Write2Reach Spring 2018: Building communities of literacy through poetry, dialogue

Hannah MacKay Presents on Poetry as a gateway in the secondary English/language arts classroom at Write2Reach Spring 2018.

Hannah MacKay Presents on Poetry as a gateway in the secondary English/language arts classroom at Write2Reach Spring 2018.

A group of 14 preservice and practicing teachers gathered for a night of inspiring anecdotes and hands-on activities at the first Write2Reach workshop held on April 4 in Nicarry Hall at Elizabethtown College.


The workshop featured two sessions focused on teaching practical methods for integrating poetry in the classroom and tips for creating intergenerational outreach programs.

Presentations by Hannah Mackay, Hershey High School English teacher, and Tony Sedun, a private residential school teacher and Life Writes Project publications director, gave insights into the positive effects poetry and dialogue can have on connecting communities and students’ self-identity.

Mackay explained how poetry fosters a love of reading and described her use of the Golden Line---a line from a text that resonates with the reader---as a device to make poetry more accessible to reluctant readers.

Mackay often uses the Golden Line device with her students to begin poems, free writes, and mini analyses to help students build personal connections with poems.

During the event, attendees created their own poems using the Golden Line device and then each shared one Golden Line from their writing to create a community poem, which Mackay recorded and transcribed.

The community poem can be viewed on the final slide of Mackay’s presentation.

Additionally, Mackay emphasized the value of in-class reading time and shared a selection of novels in verse her students have enjoyed, including copies of “The Best of Teen Writing.”

By celebrating student voices, through writing activities and reading published teen works, students learn to value their own voice, Mackay said, which can translate to more risk-taking and stronger trust in the classroom.

During his presentation, Sedun prompted attendees to share a fond memory of themselves and an older relative or friend, highlighting the significance of intergenerational relationships.

Sedun described the Dialogues Program, an outreach program that brings together his students with residents from local elder care facilities to engage in writing activities, as a way to elevate student voices and build close, real-world communities.

By sharing a seven-step guide detailing his process, Sedun empowered attendees to establish their own outreach programs with their students and community members.

Sedun also shared writing samples from his 2017 Dialogues Program with the Residence of the Jewish Home of Greater Harrisburg and incoming freshman students, which can be found here.

Through the use of these programs, Sedun explained, both struggling students and elder care residents are given the opportunity to reframe their identities and gain perspectives outside their generations.

After his presentation, attendees expressed unanimous interest in developing their own programs.

Life Writes Project Executive Director Matt Skillen encouraged attendees to apply for micro-teacher grants available through the Project, up to $150, to fund their own student programs and activities.

For more information, or to submit a grant application, contact Matt Skillen at mskillen@lifewrites.org or Life Writes Project Chairperson Johanna Gardiner at jgardiner@lifewrites.org. Application emails should include a brief description of the intended project and an anticipated budget.