Poetry and spring go together like fresh flowers and rich soil. April is National Poetry Month and as the school year tends to wind down in the spring, it is an excellent time to dive into poetry. I have enjoyed teaching poetry to elementary students all the way to high school seniors during my career. I have found 9 ways to help students love poetry!
Reading and writing poems can be an enjoyable and creative experience as well as an outlet for social and emotional learning. Poetry doesn’t have to be scary to teach, nor does it have to be overwhelming or boring for students. Poetry is beautiful to read, and because there are so many different types of poetry out there, students can let their creativity abound as they explore this form of literature.
1. Read, read, and read all the poems!
One of the best ways to get students excited about poetry is to begin by reading some popular poems that’ll make them see how fun poetry can be! Some of the poems I have read over the years that students have loved the most are written by Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky. I always start with a light-hearted poet that can elicit some great laughs. Here are some poems I have found students, both elementary to middle school, have loved the most!
- Sick by Shel Silverstein
- Messy Room by Shel Silverstein
- Homework by Jack Prelutsky
- Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens by Jack Prelutsky
- Super Samson Simpson by Jack Prelutsky
Once students see how light-hearted and fun poetry can be, then you can slowly introduce more serious poems. The best way to introduce students to poetry is just by reading it aloud to them!
2. Write Poetry Freely!
Before teaching the requirements and technical aspects of poetry such as rhyme scheme, meter, and rhythm, I like to just give students the chance to write their own poems freely. Their poems can rhyme or not rhyme. They can be short or lengthy. They can tell a story, or they do not have to make any sense.
By giving them creative license to write how they view and perceive poetry, students are more receptive once some guidelines are put in place for more required poetry writing later on. Students can also see how fun writing can be when I excitedly praise their poem about an elephant eating cotton candy or the family who lived in the sand castle.
By giving creative license, I’ve seen students write the funniest poems and also the most serious and emotional ones. Free writing poetry without any rules can be an amazing social and emotional outlet for students, especially those who have a harder time expressing themselves verbally.
Give no boundaries to poetry writing at first. Can you imagine putting Dr. Seuss in a box with his writing? We wouldn’t have his creative books today.
3. Use the Great Outdoors!
Give students a poem journal or a poetry packet and take them outside into the beautiful spring weather. Have them write poems about what they see, smell, and hear when they’re outside in spring. By being outside in nature, inspiration strikes readily. If a student struggles with this, then give them one word to focus their spring poem on such as wind, tulips, grass, etc.
Nature is stress relieving and calming. I remember vividly the times our teacher took us outside for a lesson. It’s always a good idea to get out into nature and breathe in some fresh air, especially to glean inspiration to write a poem.
4. Start Small
As you move into having students write various poems, start small and then move on with more poem requirements. For instance, after free writing poems, challenge students to tackle simple cinquains, acrostics, and haikus, poems with various rules to follow. Make sure to read lots of examples beforehand and during the process!
Move onto limericks and shape poems. I’ve even had high schoolers thrilled to write shape poems and they came up with the neatest pieces.
Black-out poetry is so fun too as students take a piece of writing from literature and blackout various words using black sharpies. This can even be accomplished digitally on Google Slides of Canva. The words that are left form a poem. Students then can even illustrate the poems on the same paper. Some of my students have created a picture out of the words left. Creativity knows no bounds with poetry.
As students conquer the guidelines of various poems such as the 5, 7, and 5 syllable rule of haikus, let them venture onto more challenging free verse. For instance, students can write a poem about anything they’d like but it must have at least 10 lines and be rhymed. By giving guidelines, some students are challenged to write more and explore their capabilities. As students conquer 10-line poems, then move on to reading ballads and challenging students to write a 20-line poem about a story. By starting small and moving onto more rigorous guidelines, students will be surprised as their poetry skills expand.
5. Poetry Jam
I have hosted a couple of classroom poetry jams in my day and it’s always so fun. Students work hard on a poem or two. We gather around as they read their poem aloud on a stool. We have hot cocoa, or when I taught high school, coffee. I lower the lights and put on a cozy background ambiance on the projector. I especially love the Spring in Paris Outdoor Coffee Shop ambiance on Youtube.
We snap our fingers instead of clapping, and we tell each student something we loved about their poem.
Poetry jams are the culmination of all of their hard work and can come at the end of a poetry unit. It’s inspiring for students to hear their peer’s poems and it’s so life-giving to have fun while reading and reciting our own written work.
6. Poem in My Pocket Day
Poem in My Pocket Day is April 27th this year. It is such a neat concept! This day officially began in April 2002 by the Office of the NYC Mayor, in conjunction with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Education. It first began as a way to highlight the love of poetry during National Poetry Month.
More information on this day can be found here:
On this day, individuals pick a poem that means a lot to them, carry it in their pocket, and share it with others. Perhaps you can have your Poetry Jam take place on Poem in My Pocket Day and students can share their pocket poems as well. Encourage your students to participate in this unique day. Require them to carry a poem in their pocket and read it aloud to one other peer at school or one adult that day.
It’s a unique way to celebrate poetry and feel like a unit of bards as the whole nation celebrates it.
7. Slam Poetry
Slam Poetry is a form of poetry that has captivated my former middle and high school students. This type of poetry is performance poetry. Students write poems and perform them with energy, emotion, and even audience participation. It is equal parts writing and drama. Once written, these poems are memorized like an actor memorizes lines and is performed like a one-man show. Slam Poetry also involves competition with thousands of Slam Poetry contests all over the world.
Slam Poetry is written with the idea in mind that this will be performed. Special words are chosen that will elicit audience reaction. The spoken word and art of fluency is the focus. Slam Poetry can be serious or even garner laughs.
Showing students various slam poetry examples can inspire them to write and perform their own. Perhaps, you could host a Poetry Slam Jam.
Even elementary students can participate in writing and performing Slam Poetry. Students simply write a poem based on their passion, memorize it, practice it, and perform it. A student can write a poem about their love of horses, their favorite sport, or even their favorite pastime. The key is to have students write about something they’re passionate about. Slam Poetry is not only a creative outlet, but it also teaches so many standards in the process.
Viewing slam poetry is the best way to get students motivated to write their own. Just a bit of warning: A lot of slam poetry online needs to be viewed first and is more appropriate for middle and high school students.
Some of my former middle schoolers especially liked this one about the various hard aspects of being a middle schooler. Slam poetry can be an excellent social/emotional outlet for students as they perform their emotions.
8. Free Verse Novels
Another way to truly learn and appreciate poetry is to explore free-verse novels. These are books and stories written in a poem-form. My most reluctant readers especially fall in love with free-verse books. They are a tad easier to read and not as intimidating as there’s less words on a page. Free-verse books are some of the most moving stories I’ve ever read. Here are some of our favorites for elementary to middle school students.
Grab a couple to read today.
- Love that Dog by Sharon Creech
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
- Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
- Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
When I taught elementary school, I utilized a large paper tree on my wall to display students’ poems. In the middle, I wrote “Our Poe-Tree,” and placed their published poems on the branches and leaves. It was a great way to show off students’ writing. I also used it as a way to highlight interesting and funny poems I thought students would enjoy. I often found students gathering around it and reading the various poems during snack time.
A “Poe-tree” can be used in the middle and high school classroom as well! Add some twinkle lights for ambiance and for a more grown-up look!
Here is an affordable tree decal for walls:
These nine ways to teach poetry will surely inspire your students to love reading and writing poems of their own. By utilizing poetry in the classroom, students can fall in love with another form of literature and enhance their writing skills in the process.