5 Steps To Teach Poetry To High School Students You Need to Know!

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5 Steps to teach poetry to high school students that work! For Real!

Presentation about Poetry

5 Steps to teach poetry to high school students is more simple than you would think. Do you know the familiar sigh of students when they first hear the words, “we are learning about poetry today?” Typical teacher response, “When we are done with this unit, you will love poetry”. Now when I say this, I know they really will.  I will teach you 5 steps to teach poetry to high school students that will lead your students to love poetry too. If you have had similar experiences and are looking for some strategies to make poetry fun, I have 5 steps that work when it comes to teaching poetry to high school students after many years of trial and error. Below are 5 steps to teach poetry to high school students that really work! For the full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers click https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/IB-Assignment-Poetry-Presentation-6391474

1. Step 1 Out of 5 Ways to Teach Poetry: Start With Simple Grammar

I’m telling you, this really works!

Are you supposed to pause at the end of a line of poetry? The answer is no. Not without a period, comma, or other punctuation mark that signals for it. I begin by teaching students not to pause at the end of every line. Students see the end of a line and they automatically think they need to pause: making the simplest of poems near impossible to understand. In fact, many teachers do the same.  I teach students to pause when they see the comma, the hyphen, semicolon, colon and the period. Easy enough, right? This solves most of the struggle students have understanding poetry. Once students practice this skill, the rest is simple.

I review a few more easy grammar rules that they already know, and next I give them the rules for how to read their poems aloud.

How to read your poem aloud 1. Read in thought groups, not just ends of lines 2. Read loudly enough, changing your volume as needed for the thought groups and punctuation 3. Vary your rate (how fast, slow you go; emphasis) 4. Pay attention to punctuation—it signals meaning:

Period = stop, Exclamation = emotion, Question =upward inflection, Comma or dash =pause, Parenthesis =lowered voice, White space =keep going…or, pause, Capitalization =important, Colon =set up what is coming

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2. Step 2 out of 5 Ways To Teach Poetry: Model Reading the Poem

I model by reading a poem and ask them to note how the punctuation signals what I do with my voice. I use a poem that is fun and entertaining to them such as “The Egg Horror Poem” by Laurel Winter, or “Incident in a Rose Garden” by Donald Justice. I then pass out different poems while students are in small groups and students practice reading poems to each other. Once they have practiced, one student per group reads their poem out loud to the rest of the class.

3. Step 3 Out of 5 Ways to Teach Poetry: Provide Students With Engaging Poems

It’s important to provide students with poems they will connect to. The poem I read, “Egg Horror Poem” is about terrified eggs huddling together in a dark refrigerator just waiting in agonizing anticipation for the refrigerator door to open as one of them is whisked away to their death to be mixed in an omelette. In order for real engagement and learning to happen it is essential to pass out a long list of poems to choose from, allowing students time to go through and decide which poem they want to present to the class. 

A list of poems that students love:

“The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe,

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost,

“Incident in a Rose Garden, by Donald Justice

“Death” by William Butler Yeats

“My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke

Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks

“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

 “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare

 “The Gift” by Li Young Lee

“The Rose that Grew from Concrete” by Tupac Shakur

“Egg Horror Poem”, by Laurel Winter

“400 Meter Free Style” by Maxine Kumin

“Grape Sherbet” by Rita Dove

“Ode to My Socks” by Pablo Neruda

“The Seven Ages of Man” by William Shakespeare

“’Hope’ is a Thing With Feathers” by Emily Dickinson

“For Poets” by Al  Young

“A Voice” by Pat Mora

“Rosa” by Rita Dove

“from Mauda Martha” by Gwendolyn Brooks

“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

“The Sharks” by Denise Levertov

“The Sun” by Mary Oliver

 “My Father’s Song” by Simon Ortiz

“Oh What is That Sound” by W.H. Auden

“My Heart Leaps Up” by William Wordsworth

“Elegy for Giant Tortoises” by Margaret Atwood

“The Bells” by Edgar Allen Poe

“The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Tennyson

“Spring is Like a Perhaps Hand” by E.E. Cummings

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4. Step 4 Out of 5 Ways to Teach Poetry: Allow Choice and Give Challenging Assignment

Students choose and sign up for their poetry presentation. The first task in the presentations is to read the poem aloud-correctly. Second to analyze the different parts of the poem using a clear prompt and a rubric.

The analysis will begin with, source, name of poem, poet, number of lines and will also include:

List the pluses (what’s good about it) and minuses (what’s not-so-good about it)

Questions (about things you don’t understand, about things you do understand but are still thinking-about, about the value of the ideas and images and so forth, about…whatever)

Personal Connections—why you chose the poem, what matters, where is that link that spoke to you, what’s going on in the poem, why did the poet do this or that…and so forth.

Word choice—three areas here, so complete each one

•Two words I looked up and why 

•Two words I think are important to the literal (denotative) meaning of the poem

•Two words I think are important to the bigger (connotative) meaning of the poem

Structure—how is the poem organized

•Thought groupings and their role

•Punctuation and its role

•Significant pauses and their role

•Literary features and their effect (metaphors, similes, alliteration, allusions, personification, repetition etc.)

•Beginning as compared to the end and their effect

5. Step 5: Have Students Create something

The final step is having them create something that captures the “essence” of their poem. Students will paint, draw, sing, play an instrument, perform a puppet show, bake, bring in a song, sculpture, perform a mini-readers theater create a graph and more. I have had a student come in and perform a belly dance, another crank out a heavy metal song on his electric guitar, a student graph out whether or not Odysseus is a hero, and many more talented creations. This is my most favorite time of the year because they are so creative and students make a huge effort in their performance. This lesson brings the class closer together as they learn about each others similarities and differences.


*Bonus: This is a great lesson for the start of the year so you learn all those details about your students in the beginning that you usually learn in sprinkles throughout the year.

As an assessment you can give students a poem with a list of literary devices (repetition, personification, imagery, allusions, figurative language, diction, symbolism, etc.), and have them write-up a poetry analysis. I find my students are successfully able to perform this task, once they have completed their poetry presentation.

In this blog post we covered the following 5 steps to teach poetry to high school students:

  1. Start with a simple grammar review
  2. Model reading a poem
  3. Provide poem choices students can connect to
  4. Allow students to choose a poem to present
  5. Have students create a project that captures the essence of their poem.

Follow these 5 steps to teach poetry to high school students and you too, will find success!

5 Steps to Teach Poetry

How do you teach poetry? I would love to hear back in the comments below. If you enjoyed this blog post check out my https://wordpress.com/post/teacher-for-inclusion.com/367 blog post on graphic novels

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