Poetry is alive. It surrounds us, breathing life into our Instagram feeds, popping up as videos on Facebook, nestling into our daily lives. If you follow the conversation on Twitter around #teachlivingpoets you’ve likely been introduced to poems from writers like Sarah Kay, Clint Smith, and Rupi Kaur. According to a study released from the National Endowment for the Arts, 28 million adults said they read poetry last year — a 5% increase from just four years ago. According to the market research firm The NPD Group, poetry book sales are one of the fastest growing categories in publishing. Library shelves are full of novels in verse — Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down, Elizabeth Acevedo’s Poet X are two of my recent favorites. Poetry is not just alive; indeed, it is thriving.
Too often, though, poetry in our curriculum continues to be relegated to a unit during National Poetry Month in April, after state-testing has passed and teachers feel like we can have “fun.” We must expand the space poetry occupies in our classrooms. In fact, Nancie Atwell, in her introductory letter in Lessons That Change Writers, explains that she uses poetry as one of the first units of her year, because “my students showed me that no genre can match poetry in teaching about the writer’s craft.”
Here are some of my favorite ways to use poetry in the writing workshop throughout the year:
“Rambling Autobiography” by Linda Rief
In the pantheon of “getting-to-know-you” poems, Linda Rief’s poem “Rambling Autobiography” is one of my favorites. Students are captivated (and sometimes surprised) by how Rief jumps from idea to idea, creating rhythm and flow. They like that it doesn’t have to all “make sense.” Some of our best writing all year comes from this piece. Sometimes we write the poems towards the middle of the year. Sometimes we go back and write from a sentence. Sometimes we go back and mine the poem for other writing ideas. After writing from their own perspective, students could later try to write from someone else’s perspective. (note: please create space for students to write about themselves first! It builds confidence, fluency, and buy-in.)
You can find “Rambling Autobiography” along with other quickwrite possibilities in Linda’s latest book The Quickwrite Handbook (a quick google search turns up lots of poems written by students using Linda’s as a model).
“The Truth About Why I Love Potatoes” by Mekeel McBride
Reading like a writer, as Shana wrote about yesterday, is a powerful part of the work of a writer. Poems give us wonderful touchstones for being able to do this.
One of my favorite poems to share with students as we examine author’s craft is “The Truth About Why I Love Potatoes” by Mekeel McBride. I was first introduced to this poem when teaching with Tom Romano (he wrote about it how he uses it in his book Fearless Writing).
After drafting their own poems, I often invite students to gather research about their topic and add a layer of information to the piece. It’s great practice for weaving research among your own words. I also love how Amy Ludwig VanDerwater reminds us that poems reside within the world of informational writing.
“Possibilities” by Wislawa Szymborksa
Ever since I first saw Beth Rimer, co-director at the Ohio Writing Project, share this poem with teachers a few years ago, I’ve been amazed at how effectively it can be used as a launch pad for argument writing. We examine the way each line flows together, but also stands alone. Imagine having students create a list of things they prefer, then going back and revisiting for the claims that live in their lives. We can then infuse that writing with research, or even practice adding hyperlinked citations as evidence for a line. There are so many possibilities (groan…pun!).
So here are a few ways you might add poetry to your classroom. Maybe you already use these — we’d love to hear about it. Or we’d love to know about all the other ways we know you’re using poetry. Share your ideas (be sure to tag @threeteacherstalk). Together we can fill our rooms with poetry all year long.
Angela Faulhaber lives in Loveland, Ohio and is gearing up for another year of literacy coaching and teaching pre-service educators at Miami University. A version of this post appeared in the Ohio Journal of English Language Arts Summer/Fall 2018 issue in the Editor’s Note, where Angela has just finished up as editor.