A Letter to the Future Fourth Graders

This morning when I opened up my e-mail, I had this comment to approve.  I’m not sure who wrote it, other than it was from a former Erickson kid who obviously still remembers their days to the river quite fondly.

I had been trying to figure out what to have you respond to this week.  On Saturday, I had traveled to the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) to preview “The Emperor’s Private Paradise:  Treasures from the Forbidden City”, which we will be seeing on December 16th.  I was fascinated by the exhibit, especially that the Qianlong Emperor wrote over

Qianlong Emperor

40,ooo poems during the time he was the Emperor.  Many of his poems looked like the ones that we had been creating over the past four weeks that Steven Ratiner has been conducting Chinese poetry workshops.  Many of the artifacts throughout this six room exhibit were tied into poetry.   Here’s one example of the poetry that was stenciled onto the walls, can you recognize the form?

The path is decorated by elegant Taihu rocks.

The old catalpa tree stands as tall as the roof.

Dwelling here speaks of being a literati

One can pursue tranquility for the heart.

So, your job is to write a letter to Future Fourth Graders about Chinese poetry and the workshops that we have just completed.  Your letter  should include:

1.  information about the workshops

2.  which workshop you liked best and why

3.  why learning about poetry helped you learn about the people in China

4.  what you learned as a result of these workshops and how you can apply this to your everyday learning.

During the workshops, I was often jotting down notes about what Steven was saying to you all.  During one of the earlier workshops, he said:  “Self-Discipline — Three things to focus your mind are:  1.  Concentration  2.  Mutual Respect  3.  Be willing to take a risk or a chance. So, as you set forth on this assignment due on Wednesday, remember to write your first draft in a word processing program.  Check it carefully for spelling, capitalization, and grammatical errors.  Paste it into the blog.  But most importantly, be really open-bowled as you write this letter to my future students.


33 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by EC20 on November 15, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Dear Future Fourth Graders,

    Next year, you will be introduced to Chinese poetry workshops with the poet Steven Ratiner. I enjoyed it very much and I think you will too.

    In these workshops we learned about sitting practice – when you just sit up straight and watch your breaths go in and out. This taught me to be calm. I also learned how
    to be “open bowled” – which teaches you to pay more attention to your life instead of ignoring the world around you. When you are “open bowled” you pay attention to the smallest detail and are more creative.

    You will also learn about Chinese calligraphy. I liked the Chinese calligraphy workshop the best. When you hold the bamboo brush in your hands it is very still but when you touch it to the paper, it suddenly comes alive right in your very hands.

    Learning about Chinese poetry helped me understand the people in China. Reading a Chinese poem shows you how much the Chinese respect and notice nature. Almost every poem includes something about nature.

    I can apply what I learned with Steven to my everyday learning by being more “open bowled”. When my classmate is sharing an idea, one way I can be “open bowled” is to really listen and learn from what they are saying. Another way to be “open bowled” is while writing, look for inspirations in unusual places such as objects or memories.

    I hope when you get to Fourth Grade you enjoy the workshops too!




  2. Posted by EC18 on November 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Dear Future Fourth Graders,
    In fourth grade you have poetry workshops. The teacher is Steven Ratiner and I learned a lot from him.
    The main thing we learned from poetry workshops was to be ‘open-bowled’. That means you let the world come inside you and you make normal boring things come alive. Simple things like mountains suddenly sat. Mountains don’t sit, do they? No. But we learned to make them sit. We also learned Chinese characters on the Activ Board. I thought it was very interesting to see Chinese characters right there in front of me.
    My favorite workshop was the first one, when we went down to the river behind Thoreau School. I liked it because the river was calm, and it helped me think. I also liked the last workshop, the Chinese calligraphy workshop. I liked painting with ink and bamboo brushes, and I liked seeing the paint on the paper. We learned about brush pots and ink stones.
    The poetry workshops helped me learn about China, and the people in China. I learned about emperors and famous poets, and I learned that most poetry included nature in it. Chinese people thought nature to be just as important has humans, like equals.
    Because of Steven, I am ‘open-bowled’ a lot now. I see things differently than I did before. I have new and better writing ideas, and I see things a little bit like equals, too. The leaves cling onto the trees in the fall instead of simply on the trees. Flowers spring up in the spring, instead of just grow. Steven really helped me see things in different ways.
    I hope that when you are in fourth grade, you have just as much fun as I did!


  3. Dear Future Forth Graders,

    1.You will do Chinese poetry with Steven Ratiner. At first you will go to the river(if it is not raining outside). You will be writing 4 lined poems. You will have 4 sessions one in the fall one in the winter one in the spring one in the summer.

    2.I liked the last fall session because you get to paint Calligraphy and also hear music and give your brush a free time.

    3. Learning about Chinese poetry told me about how much poetry was cost to the Chinese people.

    4.This helped me because I like to write poetry and I got inspired a lot from the Chinese poets but I did not write the poemss down



  4. Dear Future 4th Graders,

    1. You will do a workshop around October about Chinese poetry with Steven Ratiner. You will first have an assembly at school and learn about him. At your first workshop, you will go down to the river and write a small type of poetry called 4-line poetry.

    2. I like the last one in the latest fall. This one was my favorite workshop because would get to do Calligraphy. There was a special type of music to listen to that was gentle and would let your brush just float in thin air and would calm you down.

    3. Learning Chinese poetry was very helpful because you could get “open bowled” and stay that way. Open Bowled is a way for you to pay attention to the more vast details and even the smallest little details that you may skip in your life and maybe never see something more wonderful in your life.

    4. I can connect to my everyday life and Chinese poetry. Today I can be more open bowled. In school I can be open bowled by really paying attention to whoever is talking and not being respectful. A way I can be open bowled everywhere is to pay attention to not just other people to nature.
    I really think you guys and girls would love taking a risk for Chinese poetry.



  5. Posted by ec11 on November 15, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Dear Future Fourth Graders,
    This year, you will be doing a big unit on China. You will be doing a ton of really fun workshops such as, big maps about all different things that have to do with China and connecting things through other peoples’ maps. You will also study Chinese poetry with Steven the poet and doing brush painting and a lot of other fun stuff, and making a ” megga highway” through a 3D map of China. I thought that all of those workshps were fun but I think my favorite had to be the Chinese brush painting with Steven. I think that learning about Chinese poetry helped me learn about the people of China because reading their poetry and how they thought about the world and that helped because than I know what
    they think of the world as well as how they treat it. I definetly learned a lot through the all of he Chinese workshops and I think that I learned the most through the Chinese poetry because I can really relate and think of the world in a different way than I have seen it before. I hope that you have and are going to learn as much as I have and will.


  6. Posted by EC13 on November 15, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Dear Future Fourth Graders,

    Next year you will do Chinese poetry and workshops with a serious but, fun poet named Steven Ratiner.
    The basic thing you will learn in poetry workshops is to be ”open bowled’. That means to sit up straight and concentrate how you breath goes in and out. And make simple things come alive like making the trees sing but trees don’t sing, do they? Yes, in poetry they do.
    My favorite workshop was calligraphy. I just had to listen to the music and make my brush dance. I felt really calm.
    In that workshop, we learned about things on a poet’s desk.
    And it helped me to learn about China and its people. Also most of the Chinese poetry includes nature.
    Because of Steven I now see things & write differently.
    I hope you have fun and also learn a lot.



  7. Dear future forth graders,
    In the Chinese poetry workshops you will be able to write poetry and try out calligraphy. Most of the times you will be writing poetry about the river, objects and anything that really catch your eye. My favorite poetry workshop will have to be the calligraphy workshop because you do not have to write all you have to do is let your brush dance. I think it helped me learn about China because it shows you what they normally do. I think it helps me with my every day learning because it helps me write short with having all those good details.



  8. Posted by EC6 on November 16, 2010 at 1:06 am

    Dear future fourth graders,

    In your coming years at Thoreau, you will experience Chinese poetry with poet Steven Ratiner. I like it a lot and hope you will too. It is very fun and it is almost impossible not to like.

    In these workshops Steven taught us about sitting practice – where you sit with your back straight and just feel your breaths go in and out, in and out.This teaches you to be calm and “open bowled” which helps you see things come alive that you might have never seen or paid attention to. Simple or everyday items or objects like trees seem to do things they wouldn’t do when you’re closed bowled. Trees don’t really reach up to the sky in a welcoming gesture, right? But when you’re open bowled, they can. Or maybe they dance. When you are open bowled, they could do really anything.

    You will also learn my favorite workshop, Chinese calligraphy, where you paint with black ink and horsehair and bamboo brushes, what the Chinese calligraphers use. When you hold the brush in your hand it feels normal, but when you gently touch its (hopefully) pointed tip to the paper, it seemingly has a mind of its own, and you experience it come to life in your very own hands.

    Learning about Chinese poetry also helped me learn about the Chinese people. From one poem, you will hear something about nature. You can tell they respect, notice, love, and cherish nature and they show its wonders in their poetry.

    The knowledge I have gained can apply to my everyday life by helping me be more open bowled. When I am open bowled, I can go back to the top of a mountain that I climbed last summer and see a entirely different view, only this time better. Another way to be open bowled is while writing, finding inspiration in objects or memories and experiences.

    I hope when you enter fourth grade you have as much fun as I had ( and still will have) learning about Chinese poetry and calligraphy.




  9. Posted by ec19 on November 16, 2010 at 1:07 am

    Dear Future Fourth Graders,
    Next year you will do Chinese poetry workshops with Steven Ratiner. The workshops are really fun! In the workshops you will get to learn about: different dynasties’ cultures, poetry, length of the dynasties and more. Steven also will teach you about Chinese
    calligraphy brush strokes and how to read a few Chinese characters. He also taught us about the importance of being “opened bowled”- paying attention to everything and listening.

    The singing bowl – a metal or crystal bowl that “sings” when someone moves a mallet around the perimeter of the bowl – really fascinated me; it helped a lot when we were doing sitting practice.

    Out of all the workshops, my favorite was the last one because in that workshop we got to do Chinese calligraphy on real rice paper. In that workshop, we could also use real bamboo brushes and see all of the things that could be used for Chinese calligraphy.

    As you go through the workshops, you will realize that Chinese poetry can teach you about the Chinese people because they use poetry to really express their feelings, emotions and their life.

    After all of the workshops I learned that being calm, focused and open bowled can really affect your everyday life in a good way.


  10. Posted by EC4 on November 16, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Dear future 4th graders,
    When you are in 4th grade you will be studying China. A very helpful poet named Steven will give you a head- start on Chinese Poetry and calligraphy. The first thing you will do is go over poetry from famous people. The next workshop is going down to the river and writing short poems then you will have homework to write more of those at home. The last workshop is …
    Calligraphy! (That was my favorite) calligraphy is a form of Chinese Painting. You will do it with a bamboo brush, ink, and a piece of special rice paper. I liked this so much because I love art.
    Learning about poetry helped me learn about the people of China because most of the emperors wrote poems. Steven will explain about their life and how they treated the Chinese people.
    Learning about Chinese Poetry helps me with my everyday learning because we are learning about china anyway and I try to remember what he taught us.


  11. Posted by ec14 on November 16, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    Dear future students,

    In 4th grade, a poet named Steven will come to your class and he will teach you a lot about China and Chinese poetry. There are a couple of different workshops that he will lead; for example, Chinese brush painting (calligraphy) and Chinese poetry.

    My favorite out of all the workshops was the calligraphy. It was my favorite because it was a lot like painting but you get to use ink, a bamboo brush and rice paper. I also liked the brush painting because you get to make a scroll.

    Chinese poetry taught me that Chinese people respect nature because they often write about it.

    In these workshops I learned to be open bowled. This means to be paying attention to the world around you.



  12. Posted by ec15 on November 16, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Dear Future Fourth Graders.1. You will be writing chinese poetry with Steven Ratiner he will do poetry workshops some of the workshops are brush painting journey poems with an object another is writing 4 line poems and last longer poems.2. My favorite workshop was the brush painting because it was sort of like drawing a picture but is not.3. I learned from chinese poetry that in China schollars always needed the following a brush paper ink those were the main things they needed.4. I learned to be open bowled which means to notice whats around you that could help you everyday to stay focused more listen pay attention.




  13. Posted by ec1 on November 16, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Dear Future Fourth Graders,

    1.When you are in fourth grade you will be doing
    Chinese poetry with Steven Ratiner. You will make your own Chinese scroll.When Steven comes
    the work shops he will do with you are poetry and brush painting(calligraphy).

    2.The workshop I liked the best is brush painting I think you will like it too because
    you can draw anything you want with ink on the rice paper but be careful because you can’t
    erase ink!

    3.Doing the poetry workshops helped me learn about China alot because it told me alot about Chinese culture and what the people were like and also how they react to one another.

    4.As a result of the poetry workshops I’m more “open bowled” and I also got inspired alot from the workshops.



  14. Posted by EC10 on November 16, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Dear future 4th graders, you will be meeting with a poet named Steven and you will be going out to the river the first time you meet with Steven and writing poetry about the river and one time you bring in a special object and writing about a journey that you take when you see the object and you will also be brush painting which was my favorite thing we did so far.

    The Chinese poetry helped me learn a lot about people in China because they usually wrote poems about as time of war past but Steven helps you translate the poems into the things that they are really saying.

    I learned that Chinese people go through a lot of invasions from the north and if the Emperor sends you somewhere you have to go there no matter what but you can choose to leave your wife and kid home or take them with you.

    EC10 🙂


  15. Posted by ec21 on November 16, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Dear future 4th graders,
    you will write poetry by the river and in the room.

    I liked the Chinese painting the best because you get to paint fun doodles.

    Chinese poetry helped me learn about Chinese people because I didn’t know they used poetry so much.

    I learned you can write poetry wherever you are, you just have to look for it.


  16. Dear Future Fourth Graders, when you get to fourth grade you will learn about Chinese Poetry.
    The person who will teach you is Steve the Poet. Steve the Poet is a fun guy who is excited about teaching poetry.

    He will teach you at your classroom in workshops that are about 1 hour and a half.
    The workshop usually starts by learning about the poetry you are going to write. At this time you where the poetry originated from and he reads some poems to show you how to do the poetry. After that you start writing your poem. When you’re done you can share your poem. Steven also tells you to be open bowled and let the world in. Which means look for detail of the world and don’t just do what you need to do and move on.

    My favorite workshop with Steven is the last one. The last workshop is my favorite because you get to do calligraphy. Calligraphy is when you use a Chinese brush with rice paper and Chinese ink to make random lines which make your imagination grow and makes a good poem. You have to hold the brush straight up so your whole arm gets into the move meant.

    You are probably wondering what does poetry have to do with China? Well poetry has to do with China in many ways but one was it was a way for the emperor to know about what people think in his country. The way it did that is because the emperor sent people around his country to collect poems. They would collect the poems from almost everybody. The poems can tell almost anything. The poem could say the emperor stinks or the emperor is great. That was one way the emperor kept tabs on his country. Another reason was to please the emperor. Everybody wanted to please the emperor because if you did you could get a job for the emperor. If you got a job for the emperor you would get a lot of money and have a good life. Another reason is to please your friends. At one point in time people made little groups of friends and tried to please them instead of the emperor. Poetry was also one way to express your self. A lot of the people in China wrote poems in their lives.

    Learning about Chinese poetry affects my daily learning by showing me to be open bowled. Say I’m writing about me eating a sandwich in writing. If I am not open bowled it could sound like this “I ate a sandwich the end.” If I am open bowled it could sound like this “I am about to have a sandwich with cheese, lettuce, tomato ,and onion . It smells delicious. I start to eat it slowly. It tastes delicious. It is gone before my eyes. I wish I had more. The end.”Can you see the difference.

    Hope you have fun.
    Sincerely EC9


  17. Dear future 4th graders,
    You will be writing Chinese poetry with a poet named
    Steven Ratiner, who has kindly used his time to give us lessons on ancient China and the poetry that was written at that time.

    He has shown us many different types of Chinese poetry but my favorite is when we picked an object and just let our imagination run wild and write it down.

    Doing the workshops was very informative about China because Steven told us about what was happening and how people thought in that time. This gave us more background for understanding the poems.

    What I learned is that no matter where you are or who is around you if you try hard enough and focus there is poetry everywhere.



  18. Posted by ec12 on November 17, 2010 at 12:55 am

    Dear Future Fourth Graders:

    1)You will be lucky enough to do poetry workshops with Steven Ratner. He will open your mind and soul. And with your open mind he will help you make poems that will flow like a river over your paper and pull your reader into your poem.

    2)One of the work shops I truly hope you enjoy is the work shop where you learn how to do a journey poem.

    3) It really expresses how the people felt about things not the emperor.

    4)I think that poetry is another aspect to life and philosophy and a better way to connect with nature.


  19. Posted by ec17 on November 17, 2010 at 2:27 am

    Dear Future Fourth Graders:

    The poetry workshops are about famous Chinese poets and what dynasty they came from. You also get to write your own poems. One workshop we get to bring in an object and go around the classroom and decide on an object in the room and write a story about it.

    My favorite workshop was the one that we brought in our own objects and we looked around the room and we got to choose an object to write a poem about. I liked this workshop because it gave us an experience to write a poem. I also liked it because we got to write the poem practically the whole time and we got to hear each others poems and I though a lot of them were really great.

    Learning about the poetry in Ancient China helped me see what the people were like back then. I learned that they were ruled by an Emperor who could give a person a job to collect poetry. There was one poet that got sent to fight with the Northern people and he wrote a poem about going to the North. And, he walked though a battle field that had bones on it and he hoped that it wouldn’t be him one day.

    I learned that poetry can be anything you want it to be.

    I hope you like the poetry workshops

    Sincerly EC17


  20. Posted by EC-8 on November 17, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Dear future fourth graders,

    1) You are lucky to see Steven and do workshops about Chinese poetry. You will do some awesome things with him, such as, learning about Chinese dynasties, making poems,doing calligraphy,and much more.

    2) I think that you will like the last workshop best because it’s the workshop were you do calligraphy!

    3) Learning about poetry helps you learn about China because many of China’s people are scholars(poets). The Chinese scholars write about China’s landscape, and beauty.

    4) I learned that in early dynasties scholars have to memorize over 10,000 poems!


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