I like poetry, but teaching it to teenagers is akin to drinking hamster urine...until now. Introduce your poetry unit with a poetry awareness poll and an independent reading assignment.
Message to new English teachers--whenever a student asks you to read a poem he or she wrote, try to change the subject or pretend you're busy. If that fails, tell them you have a lot of papers to grade and to bring the poems back the next day. If they remember, put them on your desk, let them sit for a week, give them back, and mention the poem's potential and how nice the poems were, even though they're hackneyed verses of trite expressions involving love, anger, chocolate, and depression.
Whatever you do, don't read them unless you've taught poetry lesson plans like the one I'm about to share with you.
How do I Introduce Poetry Unit
Many teachers have asked me, "How do I introduce poetry units?" OK, nobody's ever asked me that, but if they did, I'd share this with them:
Before unveiling your poetry lesson plans on Frost or Donne, or Shakespeare, or Seuss, try a unit on poetry introduction. Begin with a poetry awareness poll:
- Name five, living twentieth-century American (or British) poets.
- Name five, dead twentieth-century American (or British) poets.
- Name five pre twentieth-century poets (they're all dead).
Recall one poem you liked. If you remember any lines from it, write them down.
- Have you ever written a poem for yourself? Why or why not?
- Have you ever written or shared a poem with someone else? Why?
- Have you ever heard poetry read live?
- Would you know where to go to hear live poetry?
Do you have a favorite poet (rock musicians don't count)? Who?
- Do you have a favorite musician/poet (rock musicians do count) Who?
- What is poetry?
- How do you feel about poetry?
You will see a lot of unanswered questions. Most students cannot name 5 poets--nor can most adults. Poetry for them is something taught in English class.
Note: I borrowed these questions long ago from an article in a book I can no longer find in print. If you can get a copy, it's well worth the effort: Gorrell, Nancy. "Poetry to Engage the Person." Literature and Life. Ed. Patricia Phelan. National Council of Teachers of English, 1990. pp. 35-43.
Lesson Plan Procedures
- Answer and discuss the above questions.
- Distribute a poem anthology. It doesn't matter which one. Just make sure all students have access to the same poems. If your school does not have enough poem anthologies, go to the library.
Instruct students to browse through the poems and select the following:
- the most beautiful poem
- the most shocking poem
- the most emotive poem
- the most thought-provoking poem
- the most childish poem
- the most humorous poem
- the most ________ poem (add your own category)
Assign students to groups of four and have them discuss their discoveries with each other. The discussion should include:
- a classification of what makes a poem beautiful, shocking, emotive, etc.
- why they chose each poem as the "most."
- Instruct groups to choose one poem for each category. They must come to a consensus.
- Write their opinions on the board.
- Begin a class argument.
As you might imagine, these poetry lesson plans will be used over several days. I'll let you decide how many.