Teaching Poetry: A Better Way

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As a poet, I’m not shy about sharing my own poems for teaching purposes in the classroom, and if you teach, you shouldn’t be, either. Yes, my work is published, but that doesn’t matter. I shared my poems before I was published, and you can, too.

Students like seeing their teacher’s own work, and it’s even better when they see you write parts of it while hearing your thinking as you make decisions and changes. Using your own work personalizes poetry and allows you to casually speak its language , too (e.g. “I used imagery and alliteration here when I described the dog’s food as being ‘bland and brown’.”)

I like to use a template when students are just beginning to practice the unwinding of poetry’s mysteries. Students like routine, especially with something concrete to hold onto, until they’ve built more confidence and become more adept at analysis on their own.

My routine goes like so:

  1. I hand out a poem and the template (provided via link below).
  2. I read the poem aloud not once but twice to emphasize the importance of multiple readings.
  3. I ask students to silently read it a third time before they begin to individually mark the poem up using the bullet points on the template (note that looking up any unknowns words–whether done by the teacher to start or individually by students–is a must).
  4. Once everyone has completed instructions in the template, I read the poem aloud AGAIN just before students form groups to share highlights of their mark-ups and the thesis statements they came up with (as if they were going to write a literary analysis of their own on the poem, although they are not– that’s for later).
  5. I instruct students to write a NEW thesis statement after discussion, one cobbled together by the group, one based on new realizations from their conversation, one that may be a composite of their individual ones or something completely novel.
  6. Students write their group theses on the board OR share them with me on the computer (I use Google docs) so I can put them on the SMARTBOARD screen for all to see.
  7. Each group challenges weaknesses in each others’ theses, and groups either defend or concede points. This is less intimidating than you think because it is the work of GROUPS and not individuals.
  8. After the activity, a final thesis is agreed upon by all the students in the room and written on the board by the teacher, who may encourage further changes or not as he or she writes by saying, “But what about…?” and/or “Does this statement apply to ALL of the poem or only part of it?” And so forth.
  9. At this point, in the practice phase slated for numerous weeks, an essay is not written. This activity is meant to encourage fun through repetition and a combination of individual and group work. You may do it once or twice a week, counting on it to fill up an entire class if done right (assuming 45-60 mins.).
  10. The eventual goal? Students marking up their own poems and writing their own thesis and essay for a grade. Teachers often go here too soon. Using the template and many poems as practice leads to greater success.

In the attachment below, you will find

  • the template for poetry analysis
  • four poems of mine I have used successfully in the classroom along with my own “Teacher’s Notes” and comments about instruction
  • a list of 18 other poems I have used from Lost Sherpa of Happiness and The Indifferent World

Please note that this template can be used with any poems used in your classroom. If you have a textbook, however, do not be confined to that. There’s too much great poetry around. Find good poems. Write your own! Then have your students write and share with each other!

I once had students write analyses of each other’s poems and trust me when I say they did their best to make them good (knowing this in advance) and were tickled pink to read writing which deemed THEIR writing important enough to be analyzed.

Poetry Mark-Up Template and Example Poems

 

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