Have you ever announced to your class that you would be working on a poetry unit and all the students cheered? Yeah, me neither. Usually there are a few students that love poetry, but the groans outweigh the enthusiastic cheers. So why do so many students hate reading poetry?
Let’s be honest. Poetry has a bad rep among students, especially boys. Close your eyes and clear your mind. What are the first things you see when you think of poetry? I don’t know about you, but I saw valentines and love poems. Not exactly the most popular thing in middle grades. So how can you, as a teacher, help your students to love reading poetry? By the end of this post, you will know four steps to introducing poetry, as well as have free poetry resources including apps and classroom resources.
1. Start with Fluency
Start the year reading poetry for fun! Don’t talk about analyzing poems or figuring out their rhythms. Find some poems that appeal to your students’ interests. After reading the poems, just talk about each one and the students’ reactions to them. What mental images did they have? How did they feel about the poem? You want students to realize that poems can be interpreted differently by readers – so there really are no wrong answers!
Don’t be afraid to read well-received poems again and again. This will help students understand how poems are read. You can also add these poems to center work or other literacy activities, such as partner reading, word work, etc.
Another great place to use poetry is during those 5 minute lulls that every class has – before lunch, after recess, while you are waiting for dismissal to be called. Poetry can definitely help you fill those odd chunks of dead time.
2. Pick Your Poems Wisely
Be sure to look for poems that will grab your students’ attention at the beginning of the year. Each class has a different personality. Look for poems on topics you know are of high interest to your students. Some poets write specifically for younger readers. Some poetry books focus on specific topics – I have seen books on geography, sports, and even bees! Other poets specialize in funny poems. Use these poems to pique students’ interest in poetry.
If you are teaching older students, use song and rap lyrics to hook them on poetry. So many songs read like poetry, and they are a great hook for older kids who may not want to read funny poems aimed at lower grades. Instead of playing the songs, just read the lyrics!
A great trick to get students interested in a poem is to hide the title. Ask students to close their eyes and make mental pictures as they hear the poem. Afterwards ask them what the poem was about and see if students had different interpretations. Poems often can have different meanings to different people. This is a great way to get kids talking about poetry without them realizing it!
3. Ask Students to Share a Poem
Now that your class is hooked on poetry (okay, most of the class), ask students to share a favorite poem. Add those to the growing collection of class favorites. Students are always more interested in what their friends like than what the teacher likes. You may not get many poems at first, but once a few kids bring one in you will get more. Emphasize the poems by writing them on a cheap dry erase or chalk board and place it by the classroom door. Be sure to write on “Shared by _____” – students love seeing their name! Of course, you want to allow students to remain “Anonymous” if they prefer.
4. Introduce Elements of Poetry
Now that students are reading and sharing poetry on a regular basis, introduce poetry analysis. There are many topics that teachers can focus on, so pick topics that fit your grade level. A few examples are:
- Identify elements of poetry, such as stanzas, rhythm, and rhyme.
- Recognize the tone and mood of poem, and analyze which words affect them.
- Determine the poet’s point of view for the poem.
- Identify literary devices in poems.
5. Poetry Resources
To help you get started, here are a few great free resources:
Songs as Poems
Be sure to check lyrics before using any songs!
- Pop Inquirer wrote this great post that discusses good song selections for your poetry unit.
- Scarriet wrote another post with 100 pop songs.
- Stray Poetry has another post with 100 poetic songs.
There are a few apps that allow users to search for poems. The poems are not always aimed at younger students, so teachers should use the apps to find poems as desired. As many of the poems are classic in order to avoid copyright issues, these apps are best for middle grades and high school.
- Poemhunter – This app is easily searchable. It does have classic poems that are no longer under copyright as well as other poems. From what I could tell, it does not have any modern poems that would be under copyright.
- Poetry from The Poetry Foundation – This app has a variety of poems from classic to contemporary.
- Poetry Daily – This app has a new poem each day.