Ideas for Poetry
Are you ready to embark on a whirlwind journey of teaching poetry that will stir your students’ creativity and boost their appreciation for this beautiful form of expression?
Teaching poetry is much more than mere lessons from dusty textbooks. It’s an opportunity to instill a love for language, rhythm, and imagery in our students. And what better way to do this than through lively poetry activities that make the process of learning to write poetry an exciting adventure?
In this blog post, we’ll delve into practical strategies, activities, and ideas to teach poetry, that are guaranteed to breathe life into your poetry teaching, transforming your poetry lessons into captivating escapades that your students will love. So, let’s jump into the magical world of teaching poetry!
Setting the Stage for Poetry
Before your students begin to write their first line of free verse poetry, or pen their original poems, it’s crucial to provide them with an understanding of poetic devices. This forms the backbone of their poetry lessons and enhances their capacity to craft vibrant and expressive poems.
Here are the important poetic devices that will become the foundation of your poetry unit.
- Alliteration: The repetition of the same initial letter or sound in a series of words. For example, “She sells seashells by the seashore.”
- Simile: A comparison of two things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’. For example, “The moon was as bright as a spotlight in the dark night.”
- Metaphor: A direct comparison between two unlike things without using ‘like’ or ‘as’. For example, “Life is a rollercoaster.”
- Onomatopoeia: A word that imitates the natural sounds of a thing. For example, “Buzz”, “hiss”, or “murmur”.
- Hyperbole: Exaggerated statements not meant to be taken literally. For example, “I’ve told you a million times to clean your room!”
- Personification: Giving human attributes to non-human entities. For example, “The flowers danced in the wind.”
- Rhyme: The correspondence of sound between words or the endings of words. For example, in this Langston Hughes poem: “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. / It’s had tacks in it, and splinters, / And boards torn up…”
- Free Verse: Poetry that does not rhyme or have a regular meter. For example, Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” is largely written in free verse.
- Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words. For example, “Hear the mellow wedding bells.”
- Consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds, typically at the end of words. For example, “She ate seven sandwiches on a sunny Sunday last year.”
Why not transform your classroom into a haven for poetry?
A poetry wall that features different poems and poets each week, or a ‘Poetree’, where students can hang their own poems, are fun ways to introduce poetry and make it a focal point of your classroom. These activities not only create an environment that promotes poetry, but they also expose students to a range of poetic voices and styles.
Interactive Poetry Activities
Once the stage is set, it’s time to plunge into the heart of your poetry unit with interactive activities.
- Poetry Corner or Wall: Designate a space in your classroom to showcase poetry. Rotate different styles of poetry, student-created poems, and pieces from famous poets. This interactive space can encourage students to read poems and engage with the work of their peers and professional poets.
- Collaborative Poems: Challenge students to write a poem together. Each student writes a line, then passes the paper to the next person to write the next line, and so forth. This is an excellent way to foster creativity and teamwork.
- Poetry Journals: Encourage students to keep a journal of their own poems, favorite poems, and reflections about poetry. These journals can serve as a personal poetry anthology and a tool for self-reflection.
- Poetry Blog or Forum: Establish a class blog or forum where students can publish their own poems and offer constructive feedback on their peers’ works. This not only encourages students to write poetry but also promotes digital literacy.
- Found Poem: Have students create their own poems by using words, phrases, or sentences from other texts such as newspapers, books, or magazines.
- Poem Illustrations: Challenge students to create visual representations of their favorite poems or even their own poetry. This activity can help students to connect more deeply with the emotions and ideas expressed in the poems.
- Poetry Slams: Host monthly class poetry slams where students can read their own poems or their favorite poem aloud. Reading poetry aloud helps students to understand the rhythm, flow, and emotional impact of poetry.
- Poetry Walks: Organize a poetry walk during national poetry month. Students move from station to station, reading different poems and discussing them.
- Magnetic Poetry: Provide students with words on magnets and encourage them to create their own poem on a metal surface. This activity can be particularly engaging for younger students and can help them to understand the building blocks of poetry.
- Blackout Poetry: Give students an old newspaper or book page and have them black out all but a few words to create their own poem. One such activity could be establishing a class poetry blog, where students can publish their own poems and engage in constructive feedback with their peers. This encourages them to write poetry regularly and promotes digital literacy. You can read more about blackout poetry here!
Interactive activities like these are great for getting students to write their own poems. They help students understand the elements of poetry and express themselves through writing. Whether it’s an exercise in free verse poetry or a fun way to learn figurative language, these activities make teaching poetry engaging and enjoyable.
Holiday Poetry Activities
The holidays offer another fantastic opportunity to incorporate poetry activities into your lessons.
Challenge students to write poems for holiday-themed cards or assignments. This not only adds a festive spirit to your poetry lessons but also provides a meaningful connection between the students’ lives and their learning.
- Holiday Poem Exchange: Similar to a gift exchange, have each student write a poem related to the holiday season. Then, have them exchange their poems and read them aloud to the class.
- Seasonal Haiku: Teach students about this traditional form of Japanese poetry and challenge them to write their own Haiku about the current season.
- Autumn Leaves Cinquain: As the leaves change in the fall, teach your students about cinquain poems. Have them write their own cinquain about the changing leaves or the approach of winter.
- Halloween Limericks: For a fun Halloween activity, introduce students to the limerick, a humorous and often silly poetic form. Encourage them to write their own spooky limericks!
- Thanksgiving Acrostic Poem: Around Thanksgiving, have students write acrostic poems using words like “Thankful,” “Harvest,” or “Family.” This encourages students to think about what they’re grateful for and to express those feelings through poetry.
- Winter Rhyme Time: When winter rolls around, challenge students to write a poem where every line ends in a rhyme. They can describe snowfall, cold weather, or their favorite winter activities.
- Valentine’s Day Love or Friendship Poems: Around Valentine’s Day, have students write poems about love or friendship. They can give their poems to friends or family as a special holiday gift.
- Who’s Making Mischief? – a FUN whodunnit reader’s theater script where the leprechauns speak in rhyme!
- Spring Poetry Walk: With the arrival of spring, organize a poetry walk where students can experience the blossoming environment and jot down their observations. Then, guide them to turn these observations into a beautiful piece of free verse poetry.
- National Poetry Month (April) Activities: Use this month to introduce students to a wide array of poetry forms and to engage them in a range of activities, from writing their own poetry to exploring famous published poems.
- Summer Diamante Poem: Teach students about diamante poems, which are shaped like diamonds and use nouns, adjectives, and gerunds. Have them write their own poems about summer themes, such as sunsets, the beach, or vacations.
Exploration Through Art and Writing Journals
Art and writing often go hand in hand in the realm of self-expression.
Encouraging your students to visually represent their favorite poems or even their own poetry in their writing journals can help them connect more deeply with the emotions and ideas expressed in the poems.
Their poetry journals can also serve as a place for them to reflect on what inspired them, their favorite phrases, and how writing their own poems makes them feel. This not only fosters a deeper connection with poetry but also serves as a record of their personal journey through your poetry unit.
Here’s a short guide on how to start a writing journal for your poetry teaching lessons:
Step 1: Introduce the Concept of a Writing Journal
Begin by introducing your students to the concept of a writing journal. Explain that this will be their personal space to jot down ideas, play with words, write short poems in, and express their thoughts freely. You might read aloud an entry from a published writer’s journal or a student’s journal (with their permission, of course) to give students an idea of what a writing journal can look like.
Step 2: Provide the Journals
You can either ask students to bring their own journals or provide them yourself. If possible, choose journals that are durable and inviting. The more personalized the journal, the more likely students are to engage with it. Encourage students to decorate the cover of their journals to make them truly their own.
Step 3: Set the Ground Rules
Make sure students understand that their journals are a safe space for experimentation, free from the usual rules of writing they might encounter in an English class. In this space, students can write in fragments rather than complete sentences, play with punctuation, and break the lines however they like. This is their chance to explore their own voice through writing poetry and free verse poems.
Step 4: Begin with a Writing Prompt
Kickstart the writing process by providing a prompt. This could be as simple as a single word, a line from a favorite poem, or an interesting image. Encourage students to write whatever comes to their mind without worrying about it being perfect. The focus is on letting their thoughts flow freely.
Step 5: Regularly Dedicate Time to Journal Writing
Carve out some time in each class for students to write in their journals. This could be at the start of the class to warm up, in the middle to explore a new concept, or at the end to reflect on the lesson. Regularly dedicating time to journal writing reinforces its importance and helps students develop a habit of writing.
Step 6: Share and Celebrate
Encourage students who are comfortable to share their journal entries with the class. Celebrate their courage, creativity, and the beauty of their words. Remember, the goal isn’t to critique but to appreciate the effort and creativity.
The journal is a tool to help them explore the world of poetry and their own experiences in their own voice. It’s a path towards developing a lifelong love for reading poetry and writing poems.
Exploring Different Poetry Styles and Formats
The world of poetry is vast and varied.
From acrostic poems to shape poems to free verse poetry that allows students to express themselves in their own voice, there’s a style or format that will resonate with each of your students. Sometimes, starting with structured poem types can help students that don’t feel quite comfortable with their poetry writing.
A traditional form of Japanese poetry, a haiku consists of three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable count.
Example: An old silent pond… / A frog jumps into the pond— / Splash! Silence again.
An American five-line poem with syllable and stress counts. There are two types: the American cinquain and the didactic cinquain.
Example (American Cinquain): Snowfall / Flakes drop silently / Softly blanketing the earth / Peaceful hush covers the landscape / Winter
Example (Didactic Cinquain): Butterfly / Beautiful, graceful / Flitting, fluttering, flying / Friend of the colorful flowers / Insect
A 14-line poem typically with a strict rhyme scheme, traditionally dealing with themes of love and beauty. Shakespearean and Petrarchan are the most popular sonnet forms.
Example (Shakespearean Sonnet – Sonnet 18): Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate…
A poem where the first letter of each line spells out a word, name, or phrase when read vertically.
Example: Students / Using their minds / Creating new worlds / Cultivating dreams / Engaged in learning / Succeeding in life
A five-line humorous or nonsensical poem with a specific rhythm and rhyme scheme (AABBA).
Example: There once was a man from Nantucket / Who kept all his cash in a bucket…
A 19-line poem with a complex pattern of repetition and a specific rhyme scheme.
Example: Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night”
Another form of Japanese poetry, a tanka contains five lines with a syllable count of 5-7-5-7-7.
Example: Light of the bright moon / Moves west, flowers’ shadows / Creep towards the east / Here is the long night I’ve waited for / A night with no dawn.
Add a Little Fun to Your Structured Poetry
There are numerous ways to introduce fun twists into the poetry writing process to help students write their own poems. Here are a few ideas:
- Poetry Bingo: Create a bingo board with different poetic elements or themes in each square (metaphor, alliteration, nature imagery, etc.). Students must write a poem that includes a line with each element in a completed row, column, or diagonal.
- Poetry Jigsaw: Each student writes a line of poetry on a slip of paper. Collect all the slips and redistribute them randomly. Students then have to create a poem incorporating the line they received.
- Word Grab Bag: Students pick out a handful of words from a bag (words you’ve prepared in advance) and must incorporate all of them into their poem.
- Image Inspiration: Students draw a random image from a collection and write a poem inspired by what they see.
- Mystery Emotion: Students choose an emotion out of a hat and write a poem that evokes that emotion without naming it.
- Collaborative Poem: Each student contributes a line to the poem, building off the lines that came before. This can be done in a round-robin format or as a “pass the paper” game.
- Story Dice: Similar to your syllable game, students can roll story dice (dice with images instead of numbers) and have to include the elements shown in their poem.
- Musical Poems: Play a piece of instrumental music and ask the students to write a poem that matches the mood or story of the music.
- Spin a Theme: Use a spinner with different themes or topics (nature, friendship, space, etc.) on it. Students spin and write a poem on the theme they land on.
- Favorite Poem Challenge: Students choose a line from a favorite poem and then write their own poem inspired by or as a response to that line.
Writing Poetry with a Friend
- Poetry Pair Writing: In this activity, two students work together to write a poem. One student writes the first line, then the second student writes the next, and so on. This encourages students to read and respond to each other’s writing in a creative way.
- Group Poetry Anthology: Divide the students into small groups and have each group create their own poetry anthology. This could involve writing original poems, or selecting and analyzing published poems. Each group can pick a theme for their anthology and work together to create a cohesive collection.
- Two-Voice Poems: In this activity, partners collaborate to write a poem that is meant to be read aloud by two people. Each partner writes from a different perspective or voice, and they take turns reading their lines.
- Jigsaw Poetry: Divide a poem into parts and give each small group a part to analyze and interpret. After each group has analyzed their part, they present their findings to the whole class, piece by piece putting the entire poem together.
- Collaborative Found Poem: Give each group a short story or novel chapter, and ask them to create a found poem from the text. This involves selecting words and phrases from the text and arranging them into a poem.
- Poetry Debate: Choose a poem that can generate different interpretations. After reading and discussing the poem, let the students debate what they think the poet meant.
- Poetry Walk: In groups, students go for a walk around the school grounds or local area, taking note of their surroundings. After the walk, each group collaborates on a poem about their journey.
- Group Poetry Performance: Have each group choose a poem to perform in front of the class. They can create gestures, choose different voices, or even create a skit around the poem.
- Shared Poetry Books: Each group gets a blank book where they write poems on a shared theme. Every student contributes, and they pass the book around until it’s full.
- Song Lyrics as Poetry: Groups choose a song and analyze the lyrics as if they were a poem, discussing poetic devices, themes, and emotional impact.
Inspiration and Imagery
Teaching poetry is about encouraging students to tap into their own experiences and express them through the medium of words. Encourage students to find poems and to write about everyday objects, events, or people they know, stimulating them to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
You could also try a ‘poetry walk’ around the school grounds or a local park. Experiencing nature firsthand can evoke strong feelings and vibrant imagery, leading to captivating poems.
Reading and Performance
What’s the use of creating wonderful poems if they’re left buried in notebooks?
Let’s bring poetry to life with poetry reading sessions, where students read their poems aloud, reveling in the rhythm and musicality of their words. You might even want to try a ‘Poetry Slam’ where students perform their poems, turning their poetry lessons into a lively and memorable event.
Setting Up A Poetry Nook in Your Classroom
Setting up a poetry nook in your classroom can create a cozy and inspiring space for students to engage with poetry. Here’s a guide on how to set up a poetry nook, along with a list of poetry books to add to the station:
1. Choose a Location: Select a quiet and comfortable corner of your classroom where students can gather to read and write poetry. It could be a cozy reading area with cushions, bean bags, or comfortable chairs.
2. Decorate the Space: Create an inviting atmosphere by decorating the poetry nook. Hang posters or artwork related to poetry, display student-written poems, or use colorful bunting and string lights to add a touch of whimsy.
3. Arrange Poetry Books: Fill the poetry nook with a variety of poetry books. Here are some recommendations for poetry books suitable for different age groups:
- For Elementary School:
- “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson
- “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein
- “Falling Up” by Shel Silverstein
- “Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons” by Jon J Muth
- “A Pizza the Size of the Sun” by Jack Prelutsky
- For Middle School:
- “Love That Dog” by Sharon Creech
- “Out of the Dust” by Karen Hesse
- “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
- “Inside Out & Back Again” by Thanhha Lai
- “Red Butterfly” by A.L. Sonnichsen
- For High School:
- “The Poetry of Robert Frost”
- “Selected Poems” by Emily Dickinson
- “The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks
- “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur
- “The Sun and Her Flowers” by Rupi Kaur
4. Include Poetry Anthologies: Add poetry anthologies to the collection, which provide a range of poems from various poets. Some popular anthologies include:
- “The Norton Anthology of Poetry”
- “The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry”
- “Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry” edited by Billy Collins
- “The Best American Poetry” series edited by David Lehman (published annually)
5. Poetry Writing Resources: Include resources that inspire and guide students in writing their own poetry. This could include books like “A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms” by Paul B. Janeczko or “Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words” by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge.
6. Writing Materials: Provide writing materials such as notebooks, colored pencils, markers, and sticky notes. Encourage students to jot down their own poems or favorite lines from the books they read.
7. Display Student Poetry: Create a section in the poetry nook to showcase student poetry. Encourage students to submit their poems and periodically rotate the displayed works.
Remember to periodically update and refresh the selection of books in your poetry nook to keep it engaging and relevant for your students. Encourage students to explore and share their favorite poems with each other. The poetry nook can serve as a sanctuary for creative expression and appreciation of the beauty of words.
Are you Ready to Teach Poetry?
So, there you have it! A treasure trove of ideas to enrich your poetry teaching strategies.
Just remember: teaching poetry isn’t about producing the next Poet Laureate.
It’s about inspiring students to express themselves through words, to appreciate the beauty and versatility of language, and to enjoy the process of creating their own poems.
May these poetry activities ignite your passion for teaching poetry and make your poetry lessons the highlight of your students’ learning journey. And remember, every great poet had a first great poetry teacher – who knows, that teacher could be you! Let’s make every month National Poetry Month!
Have More Ideas?
I hope these ideas spark new ways to enjoy teaching poetry in your classroom. Together, let’s create a generation that appreciates and loves poetry. If you’ve tried any of these ideas or have additional tips, please share them in the comments. After all, teachers learn best from other teachers!
Good luck and happy poetry teaching!