Tips for Teaching Poetry
In addition to participating in the Dear Poet project with students, here are a number of creative and inexpensive suggestions for bringing poetry into the classroom during April's National Poetry Month and throughout the year. These tips were developed with the help of the Dodge Poetry Festival, the National Council of Teachers of English, and Teachers & Writers Collaborative.
- Meet with other teachers and local poets to talk about how to teach poetry to young people.
- Talk with your school librarian about ordering books and creating a poetry book display. Consider incorporating the latest National Poetry Month poster.
- Order a poetry anthology or other poetry books for your class.
- Attend poetry readings in your community.
- Contact your state arts council or your local literary center.
- Reread some favorite poems.
- Post favorite poems in faculty and staff lounges.
- Write at least one poem before beginning a unit on poetry
- Begin each class with a poem by a different poet.
- Read a poem over the public address system each morning.
- Ask students to memorize poems and then recite them from memory.
- Read poems aloud to your students.
- Organize a student poetry reading at your local library or bookstore.
- Organize a Skype poetry reading where your students can interact with students from another part of the country or world.
- Organize a field trip to a local nursing home and have students read poems to the elderly.
- Ask each student to create his or her own anthology of favorite poems.
- Introduce a new poetic form each week and give examples of poems that use—or reinvent—the form.
- Publish student poetry in your school newspaper or magazine, or on your website.
- Publish a special anthology of student poems.
- Create a school poem and ask each student to contribute one line.
- Give students a list of words and ask them to create a poem using those words.
- Invite students to write poems in response to their favorite poems (or to news stories, songs, TV shows, or artworks).
- Encourage students to write in the voice of someone else—a parent, friend, or teacher.
- Have your students discuss several works by a specific poet by comparing and contrasting his/her poems.
- Hold poetry workshops where students discuss one another‘s work.
- Have your students write short poems, put them in balloons, and set them free.
- Have students write a poem in the style of a particular poet.
- Create and send poetry greeting cards to celebrate National Poetry Month.
- Challenge students to create a poetry notebook and write one poem per day for every day in April.
- Participate in National Poem in Your Pocket Day with your class.
- Film students reading their own poems or poems by others. Encourage them to share the recordings with parents and friends.
- Have students give an oral report on the poet of their choice while performing as the poet. Have the student recite some of the poet‘s work.
- Plan a field trip to a local poetry site (a poet‘s former home, gravesite, etc.)
- Invite local poets to your school for readings, workshops, or discussions, or ask poets from different parts of the country to talk to your class via Skype.
- Have your class vote on five poems to hand out in the cafeteria.
- Decorate the classroom or the school with illustrated poems and pictures of poets.
- Hold a poetry exchange day with poems wrapped as gifts.
- Encourage your local newspaper to sponsor a contest for student poets.
- Organize a poetry contest for teachers and administrators and select students to act as judges.
Success Stories from Past Years
The schools that had the greatest success during National Poetry Month were those in which individual teachers and librarians developed creative ways of making poetry a more important and visible part of daily life in school.
- Rye Country Day School (Rye, NY)—Inspired by Pinsky‘s Favorite Poem Project, students read aloud a favorite poem and explained its significance to them. These poems were compiled in an e-text archive. In the upper classes, students created elegies based on The New York Times obituaries. The fourth grade class performed “Poetry in Motion” memorizing and acting out poems. They created a poetry wall where their poems could be displayed. They also made a “living poetry anthology” posting famous poems in various locations throughout the halls. Students’ original works were gathered into a school anthology.
- Miss Hall‘s School (Pittheld, MA)—At morning meetings attended by the entire community, a different teacher opened with his/her favorite poem. Sophomores gathered poems to dedicate to a special person with personal comments about the poem directed to that person. The school sponsored a school-wide poetry contest of published poems to focus on the poetry and on oral presentation skills.
- (Charlotte, MI)—A residential treatment facility for juvenile offenders had a guest speaker read a favorite poem in the morning and at bedtime each day. Two residents read their own poetry at a County Board of Commissioners meeting. Residents published a book containing their poems. All guests to the facility received a copy. They held a poetry reading for members of the community and invited a local poet for a presentation and poetry workshop. Local businesses passed out poems written by residents to their customers. Customers were asked to give feedback via self-addressed stamped postcards. Placemats with residents’ poems were used at local restaurants.
- United Nations International School (New York, NY)—Poetry clubs meet for twenty minutes each week to discuss a chosen poem. After examining the Brueghel painting “Peasant Wedding” and reading William Carlos Williams’ poem of the same name, sixth through eighth graders studied a painting and wrote a poem about it. These were presented to the class and displayed on bulletin boards. A Poetry Café was held for the fifth grade classes. Parents decorated a classroom in the style of a French café and provided refreshments. Each student learned and recited a poem, in groups or individually. Seventh graders studied Lorde‘s “Hanging Fire” and wrote letters to the girl in the poem. Eighth graders discussed Carver‘s “In the Lobby of the Hotel Mayo” and wrote poems based on an event that changed their lives.
- The Gillispie School (La Jolla, LA)—A bulletin board of favorite poems from teachers decorated a classroom ceiling to floor. A Coco House Café allowed children to come in during recess and share poetry. This started two years ago during National Poetry Month and is now occurs every month. During National Poetry Month it is held every week. Students went around the community and gave out business cards with poems typed on them.
- A.D. Healey School (Somerville, MA)—Students memorize a poem a month. On “Poetry Night” a classroom is converted into a coffee house setting and students recite the poems, staged with scenery. They do a dress rehearsal for upper grades and a performance in the evening for parents and other non-students.
- (Lincoln, RI)--Students brought in songs to relate to poetry themes. They posted original and favorite poems in areas where students congregate. Students composed original poetry from artwork and photographs from shared themes.
- Centennial School (Utica, NE)—Local poets shared poetry with the kindergarten, third and fourth grade classes. They handed out bookmarks with poetry printed on them and had the children create poetry using a “name game."
- (Portland, Oregon)—Poems were posted in faculty restroom stalls for the fifth year. A “poetry supermarket” in class had students choose a “product” they like, read it to the class, and respond in writing to its special elements.
- Valencia Community College (Kissimmee, FL)—An Evening With the Poets allowed students to share their original poetry. Faculty members read their favorite poems and explained their choice.
- St. Marks Episcopal School (Houston, TX)—Students in a sixth grade class each chose a poet and memorized one to three poems to recite to the class. Then they chose another poem to “teach” to the class using theme or content, structural literary devices, or forms as a basis. They wrote original odes, couplets, or free verse poems which were compiled into their own poetry book containing ten original poems.
- (Reidsville, NC)—At 11:00 all high school classes stopped to write poetry. Ideas for methods were supplied. Every student‘s poem was posted in the halls.
- (Mill Valley, CA)—Classes in a high school viewed portions of Bill Moyers' The Language of Life videos. Students helped their teacher post poetry all over the school, in lockers and in faculty mailboxes. Open poetry readings were held once a week during lunch. The library created a poetry display “window” in the hallway. Freshman wrote poems and designed a PowerPoint slide show around them with animated type and artwork.