A Student-Driven Introduction to Poetry
Just mention the word poetry in a high school classroom and you’re likely to get one of two reactions: audible groaning and the inevitable “You’re not gonna make us write poems, are you?” question. The initial reaction is usually followed quickly by some comment about how “no one” really understands that stuff, anyway. Of course, students are great connoisseurs of lyric poetry (as evidenced by their vast knowledge of song lyrics and a multi-billion dollar music industry which targets young adults as its primary audience).
Why not tap into the expertise that students already possess to review/introduce poetic conventions? Not only does it prepare them for tackling the challenges of literary poetry, it gives them a measure of confidence that alleviates the uncertainty that most students feel as they approach a unit of poetry study.
Poetic Conventions Storyboards
This activity is ideal for the introduction to poetry and can be adapted for specific poetic styles or periods, such as imagist poetry. Students review common poetry terminology and research familiar lyric poems (AKA songs) to cite and discuss these examples. As my students are learning to manipulate the features on their laptop computers, I use a Pages Storyboard template to help them produce a presentation vehicle for their findings. Presentation software such as Pages or Power Point also lend themselves well to this assignment. I prefer Storyboard because it contains placeholders for graphic elements and spacing for brief explanations. I do not use sound clips for this assignment as students tend to get caught up in playing music rather than analyzing it.
Use the Storyboard template to find examples of poetic elements in a song (or multiple songs) that you find particularly moving/deep/poetic. In other words, look for language-rich lines from songs, whether current or oldies. You may pull examples from any genre you wish, keeping in mind that this is an academic assignment and any lyric samples you glean must be appropriate for classroom use.
Here’s what to do:
- Your storyboard template has 8 “boxes” for your examples. For each “box”, identify the line, song, artist, and poetry term the line represents. Import a clipart image (NOT the band) that represents the MESSAGE of the line.
- Use 8 DIFFERENT poetry terms from the list below. It’s okay to find your samples from various musical sources. Be prepared to explain the definition of your poetry term choices as you present your examples as well as how your clipart represents the imagery of the line.
Poetry Terms List
Duration/Evaluation: One class meeting for “research” and up to half a class meeting for presentations. I usually score this assignment as a participation-style grade with students receiving full credit for completion of the assignment and group share.
As students present their findings, expect and encourage classmates to chime in as they “reminisce” about songs they enjoy and offer further examples of the devices. By the end of the presentation sequence, your students will have taught each other the terms and will be prepared to embark on their study of poetry with measurably less wailing and gnashing of teeth.