Teaching Poetry before Winter Break

By Nouvelle ELA

Teaching poetry is a great way to use fragmented class time before winter break. November and December can be a wild time: spirit days, holiday concerts, and family vacations that start early. If you’re not sure how many students will be in your class on any given day, teaching poetry is one way to keep kids learning.

Here are six ideas for teaching poetry that are winners in the weeks leading up to winter break. 

  1. Use Poetry Bell Ringers

These bell ringers are short poetry tasks that students can complete in 5-10 minutes. Some of them ask students to identify figurative language in a small excerpt, some ask for a short analysis, and others involve a short creative task. 

Before Winter Break, these can be a good way to get students to focus. If we open class with a ritual, like bell ringers, we can calm the chaos of “it’s almost vacation!”

  1. Do an Independent Poetry Analysis

This independent poetry analysis is a scaffolded analysis of Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I Died for Beauty.” Students move from concrete skills (identification and description) to abstract ones (analysis and creativity). 

Before Winter Break, this activity provides you freedom. If you need a work day, you can set your students to work on this. It’s totally scaffolded, so they can complete the steps on their own. If you have a surprise snow day before break, this is a great activity to send home. If you have absent students, this can be completed just as effectively out-of-class as in. In fact, this is one of my emergency lessons that I leave with admin. 

  1. Listen to Slam Poetry

Slam Poetry is a great engaging activity for teaching poetry. Since it’s got such a storytelling feel, it really hooks student interest! Here’s a YouTube playlist with some slam poems that are appropriate for middle and high school. You should definitely preview the videos before you share them with students. 

Before Winter Break, Slam Poetry provides a big impact for short attention spans! Most of the poems on the playlist above are 3-5 minutes long, so you can even play them twice. Then, students can discuss what worked from each poem in small groups. You can even host a poetry slam, if you want. :)

  1. Organize Poetry Challenges

I like to give my students four poetry challenges, and then give them a couple days to work on them at their own pace. They write a limerick, create a blackout poem, write a haiku, and make an illustration inspired by Neil Gaiman’s poem, “Instructions.” 

Before Winter Break, student workdays are a lifesaver! Yes, you’re giving students these four tasks. More than likely, you’ll also have students who need to catch up on work in your class. Why not let them work on what they may need your help with, and work on the poetry challenges at home? However you want to manage it, students are always grateful for independent work time. It definitely gives them space to take a breath.

  1. Set up Poetry Speed-Dating

In this poetry activity, I literally just pull out my poetry books and spread them on tables. Then, students spend about a half an hour looking at whatever poems they want. I don’t have my 9th graders take organized notes, but you could add that element. I do have them write down poems and poets that grab their attention. During the last fifteen minutes of class, students write personal reflections on poems they found and what stuck out to them. 

Before Winter Break, this activity is a great way to let the inspiration flow! Students get to decide what paths to follow - which poets to read more of, which type of poetry appeals to them - and that sort of ownership is fun!

  1. Play the Elements of Poetry Escape Room

If you’d like a totally different idea for teaching poetry, play an escape room! In this escape room, students identify figurative language, analyze poetic devices, do a close reading, and decode a secret poem. This is another day where students “go” and you get to observe.

Before Winter Break, this is a fun way to channel the chaos. Students already want to be up and moving and talking to their friends, so why not leverage that? 

Have fun :)

If you haven’t noticed, these ideas also give YOU a break! We’re all tired and just trying to make it through… so why not use the flexibility and fun of poetry to help you out?

What are your favorite ideas for teaching poetry? Let us know in comments.

Happy teaching!

Other Coffee Shop resources for teaching poetry:

Teaching Poetry Online and in Class (blog post) by Room 213
Poetry Analysis Collaborative Poster (blog post) by Daring English Teacher

Acrostic Poetry Writing - Snowball Activity by Presto Plans

Poetry Analysis - Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Tracee Orman

Pet Peeve Poetry by Addie Williams

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