April is National Poetry Month. Most of us teach poetry at some time, for some reason. Whether it’s nursery rhymes for essential pre-reading skills for the littlest students or sonnets for the AP exam, rhymes to help remember math facts or opportunities to express emotion in acceptable forms, most of us teach poetry in some sense.
Few of us have the luxury of teaching it as it probably ought to be taught, with love and care and creativity. Especially by the time we get to April, we are probably trying to cross things off the list of leftover frameworks and cram some poetry-related vocabulary into the students’ heads in case it’s on the test. Still, we should try to take some time to celebrate or at least acknowledge National Poetry Month.
First, visit Poets.org (request a free poster if you haven’t yet — there may be some left) and see all kinds of stuff from an iPhone app to teaching ideas.
Now here are our favorite lesson plans for National Poetry Month:
You have to read poetry during National Poetry Month. If it isn’t a law, it should be. Here are some books of poetry to consider:
- The Random House Book of Poetry for Children if you can only have one book of poetry. 572 poems from William Blake to Mary Ann Hoberman with lots in between.
- The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury is more limited (20th century only) but still a very nice collection.
- Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou
- Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost
- Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes
- Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson
- Where the Sidewalk Ends 30th Anniversary Edition: Poems and Drawings
- Read and Understand Poetry, Grades 5-6+
Read these and other poems aloud. Have people come in and read poetry aloud. Have students read poetry aloud, after practicing. Have older classes go and read poetry to younger classes.
When you feel sufficiently steeped in poetry, choose one poem and have students analyze it:
- Show the poem on your board or screen, or write it on chart paper so everyone can see it.
- Have students identify the rules of normal language that are broken by the poem.
- Have students identify the special things used in the poem (such as rhyme and alliteration) that make it clear that it is a poem.
- Rewrite the poem as an ordinary statement. Discuss the difference in the effect of the poem and of the prose.
I like to start with Magnetic Poetry. Just pull it out and let kids build some poetry on a filing cabinet or on some cookie sheets.
- Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem by Jack Prelutsky is a great resource.
- Poetry Lessons – Everything You Need: A Mentor Teacher’s Lessons and Select Poems That Help You Meet the Standards Across the Curriculum–and Teach Poetry With Confidence and Joy has a ridiculously long title, it’s true, but it really does have everything you need to teach poetry in the traditional way. From metaphor to meter, this book has it all.
Choose a variety of poetic forms, such as haiku, cinquains, limericks, and sonnets, and challenge students to write one poem each week of the month. Collect them on your bulletin board or in a class poetry book.
Create with Poetry
Let students choose a favorite poem, or one they’ve written, and create a poster with it:
Here’s our poster:
You can download it for your class:
Take it a step further and encourage students to make their poem poster into a three-dimensional object: a mobile, a pencil cup, or a crown could be fun.
Other poetry lesson plans:
- Commercial Jingles are a common use of poetry in our culture. Examine this type of “poem” from multiple perspectives.
- Some say that reading poetry has been replaced by poetry in/as popular music. Yet poetry has been enjoyed as part of music for many years. Study ballads and compare with hip hop or other modern music forms popular with your students.
- Study the Blues as poetry.
- Yeats’s poem He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven is a good choice for the first serious poem to study.