Make Poetry More Accessible to Students


Jackie, from Room 213

National poetry month is coming up soon, and it can sometimes be a challenge when it comes to getting students excited about it. However, there are lots of strategies that you can use to make poetry more accessible to students, ones that don't require you to do all of the heavy lifting.

Let Youtube help you with your poetry lessons

First of all, we don’t always have to do all the singing and dancing to get students interested in poetry Luckily, Ted Ed has all kinds of things on youtube that can help you, from readings of poems to actual lessons that you can use. 

Poetry is meant to be read aloud and you can find some wonderful readings that will allow you to just sit back and listen along with your students. 

I've curated a list of some of my favorites, complete with all of the links you need. Grab it here.

Teaching the Language of Poetry

Before they can start to analyze, students need to know the language of poetry. And when we teach terminology, it's always a good idea to do this through an active learning process, rather than a passive one.

Instead of sending students a handout of terms, you can pair or group your students and assign each grouping a poetic device. Get them to create a poster with the definition, some examples from literature, and some original examples that they write on their own. This could also be done online, using a one-slider like the one below:

One-sliders for poetic devices

Once they are done, each group can use the one-slider to teach the term to their classmates. You could follow this with a gallery walk (actual or online) where the students have to record the definition of each word and one or two examples. Click here to get tips for doing online gallery walks.

Another way to make poetry more accessible is to use some Figurative Language Challenges to help students have learn to really understand how poets use these devices. Once they learn to use figurative language themselves, it's much easier to figure out how and why a writer uses figurative language, and analyzing will be come easier. And, the bonus is, they have a lot of fun with these!

Use poetry brackets to create buzz

The perfect time to do this is in March, when March Madness is happening, but this is an activity you can use anytime you want to expose kids to a variety of poems - and to get them excited about some of them. It's also an activity that is easily adaptable for both in school and online learning. You just need to choose a selection of poems, create a bracket, and let the games begin!

There are many free templates you can use for this, like the one Secondary Sara has below. I also have a bundle of activities all ready to use that focus on ballads and inspirational poems. Each resource starts with quarter finals with four poems per side, and many options for implementing the activity with your students. You could use it to fill one class or an entire week!

Poetry Bracket

Introducing poetry analysis

By the time students get to secondary, they know what poetry is - or at least they think they do. For most, it's akin to deciphering hieroglyphics and something they dread. However, it doesn't have to be that way.

Former Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, has stated that many people's absence from poetry is based almost completely on how poetry was presented to them in school. Often that absence is based on a bad memory, because when most people are exposed to poetry in school it’s often anxiety-inducing.

And how do we reduce that anxiety? First of all, don't start with a bunch of difficult poems. Ease into your study of poetry with ones that are more accessible. Then, slowly scaffold the skills your students will need to tackle the harder poems, using ones that they find easier to understand (more on that below!)

I have a new bundle of lessons that help you introduce the concept of studying poetry here. In it, students work together to tackle the question "What Is Poetry?" and then what it means to analyze one. Each of the lessons is in an engaging format designed to be used either online or in class.

Scaffold the skills for poetry analysis

Analyzing a poem - especially a complex one - can be overwhelming. That's why I like to take it one step at a time, and let student focus on a few things at once.

So, I might give them a poem and ask them to look at the sound devices only, or just the imagery and metaphors. Then, with the next poem, we can add in another layer. That way, students can build the skill of seeing how individual techniques can create meaning in a poem.

Here's something you can try: copy a poem and paste it into the middle of chart paper. Group your students and put each group in charge of one thing: sound and rhythm for one group, sensory imagery for another, figurative language for another, etc. Instruct each group to annotate the poem looking for their assigned technique only. Then, they will brainstorm ideas for how a device contributes to the poem.

Finally. each group can present their conclusions to the class; then, you could show them how each group's ideas could fit together to create an analytical essay.

If you like the idea of scaffolding this skill, I have analyzing poetry stations that are all already to go. It's a resource that comes with in class stations, as well as ones that you can share with your students online.

Let students have fun with poetry

Poetry can be a wonderful source of inspiration and comfort for us humans. Unfortunately, when students see it as something that only fusty old English teachers enjoy, they miss out on something that could give them joy. 

In a few weeks, I'll be starting poetry with my tenth graders. I'm going to start with my inspirational poems bracket and then ask the kids to find and share a poem that inspires them. We will use them for discussion and response only because if we pick the meat off the bones every time we read a poem, then that inspirational piece can be lost. Our next step will be to explore the poetry in ordinary items, with a unit on odes that praise everyday things.

However, we will move into analysis, because sometimes taking a moment to figure out a difficult line can shed some light on a poem, and it can transform from difficult to inspiring. We just need to find a balance.

And when we find that balance, the high school poetry experience can be a thing of beauty.

More resources from my friends in the Coffee Shop:

Tracee Orman, Write Like a Poet

Addie Education, Poetry Activity Bundle

Presto Plans, Digital Poetry Writing Bundle

Secondary Sara, Free Poetry Madness Bracket

The Daring English Teacher, Digital Analysis Task Cards

The Classroom Sparrow, Poetry Mini-Book

The SUPERhero Teacher, Poetry Journal

Nouvelle ELA, Poetry Escape Room Review

Thanks for reading! I really hope you found some ideas that you can use to make your life easier. You can get more tips and ideas from me right here.

Back to Top