Opening Lesson for Elizabeth Acevedo's The Poet X

Updated: Jul 12

What I am Teaching This Year & Why

Like many other teachers around the world, we started this school year virtually. It made me instantly depressed and I ran straight out the door and bought myself a puppy to help balance out the disappointment and frustration of teaching online. Needless to say, learning how to take care of a puppy and learning how to teach virtually has taken up much of my time. But things have calmed down and we are in a bit of a routine now, so I want to post some resources.

There are way more qualified people out there who can give you tips on how to be a great virtual teacher, but I am not one of them. I hate it and I am just trying to hang on until I can get back into the classroom. The resources that I will post over the next few weeks have helped me get through the day.

Because I am a lucky duck, I have five different preps this year and four of them are new. You read that correctly. I am on my 15th year of teaching and somehow I still ended up with five different preps, four of which are new, and ALL of which I have never taught online. A schedule like this is annoying to me because none of my lessons are ever as good as they could be, but it's also fun because I am teaching all sorts of stuff over the course of a day; it helps to keep my mind off of things. I hope that next year I don't have any NEW preps, but I don't mind having a variety.

This year I have three reading classes (grade 9, grade 10, grade 11), one 10 Integrated class, and two sections of IB Language and Literature SL. The next few posts I will be focusing on my 9 & 10 reading classes since they voted to start the year by reading The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.

How I Had Kids Vote on the Class Book

One thing I am committed to this year is trying (to the extent possible) to let the kids pick the books that we read as a whole class. (I have a lot of reasons for doing whole class texts in my reading class, but that's a whole other blog post.) To set up the vote, I gave the kids a reading questionnaire (attached below this paragraph), looked at the demographics of each class (listed in my grade book), and looked at their Reading Inventory scores. We use the Scholastic Reading Inventory as our baseline testing tool and it provides us with the reading range for each student based on lexile. After looking at all of this information, I offered my classes three books that I thought might match their interests and were within their “stretch” reading limits (ie: no more than 100 lexile points over their reading level. I offered my 9 & 10 reading classes Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, Parrot in the Oven by Victor Martinez and The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.

Here is the reading questionnaire:

Reading Survey-Med_Adv.
Download PDF • 176KB

To introduce the books to the kids, I put a short PowerPoint together that for each book had a picture of the cover, the first page, and a short summary. I talked through the PowerPoint and read the first few pages of each book to the kids. After that, the kids voted by filling in a Google form. I have attached my PowerPoint if you would like to use it, but you will need to update the Google form or voting tool that you use, as mine is attached to my school account.

Here are the slides that I used to introduce the books:

Book Introduction
Download PPTX • 364KB

Since I have 5 preps this year, I hoped that some of my classes would vote on the same book, and I lucked out with my 9 & 10 reading classes opting for the same book: The Poet X. Phew.

If you have not read The Poet X yet, order it right now!! Elizabeth Acevedo creates stories for kids who often feel left out, who feel that literature does not represent them. Acevedo came to our school last year to talk about her writing, and my class of freshmen sat still for 45+ minutes listening to her speak. The kids will see themselves in her books. In The Poet X, Xiomara, a Dominican-American teen from Harlem, is trying to figure out who she is. She wants to join the school spoken word poetry club but cannot due to her very strict and very religious mother. She wants to date. She wants to dream. This is the story of Xiomara taking the steps to become who she wants to be.

Whenever I teach a book in my reading classes, I follow the "Before/During/After" (B/D/A) format that I learned in grad school to prep kids to read a passage.

Before: Activate background knowledge, pre-teach vocabulary, introduce big ideas

During: Have kids doing something while reading

After: Do something that helps kids process the text and that also helps you check for comprehension: connect back to the opening activities, write, whatever...just have them do something to process.

I think it's a simple and handy tool to use to remind myself of the work I need to do in order to set up struggling readers for success with a text.

Steps to Teach the Opening of Poet X

Here is how I started The Poet X. I wanted to lay the groundwork for bigger ideas such as “adolescent needs,” but I also just needed to explain the structure of the text and introduce the characters.

Step 1: We started by reading the opening page together and talking about the structure and language. Poet X is a novel in verse, so although students can turn pages quickly, they still need a bit of a tutorial on the format. If you say that “each page is a poem,” they also freak out, because think poetry is a special kind of tool to torture I usually say, very quickly, that “it’sanovelinversesoeverypageisapoembutifyoulistentoitandnotgethungupontheformat, youwill hearthestory.” And then I hit the play button on the audiobook and play the first page for them before the kids can get hung up on the word “poem”

I usually check out the audiobook from my school library or my county library, and if I can’t do that I buy my own through Audible. The professional recordings are so beautiful and I usually don’t regret the money even though I really try to not spend my own money* on classroom supplies (*because we shouldn’t have to spend our own money on the best tools for the classroom…*)

Sometimes I read the opening passage myself, but I butcher the Spanish and I don’t think I do the story justice. On the other hand, many kids enjoy hearing the teacher make mistakes and feeling insecure while reading, so it’s a good way to build empathy.

Step 2: The Poet X has a lot of Spanish in it, so after we read the opening page, I talked to them about how to deal with the words (Spanish or English) that they do not understand.

I tell them to

  • skip them. If they understand the story, they can just skip over the word and not read it

  • use context clues

  • use cognates

  • Google it

Step 3: Then I played the opening passage one more time and asked basic comprehension questions:

  • Where does Xiomara live?

  • What does the main character see and hear in this passage?

  • What do we learn about the main character?

  • The beginning of any good book should introduce a conflict. Can you identify any conflicts yet? What evidence do you have?

Step 4. I repeated the above process for the first five chapters (“Stoop Sitting”- “First Words”). I played the chapters out loud one at a time and then asked the questions in Step 3 after each chapter.

Step 5: Once I felt the kids had established a small foothold on the story, I introduced some of the bigger ideas that I wanted them to think about. I did a little research and found some websites with information on teenage development and then I took that information and made a very rough introductory PowerPoint. I asked kids to take notes on looseleaf while I was talking, but since they are virtual. I have no idea if they did. During a normal school year, I would make them a note taking guide, but we are not allowed to ask them to print anything so I just lectured and hoped they took notes or partially listened. The PowerPoints and all class materials get posted on Canvas so that they can access the information if they need it at any point. Anyway, while studying the Poet X, I want students thinking about teenage development as well as health relationships (which we get to later.)

So first I used this PowerPoint to lecture:

Adolescent Needs
Download PPTX • 793KB

This Powerpoint has information from these websites, along with some other general knowledge:

Step 6: After lecturing, I have them listen to "Stoop-Sitting" through "Mami, I Say to Her on the Way Home" and in a paragraph,

Identify 2 needs that are not getting met.

Identify needs that are getting met.

...and that is how I get kids started with The Poet X. I am not the most creative teacher, but I am certainly practical and comprehension driven! I also care a lot about engagement and checking often for understanding and attention.

If you would like to share how you start The Poet X or have resources to share with other teachers about this book, please do so in the comments sections. If you are working through ideas, you can post those as well and we can help you flesh them out. I would love for this to be a place where people feel they can share with others and get support.

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