Using Instagram to Teach Poetry

Last year, in my first class with my all my Grade 9s, I did a quick quiz to find out what they enjoyed about studying English, what they struggled with, and what were their areas of weakness. As you would expect, their answers varied. Yet there was one resounding finding: they hated studying poetry. 

I was devastated. Poetry made me fall in love with language: beautiful nuggets of human experience, wrapped in delicious words and stunning imagery. How could one not love it?

My work was cut out for me... and Instagram helped me out. 

I tried many things last year to inspire my students, but by far the most successful was Instagram. This is no surprise: my students love social media, and poetry is having a mini-revival on Instagram. Indeed, if you delve into the depths of poetry on Instagram, you will find post after post of simple, block-colored, squares images with a few lines of verse. Sometimes even just a few words. But they pack a punch.

Take, for example, this poem by the extremely talented and enigmatic Nayyirah Washeed:

There is SO much here to analyze when teaching poetry: 

  • Discuss at the effect of the repetition and how it contributes to the imploring tone.
  • Analyze the punctuation and discuss the effect of the caesura in the fourth line. 
  • Examine the word choice and discuss the impact of the word “seducing.”
  • Delve into the imagery inherent in the deliciousness of something dripping down your chin – like a juicy mango.

All this in just six lines.

I get why my students love this: it is manageable, succinct and accessible. And a great hook into more complex poetry.

One of the bonuses of using Instagram in the classroom is the ability to introduce your students to current poets from across the globe: diverse perspectives from a variety of voices, writing about issues which are relevant to the world today. 

I have compiled a free Google Slides presentation of just a few great accounts which I recommend to students; this is a great way to introduce students to the concept of using Instagram for reading poetry, then you and you students can find more!

Personally, I start with this presentation and then we spend some time exploring the work of these poets and discussing students' reactions. 

Please Note: As these pages are constantly being added to, I cannot say that it will all be appropriate, always. It is important that you check the content to make sure that it is appropriate for your students, when you recommend. 

There are so many ways in which you can create activities which incorporate Instagram poetry in analysis and assessment in the classroom. Below are just a few ideas, but I would love to hear if you have more. 

  1. Use this FREE WORKSHEET for students to find examples of poetry on Instagram, and then answer questions prompting deeper analysis.
  2. Set up your own classroom Instagram page – have students write their own poems and collate them throughout the year on a class IG page.
  3. Have a "IG post of the day" projected on the board as students walk in and start the class with a 5 minute analysis and discussion of the poem. 
  4. Have students compare and contrast an IG poem with a famous piece of work. 

So, there you have it. Instagram is not just for the Kardashians. ;-) 

If you are looking for more engaging materials for teaching poetry, please do check out my resources, and click the comment button below to share your thoughts and questions. 

The other Coffee Shop gals have some fabulous resources for using Social Media in the classroom; check them out: 

10 Ways to Help Students Proofread Effectively

It’s human to occasionally write a typo or two, but what should an English teacher do when capable students make consistent, silly mistakes in their drafts?

Many students resist proofreading and editing at first because it means more “work”, and they’d rather just rely on spell check. Although it’s true that our students are busy and stretched thin, we teachers still have to defend the importance of taking that extra brief moment to proofread before printing or submitting. (Honestly, don’t most people need to think twice before they hit send?)

If your students’ mistakes are making you want to chuck your grading pen across the room in frustration (which I have done), check out this list of ideas.

(P.S. - You might also like this sister post, 10 Ways to Teach Revision to Teens.)

1. Establish the differences between proofreading, editing, and revising.
Don’t assume that students know the difference between finding errors, fixing errors, and changing content. (I’ve put these three vocab words on tests before!) Even if they do know the technical definitions, they might need coaching about exactly how to do each one.

2. Preach reading their work out loud.
SO many errors could be fixed if students just read their work out loud (“with vocal chords”, as we sometimes say in class), instead of just staring at the screen or reading it in their heads. This strategy is critical to avoid sentences that aren’t clear, have dropped a word, or have written clumsy word choices. There’s just no substitute for this strategy. Check out a free activity here.

3. Pass out an awesome editing checklist.
...either a general one, or an assignment specific one. These are SO important for students, and if they’re smart, they will reuse the checklist on all writing assignments (if not carry it with them to the next school year).

Even better, pair that checklist with task cards that help them focus on one checklist task at a time (and make editing more tactile). Use my Editing Checklist, Activity, and Task Cards Kit to get started ASAP!

4. Encourage using at least TWO spell checkers…
Why not mandate students to use spell check AND a free account on Hemingway or Grammarly? (NOTE: I usually show students how to use each one and discuss pros and cons. For example, Hemingway is great for identifying passive voice, but the downside is that it values conciseness and simplicity more than I think is necessary.)

5. ...and show students the errors that spell check misses.
One of my favorite activities involves giving students a paragraph of text (that I wrote) with intentionally-planted errors in it, copying the text into different websites, and noticing which sites catch different errors. It's always VERY eye-opening for students!

6. Keep the bar high on your rubric.
This one may require you to get support from your English department, but don’t be afraid to make very clear expectations for the number of errors students can make and earn a certain grade. Here's an example of what my rubrics usually look like...

7. Proofread on a screen AND a printed page.
This is purely anecdotal, but I really think that we notice errors more easily with a pen and a printed draft. (Want to prove me wrong? Ask students to do both screen and paper before voting on which is more effective.)

8. Make peer editing a competition.
Now, this is risky, but hear me out: put students in partners and ask who can find MORE errors in their friend’s draft. (To keep them from going overboard, tell them that they could be penalized for “grammar fraud” if they point out too many spots that are NOT errors!) Get that activity for FREE here!

9. Host a contest.
In the past, I have challenged students to write “the perfect paragraph” or “the perfect essay”. I accepted volunteers to put their papers under the document camera for the whole class to view, and then we scoured his or her writing as a class to see if anyone could rise to the challenge. (Candy was usually involved as a prize, in addition to Epic Bragging Rights!)

10. Track progress over time.
Chart how many errors students make in final drafts, and take pride in those numbers falling over time! Get a FREE tracking sheet here.

You might also like to view…
Do you have more ideas? Tell us in the comments!

5 Ways To Bring Humor Into Your English Classroom

E.E Cummings said, “The most wasted of all the days is one without laughter,” and I think the same is true for a day in the classroom.  Even if we aren’t a natural stand-up comedian, bringing content related humor into your ELA class (or any class for that matter) will not only make for a more positive learning environment, but will also help your students retain the content you are teaching.  By doing these 5 simple things, you won’t only bring a smile to your students’ faces, but you will also help them feel more comfortable in your classroom to engage which will allow them to more easily connect with content and skills.

Put a smile on your students’ faces when they enter by having some humorous decorations on your classroom bulletin boards.  With a quick search online, you can find funny author memes or quotes, grammar jokes, or ironic moments to display on a board each week.  Having relevant humorous material in the classroom will put your students at ease and make the classroom a more welcoming environment.  One of my favorite ELA displays that gets students attention is my “English Is Weird” poster set because it allows students to consider strange, surprising, and odd details about the English Language. 

Bring some performance into your middle and high school ELA class with Readers Theater.  If you are reading a short story, a play, or even a few chapters out of a novel, assign roles to a few of your students and have them do a dramatic presentation of the text.  All it takes are a few basic prompts and costumes, and you will be surprised at how the energy in your room changes.  I would often raid the costume room of the drama teacher for items/costumes or scrounge a few items from home.  Don’t feel like searching?  You could also assign roles to students the day before and tell them to bring in their own costume. When teaching a drama unit, I keep a costume section in my classroom, so I can easily have access to materials I might need for performance (see my Shakespeare inspired costumes below). 
One of my favorite short stories to do Readers Theater with is Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl.  While it is certainly uses dark humor, the frozen leg of lamb scene always gets students giggling, and they typically do better on questions or assessments related to this story because they more easily retain the discussions we had during the performance. Below are some of the props I use for this story.  Finding a fake lamb leg is nearly impossible, so I made one with a brown paper bag :).
If you want to instill a love of reading in your students, present them with texts that have an element of humor, irony, sarcasm, or surprise.  If you are teaching short stories, try a story like Charles by Shirley Jackson, a story with a surprise twist about a boy misbehaving at school or The Chaser by John Collier, a story about a love-potion gone wrong.  Bring satire into your upper high-school grades by having students read Body Ritual Among The Nacirema by Horace Miner, a paper on a little-known tribe living in North America with curious practices and customs (which actually describes the modern-day American – Nacirema spelled backwards).  If you are looking for some humorous poetry, you might want to check out “Did I Miss Anything?” by Tom Wayman, “Television” by Roald Dahl, or “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert William Service.

If you are teaching grammar, integrate real-life, funny spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors that relate into your instruction.  You can do this by adding a “commercial” slide into your presentation that includes a funny misuse of that grammar concept or some funny examples at the bottom of an assignment or worksheet.   Sadly, you will have absolutely no problem finding real-life examples.  A quick Google/Pinterest search will yield thousands of examples of grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors on tattoos, signs, cakes, social media posts, and the list goes on.  You could also dedicate a bulletin board in your classroom to grammar fails and have students find their own examples to post.

As much as they won’t admit it, teenagers get a kick out of their English teacher using groan-worthy wordplay.  Bringing puns into your classroom is an easy way to get a student laugh, or at the very least an eye-roll and a smirk.  It will also allow them to consider the nuances of the language and hopefully encourage them to share their own puns. Get your copy of this free poster set with food-related puns that give students some valuable or “sage” advice by clicking HERE. 

Here are some other easy ways to bring puns into the classroom: write a pun of the week on the board, give students an incentive or reward when they use wordplay in class appropriate to the content you are teaching (candy always works), or do a pun-related activity.  Click HERE to read a post on the blog by The SuperHERO Teacher that includes a free Decode The Pun activity.

I hope these ideas bring some laughs in your classroom and also help your students feel more comfortable and ready to learn.  Have other ideas to share?  Click the comment button at the bottom of the post and join the conversation.

Want even more ideas for bringing laughter into the ELA classroom?  Check out these activities and posts from other Secondary English Coffee Shop bloggers! 

Room 213 shares her thoughts on putting assessment aside and learning for the sheer enjoyment of it in her blog post: Learning Just For Fun?

Secondary Sara puts a fun medical twist on student skill development and goal-setting with her activities for curing “Procrastinitis” and other diseases.

Nouvelle ELA uses funny examples to help students learn how to analyze literary quotes - Literary Quote Analysis 
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