Poetry Explorations & Celebrations

It’s April and English teachers and media specialists across the country are celebrating National Poetry Month with their students. Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are all bubbling over with ideas and resources, so to add to the mix, I’ve pulled together a list of my favorite activities from years past. It doesn’t come with pictures, anchor charts, or tik toks, but it’s a good list, and all the ideas are classroom-tested, teacher- and student-approved:

Children’s Poetry Books: Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog is my all-time favorite poetry lesson. I wrote about how I use it to encourage my students to try their hand at writing poems on their own a few years ago. More recently, when I taught a Leadership Skills class, I even worked it into a unit on the Habit of Mind “Creating, Imagining, and Innovating.”

I’ve also used children’s books to help students learn to analyze poetry. Nikki Grimes’s My Man Blue provides an excellent opportunity to teach students to make inferences and justify their interpretations with text evidence. Students love the story and are amazed at how much of a story can be told through short poems. I’ve written up my entire lesson plan and created a template here.

Books in Verse: Speaking of telling stories through poetry, there are so many good young adult books told in verse. I think the first one I remember reading was Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Like students, I appreciate how you can cover a lot of ground in a short period of time with these books. I wrote about some by Kwame Alexander and Jason Reynolds that appeal especially to boys in this post; Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X is my current favorite, and although I haven’t taught it myself, the teachers I work with say that it’s a hit with all the students who read it. Novel in verse is such a popular genre now, I’d think that your media center may have enough different titles you could do an independent reading unit focused on these books, or if you’re lucky enough to have sets in your school, too (or a budget to buy them), they’ll make great book club titles.

A Poem A Day: It’s hard to believe Poetry 180 has been around for over 20 years, but it’s still one of my favorite aspirations–to share a poem a day with students. One year, I almost did it. Now, I sneak them in whenever I can, and many of the poems on this list have been shared across many years. “Football” by Louis Jenkins is a fall favorite and “Gee, You’re So Beautiful That It’s Starting to Rain” is one to bring some light on the day report cards come out. Of course, Billy Collins’s own “Introduction to Poetry” is an excellent introduction to any poetry unit. (Looking for a lesson? Try this one.)

Quickwrites: One of my most successful ways of sneaking in poetry work is through Quickwrites. We have so much fun reading, writing, and sharing our poems, no one even realizes all the reading and writing practice we’re getting.

The Classics: As much as I love poetry for poetry’s sake, as English teachers, we need to make sure we offer our students the chance to explore the classics. Reading and studying Spoon River Anthology or Emily Dickinson’s poetry will provide students the confidence to tackle the poetry on standardized tests and as well as an understanding of the foundations from which today’s poetry springs. Both of these projects allow teachers the chance to introduce the poet and his/her poetry, but give the students a chance to really dig in and explore other poems on their own (or in small groups).

And, finally, a Gift for You: If you haven’t already downloaded it, please take a look at this list of questions to help you help your students get more comfortable thinking and talking about poetry. It’s been downloaded from TpT over 19,500 times, and countless teachers have shared their positive experiences with these questions. You’ll find you can use the questions any time you’re teaching poetry, and doing so will help your students think a little deeper AND find joy as they “waterski across the surface” of a poem.

Happy National Poetry Month!

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