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Making a Word Box

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This is a marvelous warm-up game for writing poetry!

Many years ago my son, Kalman, asked me what I wanted for my birthday. My answer was, "A word box!" He asked me to explain what that was. "Well, it looks whimsical and mysterious. You can't tell what's inside of it, but you want to open it up! And when you look inside, it's full of wonderful words!" Kalman understood, and complied. He built a box, breaking down another and creating a lid to fit, so the shape was pleasingly square. He gave it a false bottom filled with paper clips and dried beans, so that when you shook it you couldn't tell what was inside. Of course, your box doesn't have to be so unique. As the author of this idea, Paul Janezcko (who also wrote A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems), suggests, you can use a shoebox, or even a coffee can.

Kalman wrote wonderful words on scraps of colored paper and put them inside the box. His words included: chant, delve, wicked, thunderous, mysterious, dragon, and mirror. Slowly I added more words, until they were countless. Students might discard a word, or put a new word in, and so the words have changed over time. When I introduce the box, I shake it, and ask everyone to guess what it contains. The ones who already know are asked to remain silent, but they jump and down, eager to get into the box. When I am ready, they each receive a sprinkling of words, and they begin to play, construct, and create.

Words can be used as writing prompts, or strung into nonsense sentences, or artfully arranged into poems. They can be added to (perhaps adding a plural or an -ing or a prefix), or shortened. Your own words can appear on the page too. Words from the word box can be freely exchanged for other colorful words. There are no rules! There is only your imagination and the word box, offering endless combinations of marvelous ideas.

The Word Box - outside

The Word Box

Inside the Word Box

The Word Box
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