Follow this sure fire method to make sure your students come to hate studying poetry in class, or better, reading it at all!
- Emphasize one right interpretation of a poem. Make sure not to explain that interpretation, but insist that it’s obvious.
- Focus on how students feel about a poem. Ignore that some students may not feel anything, may not care to discuss feelings, or may even not be touchy-feely sorts anyway. Everyone needs to have feelings from and about poetry, so make sure that is your focus.
- Pick only challenging poems with unusual structure or vocabulary and lots of implied meaning. Make sure that no poems are easily accessible so that students have to work to understand and ‘get.’ the poems. Also, see #1.
- Don’t let students hate selected poems or poetry. If they express that, dismiss it or assure them they ‘just don’t understand.’
However, if you’re interested in some ways to engage and encourage students to enjoy exploring poetry, try some of the strategies below that have worked with reluctant learners in alternative ed:
- Encourage students to interpret poems themselves and give their reasoning with textual support. This is good for explaining their thinking process. For poems that have generally accepted interpretations– such as those that may appear on a standardized test– share the accepted answer in that light. It’s not the one “right” answer, but what would be expected on a test. (Bonus: students often appreciate that honesty).
- Allow students to explore poems that they find interesting. Or, even better, have students analyze a song as an example of poetry. Students can find examples of poetic devices in a (school appropriate!) song as a great introduction or reinforcement of poetic terms and literary analysis.
- But, don’t analyze every poem to death. Let some of them just be art, be experienced, be enjoyed. Let students illustrate, perform, or create media without dissecting the poem until their eyes blur from staring at it. Poetry was not written for analysis, but for expression.
- Encourage exploration of poem forms by discussing a variety of structures and forms. Invite students to write their own poem in one or more form. Challenge students to write their own on different topics– funny, serious, nature, unexpected. Allow and encourage topics that are not “traditional” poetry topics– video games, zombies, an ode to their cell phone, or more.
- Use a variety of poems, from the easily accessible to the more challenging. Include a variety of topics to appeal to students who enjoy different topics. Pair poems by themes or topics, like Snow Poetry. Use both light poetry like The Road Not Taken and dark poetry like The Raven or Annabel Lee.
Share your favorite poems to teach below for other readers, too!