When I first started teaching, I avoided holiday-themed lessons and fun, thinking it would help to establish my position of authority. Luckily, after three years of trying to be the stern high school teacher, I moved to middle school. Whether it was the younger kids, a relaxed sense of urgency in the curriculum, or just that I was a more experienced teacher, I felt more comfortable bringing fun into the classroom. I learned the truth of the old adage about gathering more flies with honey. When I moved back to high school three years later, there was no turning back. The Poem-A-Day activity I posted about in August, provides a great chance to show your students that it’s possible for a text to be both fun and complex–just like their English teachers!
Here are a few of my favorite poems for this time of year:
“Halloween” by Mac Hammond. A little spooky, lots of imagery, and a deep thought at the end.
“Unconditional Day” by Julie Lechevsky. Each year, I wonder about sharing this one—sometimes I don’t like to teach tough topics—but rarely do we ever get that deep into our analysis for these quick Poem-A-Day activities. If someone asks questions, it gives me a chance to say, honestly, “I’m not sure; what do you think?” and then we can have a real conversation to figure it out together.
The witches’ spell at the beginning of Act 4 in Macbeth provides a chance to introduce a classic and have a little fun, too. The Folger Shakespeare’s Shakespeare Set Free series has a choral reading lesson for this spell, including sound effects—blowing winds, hooting owls, and howling dogs.
I love bilingual poems—especially when I have speakers of the other languages in my classroom to help translate! “Dia de los Muertos” by Abelardo Delgado is included in Cool Salsa. Bilingual poems help involve students who might otherwise be quiet, and many, like this poem, can help explain cultural beliefs and traditions.
Although we associate his poetry with younger kids, high school students love Shel Silverstein. He has a lot of short, fun poems that helped me fill my board on days when I really didn’t have time for a poem. While searching for a link to “The Day after Halloween” from A Light in the Attic to share here, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a new Shel Silverstein book—Everything on It—with a new Halloween poem in it: “The One Who Invented Trick or Treat.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be Halloween without a little Poe, and “The Raven” is a classic for this time of year. I would post the first stanza as my poem of the day, and then we’d dig in and really get to know the poem. I’ve put together a two-day lesson plan which gives each student the opportunity to analyze and illustrate a single stanza, culminating in a whole-group reading experience. The kids love to see how their section of the text fits in the big picture of the poem.
If we have time at the end of our sharing, I love to celebrate by doing a repeated reading of the poem with The Simpsons. It’s only a five-minute video, but you would think I had given them the whole day off. Seeing students mouth the words when the video gets to their stanza makes it all worth it!
Hope you can carve out some time this season to show your spirit, and have a little fun and a lot of learning with these poems. Bats all, folks!