Friday, December 1, 2006

December 2006: Cailin Trinh, Poetry Superstar


December 2006 America Learns Strategy of the Month


UC Berkeley

"Cailin is fantastic!"  Those are the first words one of her supervisors used to describe her.  We're sure you'll agree by the time you finish reading this post.

Cailin Trinh is a freshman at UC Berkeley and tutors with the Bears United in Literacy Development (BUILD) program through the Cal Corps Public Service Center. 

Cailin TrinhGiven the task of building her middle school students’ vocabulary, she found her students getting bored with her tutoring sessions.  “Because they couldn't make a connection,” said Cailin, “they didn't seem to be interested.”  So rather than continuing to work on drills and flashcards, Cailin purchased a book that her students could relate to deeply.  Her students jumped at the opportunity to read text that was aligned with their own lives and neighborhoods.  Beyond just reading, Cailin gave her students the opportunity to think about and express how they feel about life in their own neighborhoods through an art project and by writing poetry about their lives in relation to what they read in the book.

Please take time to read her students' poetry in Step 5 below.  It's so important to understand how some of our youth experience life across our nation's disparate communities.

The Strategy


Created by: Cailin Trinh, Bears United in Literacy Development (BUILD), Cal Corps Public Service (America Learns Network member since 2005)
Topics: Poetry
Reading Comprehension
Reading (Your Students Read to You)
Vocabulary Development
Grade Levels: Sixth - Twelfth
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group
Materials: Our America: Life And Death On The South Side Of Chicago, by Lealan Jones, Lloyd Newman, David Isay (1999)

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Situation: My students had a hard time focusing on vocabulary because it was a topic they did not relate to.  Because they couldn't make a connection, they didn't seem to be interested.

America Learns Note: This activity shows you how to help students make what are called "text-to-self" connections during reading. Helping students make personal connections to texts is important because it helps them check for comprehension, as well as makes literature more meaningful.

Step 1: I ordered a book called Our America: Life And Death On The South Side Of Chicago, which was created out of interviews with two thirteen year old boys on Chicago's South Side.
Step 2: The first chapter of the book introduced the two boys and "the hood." But before my students took turns reading the book aloud, they took five minutes to draw their own "hoods" (or neighborhoods) and to then write and share a little about it.
Step 3: My students then took turns reading the book aloud.  I found that having my students read aloud encouraged them to focus and follow along.
Step 4: After reading the first chapter, I asked my students to compare their neighborhoods to that of the boys' in the book.  We talked about the different ways that people can share about their neighborhoods and where they come from: art, interviews, poetry.
Step 5: The book featured poetry from the boys, so my students decided to write their own poems using a similar, vertical word format found in the book.   

You can read one student's poetry by clicking the images below.  The student does a really good job in giving the raw truth and conveying what her life is like in comparison to the two boys written about in Our America.


Poem 1

Poem 2



Following this poem, you'll find the student's explanation of what she's expressing.

America Learns note: This exercise proved to be an incredible opportunity for Cailin's students to express themselves.  It also gave Cailin a chance to better understand their daily lives and thoughts.

Step 6: America Learns Note: Try to help your students make text-to-self connections like the one illustrated here any time you read with them. Of course, you don't necessarily need to ask students to draw or write about these personal connections. Instead, you might want to briefly discuss questions like, "Does this passage remind you of anything?" or "Have you ever felt the way this character does?"

If you're an America Learns Network member, also check out:


Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Cailin by sharing your comments below.

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