to balance their objects to create mobiles that would hang harmoniously. I provided the structure for the mobile that involved four points with strings and clothespins. The clothespins allowed for the students to figure out the balance by trial and error.

The mobiles were esthetically pleasing and were obvious representations of their haikus. The administration supported my idea to hang the mobiles in the library.

The project was successful as it had a positive impact on my students. They used their imaginations, learned about poetry, increased their knowledge of syllabication, and were exposed to the sense of balance and movement. I personally feel fortunate to have been faced with the challenge of figuring out how to modify the guide so that my students could access the lesson.

Jenny Burns
11/18/2015 2:05:21 PM

Allen Distinguished Educators Moderator
How can teachers adapt this project to fit their own classrooms?? Does anyone have suggestions or recommendations?

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