Lesson Plans

Patricia A. Johnson's STAIN MY DAYS BLUE

Activities and Ideas for Using Selected Poems
In the 4th Grade Classroom

Created in 2001 by

Tammy Wood

Meadows of Dan School

3003 Jeb Stuart Highway
Meadows of Dan, VA 24120

Introduction: All lessons in this unit are designed to introduce some of the basic forms (haiku) and/or elements of poetry (simile, metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia, sensory language, etc.) while exposing students to a realistic slice of Appalachian life. Students will enjoy the nature themes and references to wild and homegrown goods in Johnson’s poems. Reading these poems should encourage students to play with words and ideas and enjoy poetry.

Grade Levels:  4 – 6

Subject: Poetry and Poetic Devices, Life in Appalachia, Nature, Food

Time Frame: Six 45-minute periods (adjust time and number of periods based on the needs of your class)

Relevant Virginia Standards of Learning:

English 4.6. The student will read a variety of poetry.

  • Describe the rhyme scheme (approximate, end, and internal).

  • Identify the sensory words used and their effect on the reader.

  • Write rhymed, unrhymed, and patterned poetry.

English 5.5. The student will read a variety of literary forms including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

  • Describe character development in fiction and poetry selections.

  • Describe the characteristics of free verse, rhyme, and patterned poetry.

  • Describe how author’s choices of vocabulary and style contribute to the quality and enjoyment of selections.

English 6.6. The student will read and write a variety of poetry.

  • Describe the visual images created by language.

  • Describe how word choice, speaker, and imagery elicit a response from the reader.

  • Compare and contrast plot and character development in narrative poems, short stories, and longer fiction selections. 

Materials: One copy of Stain My Days Blue by Patricia A. Johnson for teacher reference, photocopies (or read aloud to students) of untitled haiku at the beginning of the book, “Corn Meal Mush,” “Snow Cream,” “Night of Twenty-One White Tail Deer,” “City on the Vine,” untitled haiku on page 53, “Good Seed,” and “Spring Thaw.”

Johnson, Patricia A. Stain My Days Blue. Philadelphia: Ausdoh Press, 1999.

It is important that the teacher read the poems to the students or give them photocopies, as several of the poems in the book are not suitable for younger students.

Teacher’s Notes: The order in which these lessons appear is only a suggestion. Please feel free to adjust them and teach them in whatever sequence best suits the needs of you and your class. 

Patricia A. Johnson reciting poetry at Ferrum College in 2003

Biography: Patricia A. Johnson is a native of Grayson County, Virginia; a 1972 graduate of Ferrum College; a past champion of the National Poetry Slam; and a member of the Appalachian Women's Alliance's performing group Mountain Women Rising.



Extra Materials:  Seed catalogs


Begin a discussion on gardens and gardening with your students. Talk about the tools that the average person might use in a garden: hoe, rake, simple plow, garden tiller, etc.  If possible, plan a field trip to a parent’s garden where the children can use some of these tools themselves.

Next, discuss the purpose of gardens. Move students from the concept of gardening in order to have food to the concept of gardening for pleasure. Look at pictures of gardens.  What do the students like about gardens? What do they not like?

Make sure students know the meaning of the words meringue, patent leather, and duplicate. Also, make sure students are familiar with the terms simile and metaphor. Read the poem and discuss it with your students.

Some questions to consider:

  1. What is the "unbaked meringue"?  Is this comparison a simile or a metaphor? How do you know?

  2. Why are the seed catalogs referred to as “a mass of color spilling from the box”?

  3. What do you think it means when it says, “George Johnson. . .flips pages back to his Daddy’s homeplace”?

  4. Why is George Johnson ordering his seeds in the winter? Why not wait until spring to plan and order?

Give students copies of seed catalogs and have them plan their own garden. Have them decide if it will be a strictly ornamental garden, a food garden, or a mixture of both. Students can diagram their garden, labeling rows with what might be planted in them. Have them write a poem about their garden. They might include thoughts on why they chose certain foods or flowers over others, or memories that gardens have for them. Display the poems with the garden diagrams.



You will need copies of the untitled haiku at the beginning of the book and the one on page 53.

Introduce the term haiku and explore the mechanics of the form with your students.  Tell the children they are going to read two different haiku about berries. Read the poems with the students and ask them if they notice anything different about the poems (food that is desirable surrounded by things that are not desirable – example: black berries and poison oak). Have the students work alone or in pairs to write a haiku about some type of food found in nature. Challenge them to think about something undesirable that might be around this food or hinder them from getting the food and include that in their haiku.



You will need copies of the poems “Corn Meal Mush” and “Snow Cream.”

Introduce the term onomatopoeia. Make a list of words that imitate sounds on the board. Read “Corn Meal Mush.” Have the students find examples of onomatopoeia in the poem (clang, scrape, and thud). Look at the poem a second time. Have students rewrite it to add more words that imitate sound.

Questions to consider:

  1. What is chicory?

  2. What is the girl’s cave beneath the quilts?

  3. What might “I wrap myself in broken dishes" mean?

  4. Generally, we think of the mother being the one who fixes breakfast. Why do you think this girl’s father is the one fixing her breakfast? Read George Ella Lyon’s Mama is a Miner and discuss it with the poem “Corn Meal Mush.” (See also George Ella Lyon Bibliography and Mama is a Miner Lesson Plan.)

Introduce the term alliteration. Have students dictate examples of alliteration to you so that you can write them on the board. Read the poem “Snow Cream.” Have students find examples of alliteration throughout the poem.

Question to consider:  

Why would the little girl not have believed she and her family were poor?

Compare “Corn Meal Mush” and “Snow Cream.” How are they different? How are they alike? Which one do you like better and why?

Write poems using alliteration and onomatopoeia.



Begin a discussion with your students about deer. It will be up to you, and depend on the students’ maturity level, to decide if you want the discussion to extend to hunting and its related topics. Many students in rural areas hunt or have family members who hunt on a regular basis. Students who live in more urban areas and do not have the opportunity to hunt, or who do not know someone who does, may not be totally comfortable with the concept of hunting and killing an animal, even if it is for food.

Introduce the suggested vocabulary:  vacates, expanse, point (in reference to a deer’s antlers), buck, stag, and doe

Read the poem together. Talk about it with the students.

Some questions to consider:

  1. What is the mood of the poem?

  2. How does the author create the mood?

Read the poem again. Have the students draw a picture of the poem. What details will they include? How will they use their drawings to convey the author’s mood? Display a copy of the poem beside the students’ completed drawings.



Journal: Have students write an entry telling what they think the "city on the vine" is. Have them describe what it looks like and tell what goes on inside it. Give each student an opportunity to share his/her entry with the class.

Read the poem “City on the Vine.” Have students compare their original thoughts to what the city on the vine really is. Are there any clues that tell the students what it is before it is revealed in the last stanza?

Have students write a poem describing what goes on inside a wasp’s nest or telling the story of how the wasps rebuild their city on the vine. Encourage students to use simile, metaphor, alliteration, and/or onomatopoeia in their poems. Have students illustrate their poems and display them for others to read.



Introduce the suggested vocabulary:  creecy greens, alfalfa, refraction, and knoll.

Read the poem “Spring Thaw.”

Some questions to consider:

  1. What is the mood of this poem?

  2. How does the author create the mood?

  3. Compare/contrast the sounds of the author’s creek in the last stanza to the creek in the first stanza.

  4. What type of area is the author describing, rural or urban? How do you know? Compare the area in the poem with where you live.

Have students write a poem about their favorite place. Encourage students to use words that help others know how they feel when they go to this place.

Additional AppLit Resources: Index

Don't forget that many picture books contain poetic texts also (for all ages).  Look through our Bibliographies and Study Guides for more on picture books.

For a college literature assignment that includes Johnson's poetry, see English 206 Essay 2: Modern Literature that Takes a Stand.

Poet Patricia A. Johnson performing with Mountain Women Rising at her alma mater, Ferrum College, at the 2006 Women's Leadership Conference

This Page Created: 07/28/2002
Last Update: 1/28/11

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