Image of Mars with a poem overlaid


Overview

STEM concepts are ripe with opportunity for English language arts (ELA) integration. This lesson provides guidance and examples for using NASA missions and discoveries to get students writing poems to share their knowledge of or inspiration about these topics.

Materials

Management

Because poems can be written about any topic, STEM or otherwise, it’s important to provide information to students that helps them build a background of understanding upon which they can develop their poems. In addition to the suggested resources and websites listed in the materials, there are a variety of other NASA websites where students can learn and gain inspiration.

Depending on students’ abilities, consider the following:

  • Younger students may need guidance on where to find information or may need to have information sources provided to them.
  • Research may be done in small groups, while poems can be written individually based on interest.
  • Students may write individual poems about different topics, individual poems on a single topic, group poems or a single class poem.

Background

Space has been a source of inspiration and the subject of creative endeavors for ages. Ancient storytellers looked to the skies, named constellations and created tales to accompany their skyward creations. Playwrights, authors, musicians, photographers and painters have all found inspiration in space and have inspired others with their works about space. Certainly, many NASA scientists and engineers were influenced to pursue their careers by the creative works of others. In turn, their work in the science and engineering fields can inspire future poets, filmmakers and artists.

There are various forms of poetry, each with its own characteristics. Depending on students’ abilities, some forms may be more appropriate or creatively accessible than others. Below are descriptions of forms of poetry, each accompanied by an example of STEM-inspired poetry of that kind. Feel free to allow students to use different forms, including those not on this list.

  • Acrostic – An acrostic poem is one in which a word or phrase is spelled out vertically using a letter from each line. Typically, an acrostic will use the first letter of each line to spell a vertical word or phrase. More advanced acrostics use the last letter of each line or a letter in the middle of the line to spell the vertical word or phrase.
  • Concrete, pattern or shape poetry – This type of poetry uses the layout of words, typographic elements and other visual cues to convey meaning that relates to the subject referred to in the poem.
  • Elegy – An elegy is a poem of a serious, somber, sad or reflective nature, often a lament for the dead.
  • Epigram – Epigrams are short and witty poems that are sometimes a couplet or quatrain (four-line stanza), but can be just a single line. They can be satirical and are often powerful statements with funny endings.
  • Epitaph – An epitaph is a poem that mourns a death, real or imagined, usually intended to appear on a tombstone. Though serious, epitaphs can also be short and funny.
  • Free verse – Free-verse poetry is not constrained to rules of meter, rhythm and rhyme.
  • Haiku – Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry consisting of 17 syllables in three verses. The first and third lines have five syllables, and the second has seven syllables. Traditionally, haiku focus on images from nature, are written in the present tense and use direct language emphasizing simplicity.
  • Ode – An ode is a structured lyric poem, delivering praise or glory to a person, thing or event.
  • Rhyming couplet – A rhyming couplet is a pair of lines with the same meter, or syllabic rhythm, that end in a rhyme. A rhyming couplet poem can have as many pairs of lines as the writer wishes but must have at least one pair.
  • Sonnets – Traditional sonnets are 14-line poems written in iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line/five pairs of stressed/unstressed syllables per line). The most common form of sonnets, Petrarchan, divides the poem into two stanzas, an 8-line octave and 6-line sestet, using the rhyme scheme abba, abba for the first stanza and cdecde or cdcdcd for the second. The first stanza presents a question, observation or charge, while the second stanza provides an answer, clarification or counterargument, depending on what the first stated.

    The second major type of sonnet is the Shakespearean sonnet. In this form, three quatrains (four-line stanzas) provide a position, with a couplet (two-line stanza) providing a conclusion, amplification or refutation of the previous three stanzas. It follows the rhyme scheme: abab, cdcd, efef, gg.
  • Tanka – Another form of Japanese poetry, a tanka uses metaphor, simile and personification in five lines. Lines one and three have five syllables, while lines two, four and five have seven syllables. Tanka are often written about nature or seasons and evoke strong emotions like love or sadness.

Procedures

  1. Introduce students to a planet, dwarf planet, moon, asteroid, comet, galaxy, space image or NASA mission of your choice. This might be through images, videos or other kinds of media.
  2. Have students start KWL charts, filling out the K and W columns to express what they know and what they want to know.
    • Younger students can work individually, in groups, or as a whole class to develop the chart.
    • Older students should develop their KWL charts independently, as appropriate.

  3. Provide students with the opportunity to explore more about the topic, through additional images (many NASA image sites have informative captions), videos, websites and selected readings.
  4. Introduce the poem structure of your choice. Work as a class to create a poem of that kind or share an example poem of the structure chosen.
  5. Give students the opportunity to write their own poem inspired by the topic, providing support as necessary.
  6. Have students complete their KWL chart by filling in the L column to express what they have learned.

Discussion

  • What was something interesting or unexpected that you learned?
  • How did writing a poem change how you thought about the topic?

Assessment

  • Students should create poems following the structural format for the poems listed, (Some poems, such as sonnets, have structural variants that are not listed here but should be accepted.)
  • Poems should demonstrate something learned or an element of inspiration.

Extensions

  • Students can use images and/or videos from nasa.gov sites and lay the text of their poem over the image.
  • Students can use images and/or videos from nasa.gov sites to make a video, over which they can recite their poem.
  • Students can make their own art (Art and the Cosmic Connection) to pair with their poem.