Poetry is short and sweet, but for some reason it can be the hardest thing to fit into the everyday ELA curriculum. With a few simple shifts, poetry can become a regular part of your ELA classroom, helping students to master the standards and become better readers and writers.
Planning for Poetry
Plan for poetry to become a regular part of your curriculum by starting with the standards and thinking about how poetry can be used as a tool to help your students master them. This fall, I listed all of the common core standards that could connect with poetry. Then, I listed the titles of corresponding poems that I could use to highlight those standards.
For example, for standard RL 4, students must determine the meaning of words based on their context. I immediately thought of the poem "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, a poem full of nonsense words that, in context, have meaning and tell a story that readers can understand.
"Jabberwocky" is such a fun poem that students love to read aloud in class. By nature, it's captivating and engaging, which makes this the perfect poem choice for my middle school students. I designed a two day lesson that helps students to unpack the meaning of the words in "Jabberwocky" using only context clues. Then the students create their own nonsense words and write a "Jabberwocky" style poem.
By planning for poetry using the standards, you can introduce each poem strategically throughout the school year. I often use poetry lessons focused on specific standards as an intervention when I notice students struggling with a specific skill or to prepare students before a unit of study when I know students will need specific skills under their belt to be successful.
Master the Standards with Poetry
Throughout the year, I reference students' experience using context clues in "Jabberwocky" to help them understand how to use context clues in challenging nonfiction texts and novels.
Similarly, to teach students standard RL 3, analyzing how particular elements of a story or drama interact, I used Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee." I strategically planned to teach this series of lessons before we read a novel where students have to read closely to see how setting, characters, and plot interact.
My poetry lessons often act as the "warm up" to a bigger study, helping students to develop the skills they need to access more challenging curriculum. The nice part of this poetry teaching strategy is that it takes the pressure off of poetry. We use poetry as a tool to sharpen our skills, and it helps to make poetry more friendly and familiar to students.
Using poetry to master the standards also allows you to focus on one specific standard at a time with a text that can be read in a single class period. This allows you to zero in on one specific area before diving into a larger study.
Poetry as Mentor Text
Not only can you use poetry to sharpen students' reading skills, but poetry can make your students better writers.
Every time I use poetry in my classroom, I end our study by asking students to write their own version of the poem applying, synthesizing, and evaluating the skills they learned along the way. Writing poetry in the style of their favorite poets helps students to reach the higher level thinking skills that lead to real understanding.
After studying the way elements of the poem interact in "Annabel Lee," students apply their understanding to brainstorm the types of interactions plot and setting can have on characters in their own writing.
After reading "Jabberwocky," students brainstorm their own nonsense words and write a poem with the context to make those words meaningful.