River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things


This full-color, 75-page guide helps students get beyond impediments to creativity and expression. Developed by Louisiana teachers Connie McDonald and Harriet Maher, in conjunction with River of Words and Milkweed Editions. Hit the button below for the PDF!

Select activities from the Poetry Writing Guide are also available here on our website. See links below.

    1. Select your image.

    Below is a carousel of images of winning and finalist River of Words artwork created by students in 2015. You can find a full catalogue of artwork by visiting the River of Words Art and Poetry Galleries page.

    2. Look closely at the image and jot down whatever comes to mind.

    Some questions you might consider:

    • What objects do you see? What is in the background? The foreground? 
    • What do you imagine is happening in the art?
    • What do you feel when you look at the art?
    • What time of day is it in this artwork? 
    • Does this image remind you of anything?

    3. Brainstorm possible ways you might write about the art.

    Here are some possibilities:

    • Describe what you see
    • Tell the story that you see happening in the art
    • Write a poem or song to go with the art
    • Imagine a conversation among the subjects. Become a person or object in the piece of art, and speak from its perspective or from the perspective of something or someone that has been left out of the piece.

    4. Now, freewrite for 3-5 minutes.

    When you finish freewriting you can:

    • Read it out loud to yourself
    • Give your piece of writing a title.
    • And of course, share your creation with a friend or loved one!

    5. Put your writing in a drawer.

    Put your writing away. Let it breathe. Revisit it later with fresh eyes before you revise.

    1. Think of a time someone showed you something wonderful in nature. 

    Recall a time someone (a parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, teacher) showed you something wonderful in nature, something they hadn’t really seen or noticed before.

    2. Brainstorm experiences to write about 

    You can also share ideas with a partner. 

    3. Ask yourself journalists questions 

    Use journalists’ questions (who, what, when, where, why, how) to prompt yourself or a partner for elaboration.

    4. Read "Summons" by Robert Francis 

    Take some time to read and think about Francis', "Summons" 

    5. Read Think about Francis's structures. 

    How does Francis structure his poem? There are a lot of commands in the poem. This can also be called "imperatives". Go through the poem and underline imperatives, such as:

    •  keep
    • come
    • bang
    • stomp

    6. Circle conjunctions 

    Circle the conjunctions or and and, used to vary the rhythm of the imperatives. Suggest they play with using structures such as

    • “or if ... ”
    • “not only ... but"
    • and others to keep the poem moving.

    7. Continue writing with these considerations in mind. 

    Try out some commands in your poem while you describe a moment someone showed you something wonderful in nature. 

    8. Share what you've created 

    When you finish freewriting you can:

    • Read it out loud to yourself to see if you will make any edits.
    • Give your piece of writing a title.
    • And of course, share your creation with a friend or loved one!

    9. Submit your writing. 

    Submit your writing to potentially be published in the River of Words Anthology.