5 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month in the Classroom

Line drawing of a man with swirling words
Simone Golob / Getty Images

National Poetry Month, held annually in April, is the perfect time to fill your classroom with poetry. Get students excited about poetry by making connections between poetry and other subject areas, and celebrate the power of words through writing exercises and daily readings. Focus on showing students  how to both analyze and enjoy poetry—after all, the goal of National Poetry Month is to get students excited about the written word.

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Share a Daily Poem

Make poetry part of your daily classroom routine. Resources like PoetryMinute (which compiles student-friendly poems that can be read in one minute) and Poetry 180 (which provides a "Poem a Day for American High Schools" make integrating poetry into your students' lives a no-brainer. 

Older students may enjoy hearing from the poets themselves. Seek out audio or video recordings of live readings, or one-on-one interviews with poets. Engaging with the poet's ideas off the page will help students connect with the poems themselves..

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Find Patterns in Poems

Noticing patterns in poetry helps students develop skills that across multiple subject areas.

For example, Math Practice Standard 7 requires students to "look closely to discern a pattern or structure.” English language educators can help students develop and apply pattern-finding skills through poetry.

Select a few classical poems that adhere to strict patterns of form and meter, then ask students to read each poem closely in order to identify those patterns. Christopher Marlowe's poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is a good starting point, as it features six stanzas of quatrain verse with a predictable a-a-b-b pattern

"Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields."

With practice, students will be able to spot increasingly complex patterns in language– a skill that they can transfer directly to math class when seeking patterns within sets of data or interpreting word problems.

Naturally, pattern-finding exercises can also be used to develop the craft and structure competencies outlined in the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards. 

 

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Consider Grammar in a New Context

Call attention to the role of grammar in poetry in order to discuss traditional grammar rules in a new context. 

In her poems, Emily Dickinson often capitalized common nouns and used dashes instead of commas to indicate sudden shifts in focus. Her poem  #320 "There's a Certain Slant of Light” is characteristic of her short verse:

"There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –"

Students should analyze how Dickinson’s intentional break from the rules of grammar draws attention to specific words, and what effect this rule-breaking has on the poem.

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Write Original Poems

Writing poetry sharpens students' powers of observation. Encourage their creativity by offering multiple writing exercises featuring a variety of poetic forms:

  • Acrostic. Acrostic poems are structured so that the first letter of each line spell out a word. Invite students to select a single word as the topic of their poem (i.e. "family" or "summer"), then write a line that begins with each letter of that word. 
  • Haiku. A haiku is a short, unrhymed poem that originates from the Japanese poetic tradition. Haikus are three lines long; the lines are five syllables, seven syllables and five syllables respectively. Haikus are good poems for practicing descriptive language. Ask students to write a haiku that vividly describes a certain object, feeling, or event.
  • Limerick. A limerick is a five-line rhyming poem with a distinct pattern: AABBA. Limericks are generally witty in tone; students may enjoy writing brief, fictional tales in limerick form.

Through these exercises, students will discover that these "strict" poetic forms are not as limiting as they may initially seem. In fact, the rules of poetic structure often allows students to find new ways to express themselves.

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Respond to Poetry Through Ekphrasis

Ekphrasis refers to any work of art created in response to another work of art. Bring ekphrasis into your classroom by inviting students to read a poem and produce a creative response (rather than a standard analytic one).

This exercise works especially well with image-rich poems.  For example, the concrete poem  [in Just-] by e.e.cummings eschews traditional grammar and instead offers up a series of distinct yet abstract images, all of which are ripe for student interpretation:

"in Just-

spring          when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

and eddieandbill come

running from marbles and

piracies and it's

spring"

Alternatively, ask students to respond to an image by producing an ekphrastic poem based on what they see.  

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