50 Ways to Celebrate Poetry Month
National Poetry Month comes around every April and is an excellent opportunity to blend what students already know with the rich, educational history of poetry. While some students may balk at the classic poems, once you bridge the gap between then and now students will embrace the art of poetry.
Plus, once students see the easy connections between their world and that of poets from the past, they’ll be more comfortable expressing themselves in poems of their own creation. Let’s look at 50 ways to celebrate Poetry Month!
Start with a Focus on Poems
- Start a Poetry Journal - Make poetry journals with blank or lined paper and a cover folded over and stapled for each student (or create an online version). Then, every day of Poetry Month, give them a prompt or a poetic style and allow them the opportunity to write and experience poetry themselves. For the first few days or week, you may just want to let them use free verse or free form poetry to get comfortable.
- Nursery Rhymes - The nursery rhymes we sang as children are mostly written in poetic verse! Study them as an easy entry point into poetry.
- Start with Songs - Almost everyone loves music, and while their tastes will vary, one thing will be consistent: lyrics. All songs have some form of lyrical structure. Start Poetry Month by studying songs that students like, dissecting the lyric form, and showing how similar lyrics are to poetry.
- Poetry and Nature - Many poems are a true celebration of nature and the beauty all around us. Look at examples of poetry that focus on the natural world (such as poems by William Wordsworth) and give students the opportunity to write their own poem about seasons, nature, or something outdoors that moves them.
- Start a Poetry Reading Group - Break the class into smaller groups and give each group a collection of poetry and discussion questions. Poetry is best experienced in conversation, so allow the poetry reading groups to dissect, and sometimes argue, over the poems.
- Poetry Quotes - There are so many incredible quotes about poetry or quotes by poets. Have students compile a collection or choose one per day to share with the class. They can write these in their poetry books.
- Visual Poetry - A lot of modern poetry creatively uses the space to add to the poem’s message. Or, in the case of poet E.E. Cummings, poets may stretch the boundaries of grammar and spelling to make a point. Talk about how visual poetry is and how breaking these typical writing conventions can add (or take away) from the message.
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Incorporate Poetry into Your Routine
- Yes or No - Study one poet each day and write his or her name on a card. At the end of the month use the cards to play a game. Put the name of one poet on every student’s back and have them walk around asking each other only yes or no questions about their poet.
- Talk in Verse Day - After studying poems for a while, students will start to get the hang of poetic verse and cadence. Challenge them to talk in poetic verse for an entire day — even in other classes!
- My Favorite Poem - After studying poetry for a few weeks, students will start to get a real sense of the poems and poetry types that speak to them. Task them with finding their favorite poem and allow them to elaborate on why they chose it.
- Poem-a-Day - Choose a poem a day to read and discuss. Students can write their reactions to the poem in their journals. There is even a free poetry series that publishes a new work every day on poets.org.
- Memorize a Poem - The art of memorization is quickly becoming lost with a cell phone culture that can access anything at any time. Bring back the brain-boosting benefits of memorization by asking students to choose a poem to memorize and recite. Do a little memorization every day.
Types of Poetry
- Modern Poetry - Select poems by poets who are alive today and talk about how their work is similar and different to older poetry. Amanda Gorman is an inspiring young voice, sparking interest in poetry after her reading at the 2020 inauguration.
- Classical Poetry for Children - The Poetry Foundation has great resources for teaching poetry to children. Incorporate poems from their list or use their articles to learn more about children’s poetry.
- Silly Poems - It’s amazing how simply changing the subject matter can unlock a ton of ideas. Students may feel energized to write silly poems on silly things. This change of pace will be welcomed from the more emotional poetry types.
- Poetry vs. Prose - Once you start studying poetry, it’s a great opportunity to compare it to prose and see how students respond to the difference.
- Lovely Limericks - The punny riddles known as limericks are often a class favorite. Study limericks and then give students an opportunity to write their own.
- Slam Poetry - Slam poetry is usually the most popular with young people and there are plenty of classroom-appropriate slam poetry videos that will inspire them. Try to organize your own classroom slam poetry competition and bring in a microphone to give them the perfect mic drop moment.
- Celebrate Haiku - Haikus are a very easy poetry type that many students respond to positively. Consider studying haiku early on in the month and give students lots of opportunities to practice the art of haiku each day.
- Multilingual Poetry - Don’t forget to study poems in other languages. Find popular poetry from other countries and have students use translation tools to translate them into the language that they speak and make adjustments until it sounds natural.
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Focus on the Authors
- Who’s That Poet - Many poets wrote under a fake name because they were a woman, or it would be dangerous for them to publish under their birth name. Research poets who wrote under a nom de plume and have students figure out why.
- Living Poets - Look for a local living poet who has published work and ask them to come into class and share about their work and inspiration, read poems aloud and guide students in a poetry workshop.
- Children’s Poets - Not all poems are for adults. Many poets write exclusively for children! Spend some time studying children’s poets and their work.
- Study a Poet - Students can make deeper connections by getting to know the life and times of the poet. Compile a list of classic poets for students to choose from, and ask them to prepare an oral report to present to the class.
- Jack Prelutsky Study - Jack Prelutsky is a modern poet with a distinctive voice and creative wordplay. His website is a treasure trove of poetry, activities and inspiration that students will love!
- Edgar Allan Poe Graphic Novels - Students are fascinated by the dark and dramatic works of Edgar Allan Poe. His poetry has been turned into everything from graphic novels to Simpson’s episodes. Try to get copies of the graphic novel inspired by his poetry and watch your students eat it up.
- Shel Silverstein Study - One of the most popular modern poets is Shel Silverstein. Did you know he has an interactive website that includes learning resources? Spend time allowing students to look around and choose some of the fun, free activities to complete on their own or in small groups.
Engage Students, Creatively
- Use the Five Senses - Poetry is a vivid form of writing that powerfully incorporates the five senses. Study the five senses and look for examples of them in poetry.
- Poetry Art - Poetry has movement and feeling, much like art. Have students create an art piece inspired by their interpretation of a poem of their choice. Create an exhibit around the classroom for them to showcase their work.
- Be a Poet Day - Have a class day where students come dressed as a poet that they have researched. Give them time to walk around and interact with each other as though they are that poet. They should only talk about things that the poet was interested in and answer questions as if they are that poet. After, students can reflect on the poets they “met” and what they learned.
- Poetry Puppet Show - Poetry and verse are often incorporated into popular plays, such as classics by Shakespeare. Have students write a short puppet show where the characters only talk in verse! Let them make puppets out of simple supplies like paper bags and perform them for younger classes.
- Class Poetry Book - Have the class work together to create a poetry anthology. Or, ask each student to submit their favorite piece from their poetry journal to go in the anthology and make copies for everyone.
- Poetic Words - Many poems use completely made-up words. Keep a word wall where students can write these words when they catch them.
- Poetry Performance - Have students read their silly poems to a younger class or a group of younger kids.
- Bookmark It - Have students choose their favorite poetry quote from the month and design a bookmark with the quote, the author, and some art and designs inspired by their work.
- Dear Poet Letters - Ask students to choose one of the modern poets and write them a letter or email. See if any of them get responses!
- Teach This Poem - There are teacher resources available on poets.org that offer teachers free resources and activities on how to incorporate poems into classwork.
- Visit the Library - Schedule time to take the class to the library and look specifically for books of poetry. Ask each student to pick one book to check out and study.
- Act it Out - One of the most powerful ways for students to engage with material is to make it come alive. Many poems can be acted out, especially if the poem is a reflection of a relationship or something happening in history. By having students look into the inspiration behind the poem, they can craft a short play with a small group of their peers to make it come alive.
- Watch a Movie - There are some great movies on the subject of poetry and poets. Watch a full movie or just a handful of great poetry movie video clips and watch the engagement soar.
- Make a Poem Tree - Design a large trunk of a tree and branches on a large bulletin board. Give each student a green paper with the shape of a leaf traced on it. Have them write a poem on the leaf and then cut it out and add it to the branches. Do this activity with different color paper to add depth and beauty to the tree. Different colored leaves can reflect different types of poetry.
- Social Media Poet - Students love social media. Have them create a small poster of a social media profile for a poet of their choice. They can use their imagination to draw pictures the poet would post, write captions, note what places the poet would visit and more.
- Poet Interviews - Reading Rockets has 15 videos of poets reading their poetry and discussing it. Incorporate these videos into your lessons throughout the month.
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- Study Poetic Structures - Sometimes students are more interested in the structure behind poetry than the poems themselves (especially if they do not relate to the subject matter). Study structure, too, and challenge students to mimic the structure in a poem of their own creation.
- Nameless Poet - Ask students to type out one of their poems without putting their name on it. Then, print all the poems and hand them out to the class (or share online). Read through them as a class and see if students can guess the poet. Students who are not guessed are allowed to remain anonymous if they choose.
- Onomatopoeia Buzz - Studying the sound of onomatopoeia is always a hit! Look at examples and then ask students to create their own poems packed full of onomatopoeia.
- Study Figurative Devices - Similes, metaphors, analogies, idioms, poems are packed with figurative devices! Use this month to talk about figurative devices and look for them in poetry.
- Poetry Toolkit - Have students write the names and definitions of different poetic devices, including line breaks, rhythm, metaphor, repetition, etc., on different colored paper “tools” and put them in their poetry toolkit. Or, they can draw them in their poetry journal.
- No Rhyme or Reason - Not all poetry rhymes! Spend some time studying poetry that doesn’t rhyme and compare it to poetry that does. Allow students to form their own opinions on which they prefer.
- Rhyming Rewrite - Take a piece of prose or a poem that doesn’t rhyme and task students with rewriting it in verse! They can choose the poetic structure and make small changes to make it work, but the overall meaning and tone should remain the same.
- Read Beyond the Poem - Find poems that have been written about in essays and have students read several essays on the same poem to see how every reader interprets a poem differently. This will deepen their understanding of how poetry speaks to each person.
Including students in the rich history of poetry is a rewarding and meaningful experience that can spark a great deal of creativity and excitement for writing. Poetry can often light up those students who do not feel confident with prose and structured essay writing. Enjoy the wonderful world of poetry!
Erica Jabali is a freelance writer and blogs over at ispyfabulous.com