InClass

Introduce students to the power of poetry by making it real, relevant, and personal to them. We show you how.

Feb 11, 2020

Poetry has a polarizing effect on most classrooms — half of students live for poetry curriculum, while the other half likes it as much as they like leftover day in the cafeteria. Since some of the most famous poems throughout history were penned in the name of love, what better month than February to delight your poetry-loving students, and win over the others? 

The Importance of Poetry

Too often poetry is presented as archaic, confusing, and downright boring. In reality, poetry permeates society: It encompasses love letters, lines from your favorite movies, and lyrics from your favorite songs. To say poetry isn’t important or worth studying is to say music isn’t worth listening to, movies aren’t worth watching, and your thoughts and feelings aren’t worth expressing. While your students may not find classic poetry engaging or worthwhile, bridging the gap between classic works and the poetry students interact with on a daily basis can provide context for appreciating aspects of both. 

They’re Classics for a Reason

Classic poetry wasn’t selected by a committee in a private room 50 years ago. Classic poetry has stood the test of time, resonated with generation after generation of readers, and tapped into something in humanity that prompts us to read, recite, debate, and imitate hundreds of years after their creation. With an increasing focus on contemporary literature in schools, I would encourage you to examine with your students why classics are classics. Studying and discovering the “why” behind classics leads to a deeper, or even newfound, appreciation of them. 

Creating a Modern Classic

Perhaps the best way for students to gain appreciation for poetry is to author their own. In order to facilitate this, ask students to select a classic poet and poem of their choice. Then ask students to create their version of the classic they’ve chosen, adhering to the same conventions. If they prefer Shakespeare, they may write a sonnet. If Emily Dickinson appeals to them, their poem may be largely composed of quatrains with an ABCB rhyme scheme. Regardless of the classic poet they choose to emulate, students will gain an appreciation for the difficulty of expressing themselves through the sometimes rigid structure of poetry.

After using a classic poet as their muse, challenge students to choose their favorite contemporary poet and create a poem as an homage to their works. One student may write hip-hop lyrics, another a country ballad, while a third may write a monologue about the struggles of today’s youth. Students will gain an appreciation for the freedom of expression poetry can offer. 

After studying and emulating a classic, authoring a modern classic, and experiencing the simultaneous constraints and freedom of expression through poetry, ask students to compare and contrast the classic and contemporary poets they chose. You may be surprised at the appreciation students gain for poetry now that you have made it real, relevant, and personal to them.

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