We English teachers love our poetry. Alas, our students don’t always share this love. In fact, the announcement that the class is about to begin a unit on poetry can often cause uneasy shifting in the seats, muttering under the breath, audible groans of displeasure.
Why is this? Why are our teens so scared of poetry? So many parts of our world — of their world — are full of it. We speak in metaphors all of the time. We use analogies to help explain ourselves. Advertisements and songs are full of imagery, both visual and aural. Our students aren’t “scared” of viewing the media and they certainly aren’t scared of listening to music. So what’s up with poetry?
My mission during national poetry month is to make my students more comfortable with poetry, more aware that it is a part of their lives. I plan to start with having them track how many times a day they run into a metaphor or an analogy, how many poetic devices have traveled through their ear buds or flashed across their screens. For example, they might read in a newspaper about athletes who are warriors on a quest for gold or that the economy is spinning out of control. A student might read this as his mom puts a mountain of ice cream in his bowl. Another might be belting out the lyrics to Katie Perry’s Firework as she tries to ignite a spark inside herself. They get metaphor. They even like it. I want to help them see that so they can have more confidence when I ask them to look at the more challenging ones they might see in some poems.
I also plan to use an idea from a colleague. He gave every one of his students a different poem and asked them to find a picture or an image that they felt was a good representation of the essence of the poem. They had to take the images to class, and the teacher put them up all around the classroom. Students were given a copy of each poem and then they had to try to match the poem to the image. It was, he said, a very successful activity, and he felt they had better discussions about the poems than he had ever had with a more traditional approach. He thinks that because they had something more tangible to focus on, like a photograph, they felt more comfortable discussing the ideas from the poems. Once he had them hooked, and had them feeling like they “got” the poem, he lead them through a discussion of the devices the poet used to create various effects. I can’t wait to give it a try.
How do you make your students feel more comfortable and confident with poetry? Leave a comment if you have any awesome tricks you’d like to share.
PS: Since writing this post, I’ve made up a homework assignment that has students looking for the poetry in their own lives. You can access it for free here: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Freebie-Poetry-Its-Part-of-Your-World-1199428
Jackie Cutcliffe (Room 213) teaches high school English in Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow her at Real Learning in Room 213