The Power of Poetry in the Classroom: Creative Teaching Ideas
Great poetry invites readers to play with language and develop a deeper understanding of the human experience. Many teachers introduce poetry units during April for National Poetry Month, however, one month is truly not enough time to delve into the power of poetry.
This blog will discuss the benefits of incorporating poetry in the classroom, where to find high-quality poetry resources, and creative poetry activities for every age.
Benefits of Using Poetry in the Classroom
You already know how important it is to provide a variety of text in your classroom. The versatility of poetry makes it a powerful resource in your teaching. There are many benefits to teaching poetry to students.
It motivates students to read.
The limited text of poetry can make reading more accessible for emergent readers, English learners, or students who are struggling. There are countless types of poetry, making it easy to find a poem to appeal to nearly any interest.
It teaches foundational reading skills.
Since poems are short, it’s easy to use an entire poem to focus on a specific reading skill.
Reading poetry offers emergent readers opportunities to learn about rhyme, syllables, and segmenting. These are components of phonological awareness, which has been identified as a key element of the science of reading.
Repeated poetry readings promote building fluency—another component of the science of reading. To help students practice their speaking and listening skills, have students recite poems as a whole group before moving to small groups and partners.
It inspires creative writing.
Poetry is subjective. It can be structured, like a haiku, or as simple as a collection of your favorite words. The rules of writing become more relaxed in different types of poems—which allows students to tap into their creativity.
It is accessible to all learners.
One key benefit of poetry is that it can easily be differentiated for all learning levels. Some students may be able to create poems with the use of sentence frames, while others may create theirs using open-ended prompts.
Poetry Resources for Every Classroom
Whether you decide to create a poetry section in your classroom library or incorporate poems into your everyday lessons, it’s important to have a selection of high-quality poems that are representative of your students.
We’ve compiled a list of a few of our favorite poetry resources to get you started.
Branch out beyond the classics with our favorite poetry books. Whether you’re looking for novels in verse or student-authored pieces, these books will inspire your students.
Nursery Rhyme Series
Continental’s Nursery Rhyme Series introduces traditional nursery rhymes through leveled readers, helping students develop their independent reading skills.
Winner of the “Kids Are Authors” contest sponsored by Scholastic, this compilation of haikus was written by a class of fourth-grade students.
A Full Moon is Rising
This book of poems takes readers on a tour around the world to explore full moon customs and celebrations.
Brown Girl Dreaming
This memoir, written in verse, explores author Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s.
Call Us What We Carry
In this collection of poems by Amanda Gorman, readers explore universal themes of hope and healing through inventive styles of poetry.
These websites feature diverse poetry collections as well as teaching resources for interactive poetry activities. As a reminder, be sure to preview any poems or sites before you share them with students.
This site features the work of Kenn Nesbitt, named the Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation in 2013.
The Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation contains over 46,000 poems to provide readers with a comprehensive selection.
Young Black Poets
In this New York Times feature, ten teenage poets share their work in powerful videos.
Youth Speaks Poetry
This YouTube channel features videos from Brave New Voices, a spoken-word poetry festival.
There’s a Poem for That
Videos of contemporary and classical poems are paired with animation on this Ted-Ed YouTube channel.
American Life in Poetry
American Life in Poetry offers a wide range of poems that are categorized by theme as well as geographical area.
The New York Times
This New York Times column features a new poem every week, allowing the reader to explore a variety of topics and authors.
7 Activities for Creative Poetry Lessons
Poetry is an influential component of literacy. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite poetry writing exercises—many of which can be used at any grade level from elementary school to high school.
1. Match a Picture With a Poem
In this activity, students of any grade or skill level will learn how the relationship between images and poetry can help deepen their understanding of its meaning. They will also begin to understand that poetry is personal—your interpretation of its meaning will be unique to you and your experiences.
Begin by presenting your students with a poem. Next, ask your students to find an image that they feel represents the poem. Students could draw pictures, cut photos from magazines, or use free image sites, like Unsplash.
Depending on the level of your students, they can verbally explain or write an essay to elaborate on why the image represents the poem.
2. Open-Ended Discussions With a Poem of the Day
This low-prep activity is easy to incorporate into your classroom routines and can be adapted to any grade level.
Simply provide students with a poem and ask them the following open-ended questions:
- What is happening in this poem?
- What do you read that makes you say that?
- What more can you find?
These questions help students develop their comprehension skills through visual thinking strategies and can also serve as a springboard for meaningful discussion.
Katherine Schulten of the New York Times writes, “…perhaps most important, they communicate powerfully that you don’t need an authority to give you a ‘right answer’—you only need your own curiosity and a willingness to go deeper.”
3. “Where I’m From” Poems
In this creative poetry lesson, students are encouraged to write poems describing who they are and where they’re from.
Sharon Hampton writes, “It is powerful to know our students and let our students know who we are as people…[this type of poem] helps build community and access important identity work.”
Step-by-step instructions along with templates, rubrics, and mentor texts for this poetry writing exercise can be found on WritingMindset.org.
4. Analyze Poetry With Color
This activity can be adapted for students at any grade level. Through the lesson, students will explore the relationship between color and feelings, our individual associations with colors, and how colors can be used to tell a story.
The activity concludes with students creating a color analysis of a familiar poem along with an explanation of their reasoning for the colors they chose.
Examples of how to incorporate a poetry analysis with color, along with templates for your classroom can be found on TeachLivingPoets.com.
5. Poetry March Madness
Just like the NCAA basketball competition, students will vote on poems to compete in a single-elimination, bracket-style challenge to determine a class “champion.”
As students read new poems each day, they will incrementally build new skills like identifying themes, tone, literary techniques, and how to analyze poetry.
Incorporate higher-order thinking skills by having students write essays defending their poem selection. In the final elimination, hold a debate on the merits of the two poems that are left.
For a detailed explanation of how to use this activity in the classroom, check out Brian Sztabnik’s post on Much Ado About Teaching.
6. Create Found Poems
Some students might be intimidated by the idea of creating original poetry—enter the found poem. Found poems are created by piecing together phrases or lines from other sources, such as a newspaper or magazine.
Typically, found poems only use words from outside sources, however, the rules of poetry are very fluid.
Found poems include blackout or erasure poetry, in which students take a passage and use words from the passage to create a poem. Rather than cutting out the words and piecing them together, students black out all of the words that they do not want to use.
From elementary to high school, found poems can encourage students to use their creative expression. They can also be used to strengthen your students’ connections across the curriculum.
Consider providing students with a current event and have them create found poems based on the topic. Students could use primary resources to create found poems that have connections to historical topics or themes.
7. Write a Letter to a Poet
Each year, the Dear Poet program, part of the Academy of American Poets, invites students from grades 5 through 12 to engage with living poets whose work has impacted them.
After watching videos of award-winning poets reading their poems, students can write a letter to the poet of their choice. The poets respond to select letters, and their correspondences are published on Poets.org.
Poets.org offers complete, ready-made lesson plans for incorporating the Dear Poet project into your classroom.
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