Poetry gives us a way to freely express our deepest thoughts, longings, curiosity, memories, and much more. So much of what we want our students to know and apply when they write in any genre is teachable through reading and examining poetry. Unfortunately, however, poetry is often neglected in the reading-writing curriculum, despite the benefits!
Regie Routman, in her book Literacy Essentials, offers nine ways to take action and fit more poetry into your instruction that will benefit your students beyond reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Do More Poetry Reading and Writing
Since many poems are short, they are excellent texts to use as writing exemplars and for rereading for fluency, analysis, and enjoyment. Immerse your students in free-verse poetry, notice and chart what poets do, and write poems together before students write their own. You might want to also consider expanding poetry writing beyond language arts into other content areas.
Begin Each Day with a Poem
At the start of each day or class, read aloud a short poem that either a student or you have selected. It’s a relaxing, engaging way to start the day or period. Reading or discussing poetry for pleasure—not for testing or assessment—can be very enjoyable.
Rely on Free-Verse Poetry
Most of the poetry in the world is non-rhyming, free-verse poetry. Rhyming poems are actually much harder for our students to write because so much energy goes into searching for the “right” rhyming word, often resulting in contrived, stilted poems.
Avoid Overanalyzing Poems
Poetry is personal. Our own reactions to and interpretation of a poem are valid. Be cautious about coming to group consensus on what a poem means. Regie recommends keeping the focus on personal expression; an author’s craft, such as unique use of language and form; impact on the reader; and enjoyment.
Encourage Rap, Hip-Hop, and Songs
Encourage students to take their love of music and create their own poetic forms—whether it’s rap, hip-hop, free verse, or their own original form. Regie suggests trying out cyphers with students standing in a circle and taking turns contributing to the lines of a poem or a rap, one at a time. Collaborate with students to create unique forms.
Write a Poem in Front of Students
Writing poetry is not a perfect process. Regie recommends not writing a poem out ahead of time and then presenting it as a perfect process. Prepare ahead by thinking about what you might want to say, jot down a few notes, and then have at it. When we take this approach, students see the honesty of our struggle and our willingness to be seen as imperfect, which makes them more willing to take writing risks.
Read Aloud Early Drafts of Poems
Rereading poems or any writing is an effective way to improve oral fluency, emphasis, and expression. Reading aloud writing we’ve done affords us the opportunity to hear how the language sounds and whether or not we want or need to change words and phrases to get the rhythm we want, the lyrical feel, the intended meaning, and so on.
Encourage Poetry Writing as a Presentation
Poetry can be themed around any topic you are studying, e.g., endangered species, human rights, etc. Use poetry writing and other poetic forms as a vehicle for demonstrating what students have learned. Encourage middle and high school students to write free-verse nonfiction on issues that matter to them. Hold a poetry reading for families and other classrooms, thereby increasing the audience and sense of purpose for the poetry writing.
Create a Poetry Anthology
Poems by published authors—well-known poets and peers—can inspire students to write their own. Regie suggests putting together with students a classroom poetry anthology and make a second copy as a model for future classes.
To expand on these ideas and get new ones on practicing ENGAGEMENT, EXCELLENCE, and EQUITY for ALL students in your school, pick up a copy of Literacy Essentials and start creating a school-wide culture of lifelong learners.