How To Make Poetry Accessible For All Students

Marlee, a special education teacher, shares her tips for making poetry more hands on and engaging for your students, so you can celebrate National Poetry Month in your classroom.

How to engage all students in reading poetry.

When I announce the start of our poetry unit, I am guaranteed grunts and groans from my kids. Working in a self-contained therapeutic setting, my students do not get excited about many academic units anyway, but poetry tends to really grind their gears. So that tasks me with the challenge of making the poetry unit exciting and accessible for all of my kids.

Digital Poetry

With programs like WeVideo and iMovie, students can turn their own poems (or famous poems) into a multi-sensory, multimedia experience. With these programs, students can organize images from the internet (or their own photography) with transitions and other visual effects. Students can then add music or sound effects. Most importantly, they can record themselves reading their poems as their visuals dance across the screen, creating a truly multi-modal experience for poetry instruction.

Why You Should Try This

As teachers, we place a lot of importance on students analyzing and synthesizing different texts. Digital poetry allows students to perform these important skills, but gives them another medium to do so. Digital poetry also presents us with the opportunity to share student creations with a larger audience, via a class webpage or blog.

Use Music

Analyzing poetry and analyzing lyrics develops the same skills, but students tend to respond more positively to music. One of my favorite uses of music for poetry instruction is to teach figurative language. In the past, I have started with the song “Smile” by Uncle Kracker because it has a wide range of figurative language. I pass out the lyrics and have them follow along as they listen. As a class, we annotate for figurative language. Next, they choose their own songs to investigate. Students dive right into the search for figurative language. For struggling readers, it also helps to allow them to listen to the songs.

Why You Should Try This

Common Core State Standards mention understanding and analyzing figurative language at all grade levels, and poetry presents the perfect opportunity to do so. Choosing lyrics gives the students an element of choice in their learning, which will make it more meaningful. Also, most students have at least one song that they can relate to, which creates engagement for students that would otherwise be disinterested.

Poetry Bracket Tournament

March Madness brackets meets poetry. For this activity, I expose my students to as many different poems as possible by bringing in a bin of poetry books. To fill 64-spots, each kid picks 4-ish poems, and then I choose 4. We pass out numbers 1-64 and we write the poems on the corresponding lines. Then, each day, two competitions take place; students take turns reading their poems and then the rest of the class votes on the winner - emphasizing voting for the poem, not the person. I like to have different poetic elements that we are judging each day; so one day we will be looking for the poem with the best figurative language, while another day might just be the poem that they like the best. The winning poems go onto the next spot until we are down to the final four, and eventually the winner.

Why You Should Try This

If you ask students to just read 64 poems, they are going to disengage. Because of the competitive game element of this activity, it does not feel like the standard reading task. This is a great way to expose students to tons of different poets and styles. (Blank March Madness brackets found here).

Found Poems

Found Poems give students that might otherwise struggle with writing the opportunity to be a wordsmith. Found Poetry is hands-on and multisensory, while still focusing on poetic elements. Students flip through old magazines and newspapers, and cut out words or phrases that stand out. On a piece of construction paper, students will arrange their words in a way that is meaningful to them, and glue the words down. When the poems are finished, I have students do a Gallery Walk to read each other’s poems, leaving Post-It comments for each poem.

Why You Should Try This

Many students dread poetry because they don’t feel like they are good writers, so this activity presents an alternative way to “write” a poem. This is also a hands-on activity, and the end-result looks really cool. Finally, the Gallery Walk gets students out of their seats and thinking critically about poetry.

Collaborative Poetry Writing

Collaborative poetry writing can be done using a program like Google Docs, or it can be done with a pencil and paper (or chart paper and markers). Usually, I do this lesson with an extended limerick (instead of 5-lines, we use the closest multiple of 5, depending on the number of students). Another option is to do this activity in smaller groups. Anyway, I remind my students of the format of a limerick: AABBA, lines 1, 2, and 5, having 7-10 syllables and lines 3-4 having 5-7 syllables. Then, I give each kid a number, and that number will be the line that they are responsible for. I usually give them a topic or theme to write about and then I let the madness ensue. Students usually beg to make the limerick hyper-extended because they want to keep adding to it.

Why You Should Try This

You’re killing two birds with one stone - you’re teaching them about different forms of poetry (as well as syllables and rhyming), while also working on team-building skills. This activity is also just fun and lighthearted, which will help students to associate positive, “fun,” feelings with poetry. Not to mention, your final product is guaranteed to amuse you.

Here are some additional resources for teaching students poetry: A Collection Of Poetry Activities, Reading and Defining Poetry, and Tricks Of The Trade Poetry Tips

How do you teach poetry? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Marlee Chizhevsky is a special education teacher at a therapeutic day school in Chicago. Also a certified English Language Arts teacher, Marlee has been a freelance writer since 2008. Marlee resides with her husband; cat, Q; and dog, Z.

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