If you ask five different people to answer the question “What is poetry?” you will likely get five very different responses. Many students (and adults) find poetry intimidating, difficult to understand and even more difficult to write. Because of this perception, students may avoid poetry altogether.
On the Concordia University Nebraska blog, composition teacher Caitrin Blake writes that “reading and writing poems is actually a great strategy for supporting literacy instruction.” She has found that it boosts language acquisition and helps students develop speaking and writing skills. Focusing on rhyming, spelling and phonics helps students understand that language is both an oral and written form of expression.
Studying poetry will equip students to use it as a new mode of expression and an opportunity to demonstrate their comprehension of different subjects. Poetry can be used outside of English class to express the student’s understanding and mastery of other subjects.
Understanding poetry is a personalized activity and helps teach critical thinking. Whatever the topic may be, students develop the ability to relate the experience of a poem to their own experiences. Reading aloud or performing an original poem gives students the experience to develop their speaking skills as well as their writing skills.
Why Bring Poetry Into the Classroom?
There are (at least) five reasons why we need poetry in schools, according to Elena Aguilar, teacher, coach, and leader in education for Edutopia, a George Lucas Educational Foundation blog. According to Aguilar:
1. Poetry helps students “paint sketches of their lives” and allows them to break rules and find their voices.
2. The rhythm and musical quality of poetry can communicate even to people who don’t understand all the words or meaning.
3. Poetry lends itself to being read aloud, helping to encourage speaking publicly and listening.
4. Students who are learning English can take the freedom that poetry gives them to use words they know and express their voices even if their vocabulary is limited.
5. Poetry fosters social and emotional learning and gives students ways to talk about difficult and unexplainable things in life.
Poetry Gives Students a Voice
On the National Literacy Trust blog, Erin Barnes, Schools Project Manager for Picture the Poet, talks about how poetry can help students become engaged and how it benefits their writing in other areas of the curriculum. This program in the UK has shown that “poetry crosses boundaries that little else can. It allows pupils to put language to use and to find a voice that many have never shown in their written work before but which gives them confidence and freedom.”
Using Bibliomancy to Prompt Creativity
Sometimes all that is needed to pique the imagination of a student is a prompt. Ariel Sacks, an 8th grade English teacher, likes to have her students write a poem predicting the future using bibliomancy. She shared an exercise that she uses in which she has students each think of an important question about the future. Then she has them choose a book at random and open it to a random page, close their eyes and place a finger on the page. They write down the word that is closest to their finger, and repeat that process with five more books. When they have six words, they use the words to answer their question about the future with a poetic prophecy. Their questions and the way they incorporate their six random words into their poetry sometimes produces startling results while opening a door to creativity.
Tools to Incorporate Poetry into the Classroom
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) blog has explored the topic of the role of poetry in literacy learning. Not only can short poetry exercises fill gaps in daily lesson plans with a minimum amount of preparation, they can also be integrated into other subject areas. The NCTE provides a link to some great handouts with teaching tips, online resources, and ready-to-share poems about math, science, social studies, the arts, PE and sports.
The Center for Teaching Quality maintains a blog that seeks to “connect, ready, and mobilize teacher leaders to transform our schools.” Ariel Sacks shares a lesson she uses with middle school students to help them generate their own poetry. She creates six different stations, each with its own exercise to help spark creativity. After reviewing all six, students get to choose which exercise they want to use to help them generate a full-length poem. The stations are Picture Poetry, Listening Poetry, Objects Poetry, Stolen Lines Poetry, Letter Poems, and Cinquains. While she uses this in English class, it’s an exercise that lends itself to any subject.
Helping Students Learn in Ways that Prose Can’t
While essay writing is a skill all high school students need to master, they also need to learn that literature should be mystifying. Poetry is perfect for teaching that it is not always necessary to “solve” literature.
High school literature teacher Andrew Simmons sums it up in his article for The Atlantic. “Students who don’t like writing essays may like poetry, with its dearth of fixed rules and its kinship with rap. For these students, poetry can become a gateway to other forms of writing. It can help teach skills that come in handy with other kinds of writing — like precise, economical diction, for example.” After learning the rules of grammar and writing conventions, poetry can help students learn how poets do — and do not — abide by them for effect.
Learn more about the CSUSM online MA — General Option Degree with a Focus in Literacy program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.