The English Teacher

Teaching Basic Poetry

After having taught the basic forms of poetry such as rhyme schemes and metric patterns to ninth graders, I decided that I was getting some apt creations following the 'letter of the law' but not having any of the 'spirit' of poetry. I had seen some spontaneous poetry by students that was charming, but when they tried to follow forms, the feeling of the poetry suffered. So I devised these assignments to try to approach poetry from a different direction.

I am not claiming that these techniques make anyone into a poet. Also, I am not saying that this method is superior to the more formal method. I am simply saying that I had some interesting results and would like to share them, perhaps as a supplement or an alternative to a more traditional method.

The unit may last up to a week, but be aware that you will be asking the students to shift into their right brains, and then they talk, have to show their poems to each other, need you to look at each poem right away, etc. Depending on the class and their discipline needs, you may have to shorten the time you planned for these activities and leave some out or use them at a later date.

1.) Read "Beware do not read this poem" by Ismael Reed

2.) Write a 'name' poem. A name poem, is perhaps not a poem, but it is a 'right brain' assignment that most students can do to begin poem writing. The pattern is as follows:

1 A- alert
2 L- likable, lean
3 L- lucky, light , lazy
2 A- amiable, active
1 N- Nice

In the assignment above, the students spell their names vertically, first and last names. [just the first name was used for the example] Then they follow the numbering pattern shown above. First and last letters of the name have one word which describe the student beginning with the same letter. Then the next letter in, [first and ending] have two words beginning with the same letter, etc. students with longer names have a longer assignment and may grump a little, but they all enjoy it, some saying "well I have to find eight words," beginning with l, etc.

At first don't let them use dictionaries or you will end up with a string of dictionary words, but if the students work all class period without mentally finding the words, you might as well allow them. Don't grade this or any of the poetry assignments too rigorously. Their right brains are doing this, and a harsh grade may do the students and your teaching efforts much more harm than good. Also, don't overly comment on the choice of words that they use to describe themselves and don't misuse their unconscious disclosure of their self-image.

3.) Write a poem about water, describing water as pleasant. Make the poem specific and write three lines of any length.
Water Poems

4.) Write a poem about fire that is pleasant using specific senses. The poem should be five lines, with three to five words per line.
Fire Poems

5.) Write a poem about a wave of the hand that conveys 'good vibes.' The poem should be three lines, no limit in length.
Wave Poems

6.) The students now show their poems to each other according to their choice. They must follow two rules. One: say nothing bad about another's poems. Two: Say nothing bad about their own poems.

7.) Write a poem about things that fly. The poem should have five lines, with three to five words per line.
'Fly' Poems

8.) Write a poem about things bigger than expected. [Examples- train at night, brown bear in Canada, blood sucker (leech) in a Canadian lake.] Describe three things, one to two lines per thing, with lines two to seven words long. A student asked, 'can we write about colors?' I thought, 'why not?'
Bigger Poems

9.) Write five five word sentences in a pinwheel form. The middle word should be the same for each sentence. That is, the five sentences each share the same word on the page.
Pinwheel Poems

10.) Write a poem in the form of a square. First, write a six word sentence horizontally. Then write a downward vertical sentence using the first word of the first sentence. Then write a downward vertical sentence using the last word of the horizontal sentence. Then write a second horizontal sentence using the last words of the vertical sentences as the first and last words of the second horizontal sentence.
'Square' Poems

11.) Write a poem about three great tastes in three lines with three to seven words per line.

12.) Write a poem about three scary sounds in three lines of seven, three, and eight words respectively. Then add one extra word at the end of each line which makes the sound being described, such as 'hiss', 'whump', 'creak', etc.

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