I love poems. There’s just something amazing and profound that comes from such simplicity. Perfect words, said succently.
However, not everyone shares my enthusiasm and I get that. When I first started teaching, I followed what I was taught in school–you learn poetry through a poetry unit. After many years of lackluster participation and ho-hum student-written poems, I had a change of heart.
If your students struggle with analyzing poetry, here are three tips to try.
1. Filter poetry in with a unit you are already teaching
Now when I teach poetry, I filter it in. Have a writing lesson working on figurative language and imagery? Read and discuss a poem first. They are filled with them. Teaching a novel and finding evidence to support a theme? Read and discuss a poem that focuses on the same theme. (When my students read The Secret Life of Bees, we focused on the theme of social injustice. I paired that theme with the poems “Harlem” and “I, Too,” by Langston Hughes, and “Alone” by Maya Angelou. Students made great connections and had insightful things to say.)
2. Be creative and have fun
One type of poem I tried a few years ago was Black Out Poetry. The students had so much fun with this and their poems were amazing. I was blown away at their creativity. You could complete this with a text students are reading together in class or with their independent reading book. (The following two examples are from the novel Good Morning, Midnight.)
Found Poems are also a lot of fun. Students enjoy creating a poem out of a section of text and engaging with word choice, imagery, and figurative language in a low-stakes environment. (I wish I took some pictures of student examples, but I have passed them all back. Just type in FOUND POEMS into a Google search, and you’ll see a lot of examples.)
Magnetic poetry proved popular with my 7th graders this year. I gave each pair about 20 words and they had to come up with a poem using those words. We then completed a simple gallery walk reading other groups’ poems. Through this simple exercise students also work on parts of speech, as they asked for verbs, nouns, or adjectives to swap if they didn’t have what they needed to complete the phrase or sentence in their poem.
I was in Walla Walla, Washington last year and took a walk around the lake. Imagine my surprise when I saw this poem along the route!
3. Dig deeper together
Model. Partner. Alone. Another phrase I hear often is “I do. We do. You do.” Teacher models with guided notes, students work in pairs or small groups, then students work alone.
This is a great strategy for teaching poetry analysis. I like to start with accessible poems first. Some of my favorites are Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not go Gentle into That Good Night” and Ray Bradbury’s “Remembrance.”
Annotate for figurative language and poetic devices together, then use a graphic organizer to lay out ideas in a logical fashion. After students see this a few times, they are more confident to begin this alone.
Need ideas to incorporate poetry into your lessons? Try any of these:
Linda Reif’s book 100 Quickwrites
Paul Janeczko’s book Reading Poetry in the Middle Grades
Kim Stafford’s book The Muses Among Us
NCTE Verse–if you are member of NCTE (if you aren’t, you should be!)–you’ll get a poem with examples to your inbox every day this month
All Classical’s National Poetry Month–poetry that inspires music. Ingenious idea. 🙂
You could also try either of these resources I created on Teachers Pay Teachers. I use the Poetry Analysis throughout the year and the Poetry Anthology in my creative writing class. Happy teaching!