How to Teach Poetry to High School Students
High school students may groan out loud when their English teacher announces that the class is beginning a unit on poetry. Few young people appreciate this form of the written word. Poetry seems to many of them to be remote and incomprehensible. Communicate your own enthusiasm for poetry to the class and help them connect the poem’s words to emotions.
Read a poem to the students with feeling. Practice before you read aloud. You want the students to do nothing but listen to the poem. Tell them to close their eyes and just listen to the rise and fall of your voice.
Ask the students to immediately write what they are feeling when you are finished speaking. Ask them to identify the dominant emotion they had when listening to the poem, be it happiness, sadness, anger, loneliness, or any other feeling.
Discuss the emotions that the poem evoked. Explain that while the words of the poem have meaning, the rhythm of the words’ arrangement also carries tremendous power.
Study the poem line by line. Help the students understand words they do not know. Ask them to brainstorm what the poet might mean in each line.
Form a mental picture. After studying the poem line by line, read the poem aloud once again. Ask the students to focus on the mental picture that arises as you read. Ask them if they have changed their original choice of feelings.
Open the classroom to debate. Let the students discuss their opinions on the poem's meaning. Avoid offering your own analysis of the poem.
Create original poetry. Give the students a "feeling" word and ask them to create a picture with words to get that feeling across.
Post the resulting poems into a chapbook and run copies for the students to keep. Publication, even on a small scale, will encourage them to keep writing.
- Choose a relatively short, relatively simple poem to start.
- Don't choose a very long or difficult poem.
- Don't offer your analysis of the poem until the very end. Make them think!
- Learning to Teach English in the Secondary School; Jon Davison and Jane Dowson
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