Five Ways to Reach Your Students With Poetry

April 13, 2021 / by Jennifer L.M. Gunn

April is National Poetry Month, and unfortunately, poetry has a bit of an optics problem.

It’s hard! It’s confusing! It’s boring! I don’t get it!

Fear not, there are actually super-engaging ways to dazzle your students with the wonders of poetry -- and reach even your most struggling or reluctant students. So this year, be bold. Branch out from the tried and true poetry classics and inspire your students with these engaging forms of poetry that will spark curiosity for all types of learners. Some educators have compiled their work from this year, Student Voices on a Year That Made History.

1. Blackout Poems

Got a marker and an old newspaper or magazine? Allow students to choose a tear-sheet of text or provide a text for them. Then, the idea is that students use a marker to black out everything except the words and phrases they want to flow together into a poem. They can black out much of the page or create amazing designs that emphasize the words of their choosing. With this technique, students learn how words can combine and flow into poetry without having to do the heavy lifting of summoning the words themselves. This works especially well with reluctant writers, ELLs, and students who are generally resistant to poetry. It’s also great for artistic students and visual learners.

2. Found Poems

Found poems use words and phrases from books, magazines, and newspapers — hence, found words. First, students can cut out pieces of words and phrases and lay them out to construct their own work of poetry. They can complete the project by gluing the new poem onto their own sheet. Students can choose to add spaces, break lines, and create entirely new meanings from their chosen words. This is a helpful exercise for reluctant writers and ELLs because they learn how to construct poetry without the pressure of surfacing their own words and phrases. Artistic and visual learners will gain proficiency in crafting poetry through a very hands-on and visual modality. Check out the Teaching Channel video Creating Found Poems to see an example of this strategy in action.

Creating Found Poems

3. Ekphrastic Poems

Ekphrastic comes from the Greek word “Ekphrasis,” which means “description,” so ekphrastic poems are vivid poetic pieces that detail a piece of visual art. The speaker is usually impacted by the piece of art and the poem can detail that connection. Get started by providing students with some imagery of works of art or let them choose their own. Because of the focus on visual art, this is a perfect assignment for a Museum field trip. (You could even do that field trip virtually!)

Visiting a Museum

Once students have chosen a piece, ask them to describe the piece in a unique poem. They can tell a story about what’s happening in the art, describe the work, or express how it makes them feel. Ask students to describe the image thoughtfully, so that a reader who wasn’t looking directly at the piece of art could imagine it well. This is a profound way to stimulate the senses and connect visual learners and artistic students to the concept of poetry.

Check out the Teaching Channel video Poetry Visualization: Draw What Your Hear for a lesson idea on engaging artistic and visual learners in poetry.

4. Bilingual or Translated Poetry

Providing bilingual poems that include both student’s native language and English can help a struggling ELL student to understand and connect with poetry. Further, using poetry translations side-by-side can illuminate the meaning and flow of a poem and demystify the complex language for a language learner.

5. Spoken Word

Spoken word is a gateway into poetry for adolescents, reluctant readers, and writers, as well as for the musically inclined or performers. Spoken word takes poetry off the flat page, and gives it rhythm, humanity, and authenticity. Students who struggle to make sense of poetry in written form are often moved when they hear it read aloud, as meaning becomes more clear. Those who are musical will enjoy the rhythmic qualities of spoken word — especially when it’s done well. YouTube is full of amazing spoken word performances to watch for inspiration, and a Poetry Slam or Poetry Open Mic event at your school can really elevate your students’ experience with both writing and performing poetry.

Poetry Open Mic

VIDEO: Poetry Open Mic

For more ideas on incorporating spoken word poetry into the classroom, check out episode 25 of the Teaching Channel Talks podcast with spoken word poet, educator, and author Sarah Kay. You can also find ideas and resources at websites like Project VOICE, Poetry Out Loud, UrbanWordNYC, and Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

Ready to Get Started Teaching Poetry?

Check out these great books:

This article was originally published on April 4th, 2018. It has been updated with new links and information. 

Topics: Engagement

Jennifer L.M. Gunn

Written by Jennifer L.M. Gunn

Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, teaching coach, and educator at Hudson High School of Learning Technologies in New York City. At Hudson, she created Right to Read, a literacy acceleration program for adolescents. Jennifer is also co-founder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation. Jennifer is a regular contributor to outlets such as EdWeek, The ByEd Blog, and Concordia University-Portland’s Room 241 Education Blog. Connect with Jennifer on Twitter: @jenniferlmgunn.

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