How To Teach Poetry

Whether you're teaching kindergarteners or an adult enrichment class, a poetry lesson can be engaging for all if you take a few things into consideration first.    

  1. Examine your attitudes toward poetry.  Before your teach poetry, you must first consider your own thoughts and feelings on the subject.  Perhaps you love all things poetry, so you can do nothing but inspire students with your enthusiasm.  However, most people have at least a few biases against poetry or preconceived notions about it.  You may prefer formal, rhymed poetry and see free verse as so much nonsense.  Maybe you love the modern works of living, breathing poets, but you must be forced to read the classics.  Being aware of these tendencies will keep you from unfairly influencing the opinions of your class and can help you strive for balance in the poetry you teach.   

  • Determine your goals.  Before planning any lesson, you should determine your goals.  This is especially important with poetry, because you can take several different approaches to the subject, each requiring different preparation.
    • Enjoyment - You may simply wish for students to gain an overall appreciation of poetry, so you can plan your lessons around enjoying the poetry you read.  Have fun with the rhythm of the words, look for intriguing images, and find poems with inspiring messages and themes. 
    • Literary analysis - In many classes, poetry is studied with an eye on dissecting its meaning.  The emphasis is on identifying literary techniques like simile and metaphor and evaluating their effectiveness.  This analytical approach can sometimes hinder students' enjoyment of poetry, but such analysis is also an important skill, so finding a balance is key. 
    • Creative writing - The focus may also be on leading students to create their own poetry.  Students experiment with a variety of forms of poetry as a way of expressing themselves. However, this approach usually involves reading a wide range of poetry for inspiration.  

  • Learn the terminology.  If you're going to be discussing poetry, you need to learn the proper language.  You'll need to know the forms of poetry, from haiku to sonnet, and the techniques poets use to build their work.  If you don't feel comfortable with poetic devices and forms, look for a literary reference text.  
  • Select the poems.  Finding the right poems for a lesson is a bit of a treasure hunt.  In some situations, you'll be teaching poetry from a required text, so you won't have much say in the poems you use.  If you have a choice, start by browsing through collections of poetry at the library and bookstore.  Think back to poems you studied in school or have read for your own enjoyment, and choose a few of your favorites.  You should also look for poems illustrating techniques you'd like to highlight.  Try to represent poets of different eras, genders, nationalities, and races.   
  • Practice reading.  Poetry is meant to be read aloud, so read each poem through several times to get a feel for it and to decide how to read it to best effect.  What words will you emphasize and where will you pause?  If you're not comfortable with your poetry performance skills, look for audio files of professional readers or even the poets reading their own poems.  
  • With these points in mind, you'll be ready to plan a successful poetry lesson.


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