Tricks with New Takes on Cultural Icons

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

On a recent trip to Mexico I enjoyed the laughter of children at a party in Cozumel.  As you see in my blog pic below,

Whack, smack, when will the candy and treats fall out?

a highlight of the party was taking turns whacking at a pinata (apologies to Spanish teachers; my blog host isn’t offering the correct accent mark over the letter n) to release the candy and toys inside the paper panda.

Always on the lookout for new attention-ology tricks, I got the bright (I think it has potential – and hope that you agree) idea to Make a Poetry/Poesia (Spanish for Poetry ) Pinata a pinata filled with slips of paper full of phrases students can use to form poems – instead of candy. Rest assured – I plan to pass out candy treats after the kids complete this new writing activity to honor Mexican traditions and help my students learn about the world.

In every class I teach we explore the world through imaginary travel, with the help of my easy-to-show attention-getting $1.00 bi-lingual in English/Spanish world map (plastic placement)

Kids’ plastic placements, like this world map, make durable teaching tools.

like you see in my blog pic here.

Historians suggest that pinatas originated in China. Through exploration and trade, pinata traditions traveled to Europe and on to Mexico where today pinatas are iconic -popular at holiday and birthday celebrations. 

Pinatas can also be colorful and fun attention-ology tools. Children love to scoop up the surprises that scatter when a pinata finally breaks open.  In school, summer writing programs, wherever children gather, you can help kids master the concept that poems are written in phrases, not in sentences, by making a Poetry/Poesia Pinata to share.

Make a Poetry/Poesia Pinata

Step 1: Write short descriptive poetry phrases like the ones shown below Step 5 on paper strips in English on one side, Spanish on the other. (I use Google Translation when I’m writing multi-lingual teaching resources.) NOTE: The phrases below suit children in grades 3 – 5 in the Northern Hemisphere. Simplify the phrases for younger kids and change the seasonal references, if necessary, to suit where you live and work. For longer “shelf life” laminate the strips.

Step 2: Use colored markers to decorate a large sturdy paper bag that will serve as the pinata. Slip the phrase strips into the pinata, fold the open ends of the bag over and tape together, leaving a quarter-inch of the middle open. Mark the open spot. Turn the bag upside down and staple a string to the middle of the bag’s bottom to hang the pinata up.

Step 3: Invite students to gently “take a whack at writing poetry” with each swing, or pretend to swing at the pinata. Pull the bag open from the middle to let the phrase strips fall out.

Step 4: Let students “play” with the phrases, sequencing them as they choose. Ask students to name words left out that would be needed to make full sentences with the phrases. For example, to write a sentence beginning with Fall brings…you would need to add a harvest of apples, pumpkins and grapes.  Point out that poems don’t need those connecting words. Poetry is free of the rules of narrative writing. Discuss each phrase. What pictures do the phrases paint with words?

Step 5: Tape the phrases up on a board in the sequence the students agree on to form a complete poem. Optional: Invite students to write original poems in phrase blocks on paper.

Poetry Phrases for a Poetry/Poesia Pinata (1 phrase/paper strip, one side in English or other language, one side in Spanish (bold print below) with correct accent marks not shown here!)

Every season              Cada estacion del ano

has its shapes               tiene sus formas

Fall brings apples              El otono trae las manzanas

pumpkins,  grapes               calabazas, uvas

Winter snowballs               Bolas de nieve del invierno

fly through the air             volar por el aire

Spring trees sprout               Los arboles de primavera broten

leaves everywhere               sale en todas partes

Summer beach balls               Pelotas de playa de verano

bounce by sand and sea               rebotan por la arena y el mar

Every season               Cada estacion del ano

brings joy to me               trae alegria para mi


Countries in every corner of the world have cultural icons you can use to create attention-commanding tricks to educate and entertain children.

For example, show the kids with whom you work a collection of Russian stacking dolls (matroyshka – available online, at some craft shows and other world markets) to demonstrate the impact of phrase length on poetry writing. Following similar steps to making a Poetry/Poesia Pinata, write phrases of varying lengths on slips of paper. Open the stacking dolls and place the longest phrases in the tallest doll, the shortest in the shortest doll, etc. Invite kids to open the dolls, one by one and read the phrases aloud. Ask your class to listen for the differences in phrase length. What phrases have the most “punch” and why?

I use the expressions phrase power and word power with all of my students. Sometimes I hold up a sign with the word power in large capital letters, like you see in my blog pic below,

Help kids put word power to work to improve their communication skills.

to remind students that they need to look for words that have the power to say what they want to express. Helping kids become picky about the words they choose to use helps them become effective communicators  – a much needed skill in the world today.

Just like the pinata poem phrases printed above say, every season (and every country’s culture) is a joy to me. No matter what time of the year it is in your part of the world, you can read and dream up all kinds of cool attention-ology tricks and tools to catch and keep kids’ attention.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you next week; please send me your ideas (and Spanish language corrections other than missing accent marks, if you find any in this blog!) I always enjoy multi-language learning.

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

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Posted in Attentionology for K-5 Teachers
Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Young students are getting noisy while you’re trying to teach.

Solution: Hold up "Listen Star," a toy magic wand that you’ve designated to be a cue for quiet. Tell the class, "When you see our friend, 'Listen Star' dance across the classroom sky, that’s your signal to HUSH for a moment."

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