Teaching Poetry in Summer Camp & How to Make a Chapbook

In less than a month, I will travel with six other individuals to a small town in northern stack of booksIsrael called Deir Al Asad to teach for two weeks in a summer camp for 60 junior high school aged children. Deir Al Asad is an Arab town in the Galilee region of Israel, near Karmiel.

The camp is an English immersion program for the children who study English in school but have little opportunity to interact with English-speaking people. It’s the pet project of Dayton, Ohio novelist, Martha Moody. This will be her ninth trip to the area. Each year she takes volunteers who teach a variety of subjects.

Last October, I heard Martha speak at a fund-raising LitSalon event held to benefit the  Antioch Writers’ Workshop scholarship fund. At the event, she talked about her writing and about this project. I knew immediately that I wanted to go, and Martha thought poetry would be an excellent subject. Now, here it is just a few weeks until we leave and I am busy working on lesson plans.

We have to take all of our own supplies, and there is a fifty pound weight limit for our suitcases. Yikes! Still, I decided to take blank handmade chapbooks with me. My plan is to have students look at poems written by both English speaking poets and by Arabic poets whose poems have been translated into English. I’m going to provide prompts for them to use to write their own poems for their chapbooks. The focus will be on fundamental poetic devices such as language and rhythm, tough things to think about when writing in a language other than your own. I’m also trying to be sure the prompts and the poems we look at are age appropriate. It’s harder than I would have thought since much of the Arabic poetry I’m finding is about love—too heady for a thirteen-year-old.

As much as I want to generate enthusiasm for poetry among these children and to actually teach them something, I suspect I will be the one doing most of the learning. I haven’t been in a classroom with kids this age for a long time, and I have no idea how much of a barrier the language will be. I suspect it will be challenging, but, I’m excited!

I’m hoping to post some of the poems the kids write and pictures of their chapbooks. Check back often for updates and photos!

How to Make a Chapbook

Fold a cover stock weight page and three (or as many as you want) blank printer pages in half.

Mark the spine with a light pencil mark at 1 ¼ inches, 4 ¼ inches, and at 7 ¼ inches.



Use something sharp (I use a sewing seam-ripper), poke a small hole at each of the marks being sure to go through all the pages.


Using an 18 inch length of embroidery floss, or tatting yarn, or another similar weight string and a needle, thread the string downward into the book at the center hole, bring it up from the inside of the book through the top hole, then tread it back down the entire length of the spine into the bottom hole. Bring it back up and out of the center hole. Make sure there are two ends coming out of the center hole and that there is an end on either side of the long length of string on the outside of the book. Tie the two ends together twice, making a knot, over top of the longer spine length.

Final thread

Cut the ends to leave about an inch and a half or so.

final cut

© 2013-2015 Grace Curtis

This entry was posted in Craft in Poetry, Poetry, Poetry Events, Writing Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Teaching Poetry in Summer Camp & How to Make a Chapbook

  1. What an extraordinary experience awaits you! Will the children be constructing the chapbooks themselves? The physical experience of making the books could be a way of easing into writing in those books.

    • Grace Curtis says:

      No, Laura Grace, I am taking them completed and ready for them to write in. We have such a little amount of time together, I thought it would take too long to go through that process. I agree with you that it would have been a good experience for them. Thanks for your comment.

      • I’ve facilitated poetry workshops for kids over the years. If you need any more ideas, message me. I’m happy to share what I do. And I’d love to hear what works well for you.

  2. Daniel Romo says:

    Great, Grace! Have fun!

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