Saturday, March 3, 2012

Writing Activities: "Swamps of Sleethe" (Poetry)

If you haven't ventured to the Swamps of Sleethe, you may be missing out on an excellent opportunity for writing lessons and activities.  This picture book by renowned author Jack Prelutsky touts itself as "Poems from Beyond the Solar System."  It's a perfect accompaniment to science lessons about space and poetry activities.  The book is a 2009 Parent's Choice Silver Honor Book, and it really is a delightful read aloud (be prepared for a mouthful!).

The book can help students learn about alliteration and figurative language as they journey through space to imaginary locations.  Dangers lurk in every corner of the undiscovered reaches of the galaxy:  there are the murky swamps of Sleethe that hide "abhorrent" creatures, the icy discomfort of Drifig Prime (where visitors must beware lest they freeze), and the inhabitants of Gazook like to consume children in their chowder!  There are 19 poems in all, describing different places that present different dangers to the reader. They are fun to read, like tongue-twisting Dr. Seuss stories, as they warn the readers of various perils of planets beyond our solar system.  There is good reason to use the book for vocabulary practice as well; words like "expire," "unabated," "mucid," and "eviscerate" are throughout the book.  The author cleverly disguised certain locations by making them anagrams, and provided answers in the back of the book.  Can you guess why a cold planet might be named DRIFIG Prime?

After reading this book, I would assign students to design a poem and illustration in the style of Swamps of Sleethe, but focused on a planet in our solar system.  Or, they could make up their own planet and use an anagram to disguise its name.  I think students would have fun being creative modeling their poems after Prelutsky's.  They could describe the physical characteristics of their planet by making them sound dangerous and threatening, like the places in the picture book.  They could even make up alien inhabitants, like those of Gazook.  

Random House's Teacher's Guide contains a crossword and visualization activity that may also be useful for this book.

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