Do your students find joy in poetry? When teachers begin a poetry unit, they already face the challenge that students will already have their walls up before you even start. Typically, this reluctance comes from previous experiences where they've felt confused and unengaged by poetry. In some cases, this is a result of their experience with poetry simply being analysis without engagement.
Teachers can help students find joy in poetry by making it a more interactive process. We can get them to move around the classroom, discuss poetry with peers, include an element of competition, and much more in our poetry instruction. These strategies sometimes come more easily with for other genres in our ELA curriculum, and we sometimes don't see them as translating to poetry, but they certainly can!
Try these 5 interactive poetry activities that your students will love.
1. SNOWBALL POETRY
The first interactive activity that you can use to make poetry more engaging for your students is collaborative Snowball Poetry Writing, which combines collaboration and acrostic poetry! Here’s how it works:
- Each student gets a sheet with a topic (i.e. D-R-E-A-M) that is written vertically down the left-hand side of the page.
- To begin, the students must write a line in the space provided on the right-hand side of the first letter (i.e. "D").
- Then, they must crumple their page and throw it before retrieving another "Snowball," which underwent the same process.
- Their new page will contain a new topic (i.e. R-O-S-E). They must read the previous line (the one next to "R") and write their own next to the "O."
- This process continues. Once a sheet is filled, it will be returned to the person who started with that page to complete a good copy of the poem.
When students are done, you might even consider having a poetry read-aloud where each student who wrote the final copy can read the poem aloud and credit each of the collaborators.
If the idea of students throwing crumpled up paper balls around the room sounds like total chaos, it usually is, but in the best kind of way. Test assured that the chaos is short-lived and quickly tamed once they get back to writing. If you are really hesitant to give it a try, start by having students try to hit a target at the front of the room instead of throwing them around. This will keep the paper balls contained to one area.
2. POETRY ESCAPE CHALLENGES
Although we do not typically associate poetry with competition, adding a competitive element to your poetry instruction with poetry challenges or escape rooms is a fantastic way to raise the stakes and keep students engaged. You might be wondering what exactly is a poetry challenge...
Poetry challenges are escape room-style, competition-based games that require students to apply their understanding of poetry concepts to escape a scenario. For example, I like to use a poetry challenge to help students with their comprehension. For instance, since many standardized texts include comprehension-based multiple choice questions with poetry, I provide students with a backstory where they are transported into a magical book
and must answer 10 questions correctly to reveal a mystery word to escape.
Similarly, you might have students show their understanding of different types of meter (iambic, trochaic, dactylic, etc.) to escape a volcanic eruption
by sorting poetry cards into their correct meter type. You can also test your students' understanding of poetic form and literary devices to find a rainbow treasure
by sorting form/device cards to the poem they relate to to reveal a mystery word. There are lots of options, but adding in that competitive element will engage your reluctant poets to learn the basics of poetry analysis before diving into annotation. If you are new to escape rooms, you might want to start with a figurative language escape room
. Develop puzzles or riddles that allow students to show their understanding of terms like metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc. to escape!
3. TAPESTRY POETRY
Writing poetry can be daunting. Tapestry poetry, through its emphasis on collaboration, is a great way to ease students into the form. Tapestry poetry was developed by Shernaz Wadia
(of India) and Avril Meallem
(of Israel). These two women started writing tapestry poetry over email. With tapestry poetry, two authors each write a 9-line poem based on the same title and then work together to meld it into one finished product. Here's how it works:
- Put your students into pairs (or allow them to choose their own partner).
- Get one of the students to select a title for the poem.
- Only the student who selects the title is allowed to use it in the poem (to avoid repetition).
- Both students write a 9-line poem.
- When they are done, they will work together to interlace the two poems into a single poem. All 18 lines must be included in the final poem, but students are permitted to make small grammatical changes (singular to plural, verb tenses, etc.), and adjustments to adjectives and adverbs. However, the majority of the poems should remain intact.
You can download this FREE tapestry poetry activity here.
4. POETRY DISCUSSION CARDS
Have you ever read Billy Collins' poem Introduction to Poetry
? In this poem, Collins poignantly describes what I think is one of the main challenges of teaching poetry. From the perspective of a teacher, the speaker says they want the students to “walk inside the poem’s room / and feel the walls for a light switch.” Instead, “they begin beating it with a hose / to find out what it really means.”
Students that I’ve taught in the past seem to have a tendency to try and discern what a poem is about—sometimes to the detriment of their overall reading experience. With poetry, we also tend to get caught up on traditional analysis, so much so that we can easily forget to reflect on the way we experience the poem.
To make my poetry unit more interactive, I encourage open communication about the poems we read by using poetry discussion cards that have no assessment piece. Instead of focusing on the language of traditional analysis, the questions I like to ask are like...
- What do you think the poet felt when they wrote this?
- What do you think is the most important line in the poem?
- Which words in the poem stood out to you?
You can grab these FREE poetry discussion cards here.
These discussion cards not only work for any poem, but they also work for song lyrics as well. In my experience, new students to poetry tend to connect more to music lyrics than to written poetry, even though they are closely related. You can these discussion cards to get your students to respond to the lyrics of a popular song as a way of easing them into other poems.
5. FOUND POETRY
Have you tried using found poetry in your classroom? Found poetry is poetry that is made by taking words, phrases, or passages from an existing text and recontextualizing them in a new poem by changing the order of—or omitting—certain words. A common example of found poetry is blackout poetry, where the poet redacts (or blacks out) certain words from a newspaper, magazine article, or book, for example, to create a poem out of the remaining words. Here are some ideas for texts you could provide to students for blackout poetry:
1. Newspaper article
2. A photocopy of a book or text you read as a class
3. A magazine article
4. A famous poem
5. Song lyrics
6. Social media captions
Another fun found poetry idea is the cut-up technique, where students cut out words from a provided text (like a page from a magazine) and rearrange the "found" words into their own poem. An assignment I often did with students was to provide them with all the individual words from Robert Frost's famous poem, "The Road Not Taken." I would print it on magnetic paper and have students cut out each word. Then, I would provide them with a metallic surface (usually a baking sheet from the culinary tech lab) ad have them rearrange the words to create a new poem. I called the activity Robert Frost Rearranged
To keep things more simple, you can also easily provide students with newspapers or magazines (ask parents to send in any old ones they aren't using to build your collection), and have students cut out and paste the words to create a found poem.
What I like about found poetry of all types is that it adds a physical and tacticle component to poetry, which is especially helpful for our kinethestic learners. It's also great for expanding our students understanding of what poetry is.
There you have it! Happy poetry month, teachers, and I hope you and your students love these new activities!
Looking for more ideas to make poetry interactive? The bloggers at The Secondary English Coffee Shop have you covered.