3 Tricks to Get Students (and YOU!) Excited for Poetry

3 Tricks to get your students (and you) excited about poetry


By Tracee Orman

Do your students groan when they think of poetry? Do you? I know that not everyone is excited about poetry and some people really, really struggle with it (including teachers). I have come across so many teachers in my career and as a curriculum writer that really hate poetry so they either skip it or speed through it. But it honestly doesn't have to be that way. 

So what do you do–how do you find excitement so your students will be excited, too? 

If you follow these three tricks, I guarantee you will find your unit more exciting and your students much more engaged!

My first step was to start with SONG LYRICS. Honestly, there was nothing more off-putting to students than having to read pages of verse...unless it’s from a favorite song! Use song lyrics to introduce the basics (rhyme, figurative language and devices, etc.) hooks them. Don’t believe me? Try it out and see! I guarantee your students will be excited to keep going if you start with songs. Besides, what are songs but poems set to music?

How to do it: 

Play a song in class, from start to finish. Let students just listen to it. (If you use a song like Wake Me Up by Aloe Blacc, they may want to get up and dance, and that is OK! Let them express themselves.) 

2. After listening to the song, introduce the lyrics by either projecting them or copying them onto a worksheet. Ask students what they think the song is about and why? Most songs will have a straightforward meaning but some may not. 

3. Next, ask students to identify a rhyme scheme. Again, most songs will have a clear one but some may not have one at all.

4. Have students identify any figurative devices. Obvious ones include similes, imagery, and personification. But also have them look for metaphors, hyperbole, symbolism, paradox, allusion, synecdoche, and onomatopoeia, to name a few.

5. After this deep dive into the song lyrics, ask students if they think the meaning of the song has changed at all. Chances are it will stay the same but maybe they will see it in a different way. This will help them when they start to analyze poems where the meaning is more complex.

You can also use song lyrics to talk about theme. Choose songs that have a similar theme to a poem. It’s much easier for students to practice with theme on a song first then pick out clues to that same theme in a poem. 

If you need help or further guidance, check out my bundle of song lyrics to teach poetry here.

When I transitioned from reading (and listening to) song lyrics to reading (and listening to) poems, I started with short poems. If you start with a longer poem, it may be too overwhelming for them. Stick to shorter poems to keep your students’ attention.

Some great short poems include: 
“The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams
“We Real Cool” and “Cynthia in the Snow” by Gwendolyn Brooks
“Fog” by Carl Sandburg
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” and “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost
“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell
“Hope is the Thing With Feathers” or any other poem by Emily Dickinson
“There Will Come Soft Rains” and “I Love You” by Sara Teasdale

Think of these as bite-sized ways of ingesting poetry. Keeping them short makes the analysis not as intimidating. And I found that reluctant teachers actually prefer shorter poems, as well.


Finally, after we analyzed the short poems, I had students write parodies of the short poems. Again, using the shorter format makes it much easier when we are writing poems.

To execute this, use light-hearted short poems (for example, from the list above I would definitely NOT use “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”). Then have students mimic the poem, line-by-line, with their own “take” on it. Because students are mimicking the poem, they are practicing essential skills in syntax, reinforcing parts of speech, rhyming, and structure. (And CREATIVITY!)

For example, when using a poem like “The Red Wheelbarrow,” keep the first two lines “So much depends /  upon” then have students replace the rest of the poem with another item.

The Sharpened Pencil Poem

You can decide how much or how little of the original poem you wish to include for the parody poems. 

I have an excellent guided presentation (offered in both PPT and Google Slides formats) that provides the short poems (and even some history on the poets) and step-by-step instructions for writing the parody poems. It includes more poems than you may ever need! And I promise it will make teaching poetry so much easier and fun for you!

Numerous teachers have told me these tricks have helped them make an intimidating genre fun. Just remember, you don’t have to love poetry to teach it effectively. 

I hope these tricks are just what you were looking for and you have a successful unit!

Check out these great resources from my colleagues:

Poetry Writing and Analysis by Addie Williams

Poetry One-Pagers by Presto Plans

Poetry Bell Ringers by Nouvelle ELA

5 Ways to Make Poetry Fun & Accessible by Room 213

How to Teach Blackout Poetry by The Daring English Teacher

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