9 Poetry Books for English Classes

We love putting good poetry into students’ hands, whether it’s in the form of a lesson or given to students as independent reading.

In particular, the nine of us feel that it is important for students to:
  • Give poetry a chance, deciding that they like it "after all"
  • See themselves reflected in what they read
  • Experience as many forms and styles of poetry as possible

Here are 9 of our best recommendations, ready to add now to your classroom library!

Bicycles, by Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni is a brilliant poet who elicits a lot of emotion in her work, but her style is informal enough that it’s easy to understand; students can easily relate to her content and storytelling. Though some poems are occasionally more “adult”, this would be a great book to excerpt for students who need to see more contemporary poetry in addition to the classics. - Secondary Sara

Depression & Other Magic Tricks, by Sabrina Benaim

Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim is an excellent collection of poems around the topics of depression and mental health. The poems will speak to older students (11th-12th grade) dealing with mental health issues, family troubles, failed loves and life in general. Beautifully written, the collection is full of creative figurative language, humour, wisdom and hope. The Canadian author is also an accomplished slam poet and many of her performances can be viewed online. I love having her poems accessible as both a performance and a written piece of work. - Addie Williams

Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs, by Erik Didriksen

Image by @oddandbookish

Erik Didriksen masterfully melds pop songs into Shakespearean sonnets in his poetry anthology, Pop Sonnets. The poems cover a wide variety of topics (love, heartbreak, despair) and introduce students to structural poetry, rhyme scheme, meter, and verse in an accessible and contemporary way. You can use this anthology simply as a way to hook your students into poetry or as a springboard for writing their own pop sonnets. - Presto Plans

Answering Back, by Carol Ann Duffy

In Answering Back, an anthology of poems edited by Carol Ann Duffy, living poets reply to the poetry of the past. For example, Billy Collins has crafted a poignant poem in response to W.H. Auden's "Musee de Beaux Arts;" while Roger McGough has penned a response to "Travel" by Edna St. Vincent Millay. These sets of poems are placed side by side to make the poetry of the past come alive again through the answering back of contemporary poets: great for teaching the compare and contrast essay form, or as a springboard to have students write their own responses to famous works. - Stacey Lloyd

One Last Word, by Nikki Grimes

In One Last Word, the fabulous Nikki Grimes responds to poems from the Harlem Renaissance. Using the “Golden Shovel” style, Grimes uses one line from each poem to craft her reply to these classics. Her poems are presented side by side with the originals by Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and many more! Your students will adore this beautifully-illustrated anthology and find inspiration for their own Golden Shovel poems. - Nouvelle ELA

Paint Me Like I Am, by Writerscorps

Paint Me Like I Am is a collection of poems written by teens, which creates a more personal connection for students as they can find themselves represented in the variety of poems. All of the teens have participated in national writing programs, like WritersCorps. Using these poems to help students find their voice in their own poetry is one of the many ways to incorporate Paint Me Like I Am in the ELA curriculum. - The SuperHERO Teacher

The You I’ve Never Known, by Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins writes young adult novels in free verse, and I can't keep them on my shelves. Hopkins' verse deals with mature and emotionally charged themes that pull the reader in from the first page. This, combined with the brevity of the poems, makes her books very appealing to reluctant readers. I have had many disengaged students finish her books in a few days and then rush back to my bookcase or to the library to get the next one. If you'd like to add more options for your reluctant readers, add a few of Hopkins' titles to your library. - Room 213

Poetry Speaks Who I Am, by Elise Paschen

Poetry Speaks Who I Am is the poetry book I wish I had when I was growing up. The adolescent years are awkward, and they are filled with firsts, fears, failures, friendships, and family. This brilliant anthology includes more than 100 poems that are sure to resonate with the students in our classrooms. What I especially like about this poetry collection is that it also includes a CD that is perfect to use in the classroom. I like playing a poem a couple times a month to my students at the beginning of class as a way to make poetry less intimidating and more accessible to students. - The Daring English Teacher

The Trouble with Poetry, by Billy Collins

Much of Billy Collins’s work is short, sweet, and thought-provoking. His style often bounces between humorous and profound, but always in a conversational style. The former US Poet Laureate also has a lot of classroom-friendly content available online through Project 180.  - The Classroom Sparrow

What other poetry books do you love to use in ELA
(or keep in your classroom library)?
Tell us in the comments!
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