Haikus on Street Signs Inspire Non-Fiction Genre Mashups

March 3, 2013 — 1 Comment

Mash-up are usually the blending of music from two or more sources. However a different mash-up was featured in a story by National Public Radio (NPR) where street signs in New York City were rewritten into Haiku poetry, Haiku Traffic Signs Bring Poetry To NYC Streets. This story illustrated how a mashup could be made of a very basic informational text with a strict poetic form. “Caution: Oncoming Traffic” was expanded into a poem of  of 5 syllables/7 syllable/5 syllables of “8 million swimming/The traffic rolling like waves/Watch for undertow.” In the NPR story,

“Traffic warning street signs written as haiku are appearing on poles around the five boroughs, posted by the New York City Department of Transportation. The poems and accompanying artwork were created by artist John Morse.”

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 5.35.21 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 5.35.31 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 5.35.39 PM

NYC’s Department of Transportation hoped the signs would catch new eyes in order to communicate important information. The unusual combination of graphics and verse on street signs presented pedestrians with additional information, a different point of view. The reordering of information is just one example of how presenting information in a different genre also provides new writing opportunities for new audiences.

Since the English Language Arts Common Core is rattling its standards calling for an increase in informational texts, the 9th grade curriculum is including a non-fiction unit where students choose a non-fiction text of their own to read. The CCSS  require this increase based on:

“…extensive research establishing the need for college and career ready students to be proficient in reading complex informational text independently in a variety of content areas. Most of the required reading in college and workforce training programs is informational in structure and challenging in content…”

Our students may choose a text to read on topics that range from animal or adventure topics to travel or war. There are titles that have been made available in bulk on the secondary market, such as public library book sales or thrift stores and added to our classroom book carts. The books purchased for $1.00 each (see how) include:

  • Girl Interrupted-Keysen
  • Guts-Paulsen
  • Tuesdays with Morrie-Albom
  • The Tipping Point– Gladwell
  • Left for Dead-Nelson
  • Iron and Silk-Salzman
  • A Night to Remember-Lord
  • Hiroshima-Hersey
  • The Teammates-Halberstam

iron and silk Night to remember dog year Tipping

There are also a number of books that deal with animal literature that are stocked on the classroom book cart. Many of these texts will also be available for the senior elective, “Critter Lit”:

  • With Love from Baghdad-Kopelman
  • Tell Me Where It Hurts-Trout
  • Seabiscuit-Hillebrand
  • Winterdance– Paulsen
  • A Dog Year-Katz
  • Wesley the Owl-O’Brien
  • Alex and Me-Royte
  • Modoc-Helfer
  • The Pig Who Sang to the Moon-Masson

Students may chose from these titles or another non-fiction choice though the school library, which also offers the online book shelf Overdrive. The students organize themselves into thematic groups while the unit runs for four weeks (block schedule) with some overlap during the standardized testing weeks. The students spend time reading in class, and they organize themselves into thematic groups. Rather than respond in essays or traditional research papers, the students are given an opportunity to create genre mash-ups.

First, to prepare for writing mash-ups, the students generated a list of the kinds of non-fiction writing they see everyday including:

  • License plate
  • Newspaper article
  • Letter to the editor
  • Ad
  • food labels
  • Menu
  • Directions
  • Q&A Interview
  • Diary
  • Weather report
  • Sports report
  • Billboard
  • Tweet
  • Blog post
  • Directions

Next, the mini-lessons that begin each class are quick( 5-10 minutes) and focus on the characteristics of a particular genre from the list so that students can create rewrite each text in that genre. For example, students review how information is arranged on a food label before creating a “food label” for the books they are reading. Students read billboards and street signs before creating the same.  After each mini-lesson, students write about their text in the assigned genre and use a Google Docs folder to develop a portfolio of authentic writing. The result is a portfolio of mash-ups of informational texts rewritten by students into other genres.

Like the haiku and street sign mash-up, these mashups will still communicate essential information. Students can write about the texts they choose to read in the authentic genres they encounter everyday.

Finally, when April comes around, the students may try writing their essential information in poetry: sonnets, limericks, villanelles and even haikus. After all, April is National Poetry Month!

One response to Haikus on Street Signs Inspire Non-Fiction Genre Mashups

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