How to Teach Poetry When You're Short on Time

Sure... in an ideal world, we would do all kinds of activities with poetry (if not a poetry unit, a poetry slam, or even a poem-of-the-week system).

But this year, due to some scheduling issues, I had much less time than usual to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Like, a lot less.

And worse, my students seemed very anti-poetry, so I had to incorporate some explanation of purpose and an enjoyment factor to convert as many of them as possible.

I had to adapt.

My goals were, as I told my students:
  1. To make them realize that not all poetry is, in their words, "bad" (i.e. difficult and boring)
  2. To expose them to the breadth of poetry that exists (more than just haiku and limerick), and
  3. To help them start understanding more difficult poems.
So, how could I do this in one class period (ish) that would be a positive experience?

Here's what we did:
  1. I made a few tweaks to my PPT collection of poems listed in my Poem of the Week program. 
  2. I converted my typical Poem of the Week handout to be a two-page "Intro to Poetry" assignment (described below). 
  3. In the lesson, I explained my goals, and I played/read two poems to them - "Invictus" and "Oh me, Oh life!", using the YouTube videos shown below. (I "cheated" by hooking them with two really great poems!)
  4. I shared the Poem of the Week PPT to them (via Google Drive) and set them loose. They each had to individually choose 4 poems, other than the ones I played, to read/listen to and rate on a 4-star scale, using the handout I'd given them. (We started this in class, and they finished as homework.)
  5. Out of the four they previewed, they had to choose ONE that was their favorite and analyze it on page 2 of the handout. 
  6. As a "challenge", they could write their own parody poems as extra credit. (The ones that students turned in were PRICELESS, ranging from funny to serious.)

This went REALLY, really, really well. My students appreciated having choice, getting to express opinions about the poems (and not just analyze them), and browsing through pre-screened poems from me that they "knew would be good". 

If you want to do this activity too, the short "Intro to Poetry" handout I adapted is now included in my Poem of the Week resource!

Here's Morgan Freeman reciting "Invictus" (mostly correctly):

And here's the Apple commercial that I played to accompany "Oh me, Oh life!"

More 45-Minute Poetry Options:
  • Poetry Mad Libs: Read a classic poem and then use a handy parts of speech guide to help students make their own (usually comical!) parodies. 

  • Stations: This stations activity for "The Raven" teaches students the poem in one class period (and then I can give them a quiz on it the next day to check understanding). 

What other ideas do you have?
Tell me in the comments!

1 comment

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