WRITING POETRY WITH YOUR STUDENTS
There are many teachers who are familiar with poetry, with reading poems and teaching kids to write poems in the classroom. Others I have met confess they avoid it – they’ve never learned how to write poems themselves and certainly never learned how to teach their students.
Poetry seems to be something that can scare anyone!
Please take some time to read my notes on Immersion in Poetry, and try out the ideas. Immersion is about reading for enjoyment, wallowing in poems for the sheer pleasure of what they can give you. You can do this in tandem with writing, or before you try some writing.
You may also find this article useful – it’s all about how to read a verse novel. If you’re not sure what a verse novel even is, this will explain it and provide materials for your class.
A Poem a Week – this is a resource for teachers, and features a new poem each week by an Australian children’s writer, along with a note about where the idea came from. You can read each poem in class, print it out for your students, and model writing activities on it. It contains lots of great poems, in two sections.
The following are some ideas and materials for use in the classroom when you’re ready to write. Level One is for absolute beginners, Level Two is for students who have a little bit of experience with poetry, and Level Three is for students who have written a fair amount and are ready for experimenting and play.
Level Two – more poem ideas
For younger grades, you might like to use my verse picture book, Now I Am Bigger, as a resource to read and discuss, and then write poems from it! Click for Teacher’s Notes or Poetry Writing Exercises.
STARTING WITH YOU
My experience with teachers has often been one of “I don’t understand or enjoy poetry much, and I don’t know how to teach it”. I think this probably applies to more than 80% of teachers I talk to. A study carried out in the 1980s by the UK Education department (now known as Ofsted) found that only 2% of all teachers surveyed felt comfortable teaching poetry. This led to a concerted effort to introduce more resources and help for teachers, which has improved things a bit (and some schools have bloomed with poetry), but it is still an area of concern.
If you feel negative and/or self-conscious about poetry, how can you ever expect your students to read and write poetry, and get excited about it? However, I’m also aware of the lack of time in a teacher’s life, how difficult it is to keep up with curriculum demands and preparation, and how little extra time there is for something like this. I can only hope that if you give it a go, use my resources, and find poems to share with your students that you love, it will happen. Poetry is infectious!
I can remember first being excited about a poem back in high school – it was a poem about a girl running away from her mother, and it really spoke to me at that age. If you can find some time and make an effort to engage with poetry yourself, it then becomes so much easier to pass this on to the class. Don’t feel you have to start with the classics. Ignore them. Look for poets whose work is accessible and whose poems can be used as models. Poems that allow your students to imagine, and provoke them to think. Poems can do so many things, but most of all, writing poems can give even your least-skilled students a voice. I can’t count how many times a teacher has been startled or amazed at how often the best, strongest poems come from the struggling students. It’s because writing a poem allows them to express how they feel and think without having to grapple with building blocks and structures and rules. They can write for the love of it. How good is that!
Whether you are already encouraging your students to write poems, or are not sure where to start, don’t disregard the immersion process. It’s different from just sitting down and writing from exercises, and I believe should come before or be a part of the writing of poems. Reading and writing are not exclusive – they enhance each other.