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Poetry Lesson Plans for National Poetry Month

Jordan Catapano

April is National Poetry Month, and it’s the ideal time to share with your students the beauties and advantages of it with poetry lesson plans.

When it comes to students and poetry, poet Billy Collins repines in “Introduction to Poetry” that “All they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.” Most students don’t know how to enjoy a poem, how to feel a poem, or how to embrace a poem – and instead they resort to boring readings and grueling analysis. This is, in part, the teacher’s fault. What do you demand of your students when it comes to poetry?

National Poetry Month was inaugurated in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, and has since spread to include poets, schools, publishers and libraries. Like other months that feature a unique focus (Black History Month, Women’s History Month, etc.), National Poetry Month is a specially designated time of year where we as Americans focus our culture towards one subject we hold as valuable. As educators, April is the ideal time of year to feature poetry lesson plans in our classes and connect to others doing the same thing across the nation.

During National Poetry Month this year, decide what it is about poetry that you’d like to enjoy along with your students:

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  • Do you want your students to become better poetry readers or analyzers?
  • Do you want students to soak in a solid appreciation for poems?
  • Do you want students to become poets themselves?

All three of the above? No matter your objectives, consider how you can incorporate poetry into your curriculum this spring to broaden the scope of what students know and understand about this beautiful-though-underappreciated art.

Poetry Analysis and Understanding

  • Share poems that discuss aspects of what you’re already teaching. Supplement texts with poems.
  • Have students in groups discuss certain features of poems in a seminar-style format.
  • Find poetic devices – like similes, metaphors, personification, syntax and rhyme scheme – in a variety of poetry.

Poetry Appreciation

  • Read a poem a day with students, just to enjoy it.
  • Listen to different types of songs each day (since songs are like poems set to music).
  • Have students read poems on their own and share the ones they like.
  • Have a poet Skype with your class.
  • Share your own personal poems.
  • Have students make a group video acting out a poem.
  • Supplement texts with poetry written about what you are reading (i.e. a poem written by a Holocaust survivor after reading Night).

Poetry Writing

  • Host a poetry slam in your school’s library where students share their own poems.
  • Teach different poetic forms (haikus, couplets, sonnets, limericks) and ask students to imitate those styles.
  • Have students rewrite a favorite song, turning it into an imitation or a parody.
  • Select an emotion and write a poem that emphasizes that feeling.
  • Watch the news and write a poem on something that angers you.

Connect to Others

In addition to working with your students to develop an appreciation and understanding of poetry within the context of your curriculum, try exposing students to poetry beyond your classroom too. Poets.org, for example, features some unique opportunities for connection, including a poet-to-poet sharing program that connects contemporary poets – professional and amateur – together. It also hosts national Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 24, among other events.

As your students write and discover poems, encourage them to share what they find in ways they feel comfortable. While you can put their poems on display around the school, you can also encourage them to try some of these other methods of interacting with poetry:

  • Post their own poetry to a blog.
  • Post some of their newly discovered favorites to a blog and comment.
  • Write a “Twitter Haiku” – 140 character haiku posted on Twitter.
  • Tweet links to favorite or original poems.
  • Discover and comment on poetry performance videos on Youtube.
  • Write an email, Tweet, or comment to a contemporary poet.
  • Participate in a poetry reading, slam, or other poetic event.
  • Post their own poem performances or reading videos to Youtube.

There are dozens of approaches that you can take to incorporating poetry into your classroom this month. Try to take your appreciation and understanding of poetry and share it with students. It doesn’t have to be complex, arduous, or distracting. Just help students see the world from the dimension of poetry, so they won’t have to “tie it to a chair with a rope,” but rather can “waterski across the surface of a poem, waving at the author’s name on the shore.”

What have you done to teach students to value and understand poetry? What tricks can you share that have worked for you and your students? Share a comment and tell us what you think!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com