Katherine Narraway
PED 3177A


Why teach students how to write poetry? Carol Clark writes that "in our technological age of 'sound bites' and short attention spans, the brevity and compression of poetry are especially appealing to students. The same student who might balk at reading ten pages of prose for a homework assignment might show more enthusiasm and care in the preparation of a ten-line poem, simply because it seems more manageable." (Clark, "Why Teach Poetry," 1)

At a deeper level, Clark believes that today's students enjoy writing poetry because they associate poetry and song lyrics. She believes students enjoy both the rhythmic aspect of writing poetry as well as writing about themes that are close to their hearts. Clark writes: "topics such as identity, discovery, family relationships, survival, change, morality, hopes, and dreams are of primary interest to young people searching for self-awareness in an uncertain world. By addressing such topics, poetry often has the ability to reach the heart of the young reader with more intensity and immediacy than some of its prose counterparts." (Clark 1) Encouraging students to read poetry and write their own creates what Clark refers to as a "natural bridge" between cognitive learning and personal expression (Clark 1). Clark believes that older students benefit from the attention to detail that reading and writing poetry demands and that the rhythms and rhymes "attract younger students to the beauty and functions of language." (Clark 1)

Teaching poetry writing is not just about teaching techniques, though that is a part of what needs to be taught. To teach students to be poets, a teacher must read students poetry that is relevant to their lives, provide as many models as possible for inspiration purposes, and set student's imaginations free. Everyone has poems inside them, and as teachers, it is our job to help students let their poems out.

On Reading Poems to a Senior Class at South High
D.C. Berry

I opened my mouth
I noticed them sitting there
as orderly as frozen fish
in a package.

Slowly water began to fill the room
though I did not notice it
till it reached
my ears

and then I heard the sounds
of fish in an aquarium
and I knew that though I had
tried to drown them
with my words
that they had only opened up
like gills for them
and let me in.

Together we swam around the room
like thirty tails whacking words
till the bell rang
a hole in the door

where we all leaked out
They went to another class
I suppose and I home

where Queen Elizabeth
my cat met me
and licked my fins
till they were hands again.

The Hook

Choosing school-related poems

If it is your goal to get students not to read poetry but to write poetry, the poems the students read in class must be engaging to the students. Poems about school are a great way to get students interested and also to show them that they can write very good poetry from their own daily experiences.

Here are some examples of poems about school that are useful to inspire students. This list is from "Teaching Poetry in High School" by Albert B. Somers, pages 34-35:

- "After School: Room Three" by William Stafford
- "Beating Up Billy Murphy in Fifth Grade" by Kathleen Agaero
- "Commencement, Pingree School" by John Updike
- "Country School" by Ted Kooser
- "The Desk" by David Bottoms
- "Cruel Boys" by Gary Soto
- "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum" by Stephen Spender
- "First Practice" by Gary Gildner
- "For Talking" by Denise Nico Leto
- "The Geography of Children" by Jane Flanders
- 'Having the Wrong Name for Mr. Wright" by Helen Barolini
- "The High School Band" by Reed Whitemore
- "In an Urban School" by Toi Derricotte
- "Junior High Dance" by Alison Joseph
- "On Reading Poems to a Senior Class at South High" by D. C. Berry
- "On the Death of a Student Hopelessly Failing my Course" by Gregory Cuomo
- "Zimmer's Head Thudding Against the Blackboard" by Paul Zimmer

"Teaching Poetry in High School" by Albert B. Somers

Recommended books of school-related poetry:
- "Gladly Learn and Gladly Teach: Poems of the School Experience," edited by Helen Plotz (Greenwillow, 1981)
- "Learning By Heart: Contemporary American Poetry about School," edited by Maggie Anderson and David Hassler (University of Iowa Press, 1999)

Reading Poetry Aloud

Students need to be inspired in order to be able to write poetry. Reading poetry that students will find interesting aloud is one of the best sources of inspiration for writing poetry, because one gets used to rhythm, rhyme, and meter in more traditional poems. Also, the cadence of voice necessary for reading free verse poetry helps to inspire new ideas in students who enjoy less restriction in their writing practice. For a teacher to use reading poetry aloud as a hook, the teacher must be good at reading poetry aloud!

However, students will enjoy seeing their peers read poetry well. One good way to show young people who are actively engaged in speaking poetry is to show the winners from the annual American competition called Poetry Out Loud. Students memorize and recite a poem that has meaning to them. Winners from every year are posted on youtube regularly. Here is a good example:

Poetic Songs

One common source of student inspiration for their poetry is in the music they listen to everyday. A good way to get students interested in writing poetry is to show them how similar poetry and song-writing is. Teachers should try to choose songs that the students enjoy and that have various levels of meaning.

The following are a list of useful links to help relate poetry and contemporary music:

Teaching Poetry through Rap
Metaphors and Similes in Rap
Lyrical Poetry in Popular Music

Classroom Activities

The hook has been planted. The students are eager to begin writing. What should they do?

The following are some ideas for classroom poetry-writing activities:


To get the creative juices flowing, nothing is better than free-writing. Free-writing is writing for a prescribed period of time without letting one's internal editor get in the way of the words. It is a technique to break through writer's block and encourage a writer to just keep writing, without regard for spelling, grammar, etc. Free-writing is not to be shared and should not be corrected.

In a poetry class, it can be useful to do focused free-writing. Read a poem to the students and have them free-write based on the thoughts the poem inspired. Of course, free-writing can be in the form of poetry. However, usually it is prose.

Natalie Goldberg, in her book "Writing Down the Bones" gives these instructions for free-writing that are useful for students:

1. Keep your hand moving (Don't pause to reread the line you have just written. That's stalling and trying to get control of what you're saying.
2. Don't cross out (This is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn't mean to write, leave it.)
3. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar (Don't even care about staying within the lines or the margins of the page)
4. Lose control.
5. Don't think. Don't get logical.
6. Go for the jugular (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has a lot of energy)
Writing Down The Bones, by Natalie Goldberg pages 10-11.

  • Free-writing assessment: Free-writing should not be turned in for a grade. This will discourage students from writing their true thoughts and feelings. If you want to evaluate students based on their free-writing, simply record whether or not they have done the exercise.

Writing From Poetry

One of the best ways to write poems is to use poems you like as a basis for creation. This kind of poetic mimicry works well in a classroom environment where each student can choose his or her own poem and work with it. It also works well when all students use the same poem as inspiration, so when they share what they have written, everyone can see the differences in point of view.

Let's use this poem as an example for the different techniques for Writing From Poetry outlined below:

The Sacred
by Stephen Dunn

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he'd chosen. and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up
the car in motion,
music filling it, and someones one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, they key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

A) Basic Response Poem
What is your sacred space? Write a poem about what it is, what makes it sacred. Be specific, include details of the place to make it sound special.
B) Steal A Line
Choose a line (or two or three) from this poem and include them in a poem you are writing. Be sure to write the "stolen" lines in italics and give credit to the Stephen Dunn at the end of the poem.
C) Rewrite the Ending
Pretend that Stephen Dunn could not finish writing "The Sacred". Please write an alternate final three lines. Try to follow Stephen Dunn's format, line spacing and rhythm.
D) Point of View
Pretend you are the boy in the poem or the teacher in the poem. Write a poem in the first person about being asked to describe your sacred space (boy) or listening to your students discuss sacred places (teacher)
E) Imitate the Form
Write a poem that imitates the structure of "The Sacred". Each paragraph must be three lines. Remember to indent the second line and keep that line short.

  • Writing From Poetry Assessment: When grading poetry, be sure you have made it clear to the students and yourself how they will be evaluated. Useful Ontario Language Curricular categories to consider when grading poetry written in this way are:
    • Thinking: Use of critical/creative thinking process (specifically, writing process and invention)
    • Communication: Communication for different audiences and purposes (e.g. use of appropriate style, voice, point of view, tone)
    • Application: Making Connections within and between various contexts (e.g. between the text and personal knowledge or experience, other texts, and the world outside the school; between disciplines)
"Achievement Chart - Language, Grades 1-8" in The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8 Language, 2006. pp. 20-21.

Writing from Form Models

A great way to encourage students to be creative poets is to give them a variety of poetic forms to work within. There are innumerable forms out there, but this list is of forms that I believe encourage students to be creative without being intimidated by traditional, rigorous forms such as the Sonnet.

Clippings Poem

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A "Clippings Poem" is a poem made out of words or sentences cut out of magazines or newspapers and pasted onto a new page. The instructions are like this: flip through a magazine and look at the words in the headlines that jump out at you. As you flip through try to see where a poem begins to emerge from what stands out. The only requirement is that the poem makes some kind of sense as a whole.

List Poem

List poems are easy to write and there are so many good poems to use as models. Ask the students to brainstorm a list of some kind, for example: Things you need during a snowstorm; Things you see at a baseball game, etc. Give the students models of famous list poems ("My Favourite Things" from The Sound of Music is a good example) and ask them to write one using the list they brainstormed under your guidance.

These I Have Loved
by Rupert Brooke (exerpt from The Great Lover)

These I have loved:
White plates and cups, clean-gleaming
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light, the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood...


Haiku is a traditional Japanese minimalist form of poetry. They are usually 17 or fewer syllables and convey an experience, often about nature. In English, Haiku are usually written in a 5-7-5 format (5 syllables on the first and third line, 7 syllables on the second) but as a teacher you do not have to stress the syllabic requirements. The best way to learn Haiku is to read many examples and just try.

An old silent pond...
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.

by Basho (a famous Japanese poet, 1644-1694)

Rain falling softly
a century old poem
I send you online

by Katherine Narraway


Pronounced "cin-kain", this five-line form is fun for students. They should write: a one-word title, two adjectives describing the tittle, three -ing participles, a related phrase, and a synonym for the title.

Gentle, shaggy
ambling, rambling, shambling
a rollicking hayrick of unruly hair
- from "Teaching Poetry in High School" by Albert B. Somers, page 145.


A seven-line, diamond shaped poem about contrasting subject matter.
symmetrical, conventional
shaping, measuring, balancing
boxes, rooms, clocks, halos
encircling, circumnavigating, enclosing
round, continuous
Line 1:
one word
(subject/noun that is contrasting to line 7)
Line 2:
two words
(adjectives) that describe line 1
Line 3:
three words
(action verbs) that relate to line 1
Line 4:
four words (nouns)
first 2 words relate to line 1
last 2 words relate to line 7
Line 5:
three words
(action verbs) that relate to line 7
Line 6:
two words
(adjectives) that describe line 7
Line 7:
one word
( subject/noun that is contrasting to line 1)

Acrostic Poetry

Acrostic poetry is surprizingly effective. Simply write the letters of your subject down the left side of the page and begin each line with the first letter of the subject word. See the example "Hockey" below:


Hockey is my favourite sport
On the ice or street
Cool and fun
Keep on playing
Exercise and stronger
You should try

Found Poetry

Found poems are poems that are quite literally found or discovered. Tell a student to find a passage he or she considers poetic in a novel, a newspaper, a magazine advertizing, etc. Tell the student to create a poem by transofrming the piece, omitting a word or two, changing the sentence order, and reshaping it to revise the meaning and create a new, poetic meaning of his or her own. Found poetry is different from Writing From Poetry discussed above, because the passages in found poetry should not be poems.

An excellent article about how to introduce found poetry to a class is "Let Found Poetry Help Your Students Find Poetry" by Nancy Gorrell, February 1989 issue of //English Journal//.

Genuine Poem,
Found on a Blackboard
in a Bowling Alley
in Story City, Iowa

If you strike
when head pin
is red pin,
one free game
to each line.
Notify desk
before you throw
if head pin
is red

by Ted Kooser on the Writing Found Poetry Blog

There are many, many, many more forms of poetry, including more traditional forms like sonnets and sestina's that I have not written about on this Wiki. References to websites with lesson plans about how to teach more traditional forms of poetry are included at the end of this Wiki. These seven Form Models are easy and engaging for students and will encourage them to find their poetic voices more easily than the difficult, traditional forms.

  • Writing From Form Models Assessment: When grading poetry where the students' imaginations have been restricted to a particular form, be sure you have made it clear to the students and yourself how they will be evaluated. If they deviate from the form in order to make a better poem, will they be penalized? Be clear in your instructions so the students understand how to curtail their imaginings into the forms being taught.
  • Useful Ontario Language Curricular categories to consider when grading poetry written in this way are:
    • Thinking: Use of critical/creative thinking process (specifically, writing process and invention)
    • Communication: Communication for different audiences and purposes (e.g. use of appropriate style, voice, point of view, tone)
    • Application: Making Connections within and between various contexts (e.g. between the text and personal knowledge or experience, other texts, and the world outside the school; between disciplines)
"Achievement Chart - Language, Grades 1-8" in The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8 Language, 2006. pp. 20-21.

Poetry Assessment

I have briefly discussed assessment in the sections about Free Writing, Writing From Poetry, and Writing from Form Models above.

The following discussion of "Authentic Assessment" of poetry comes from "Teaching Poetry in High School" by Albert B. Somers, pp. 174-176. His suggestions about poetry assessment are not solely for evaluating students' own work, but his concept of a "poetry portfolio" is very useful in the creative writing classroom. I think teacher's could easily pick and choose from his categories and suggested criteria.

Somers defines "Authentic Assessment" as "an effort to evaluate students' ability to use knowledge or skills in real or simulated settings that more closely mirror the demands of 'real life' (hence the word authentic)." (Somers 174) He writes that an authentic assessment of student's own poetry would be ongoing and individualized. Students would be informed at the outset of the standards and of how their performance will be judged. In practice, Authentic Assessment involves products, projects or performances of poetry. Often, in the case of student's poetry, a collection of work is put together into what he calls a "poetry portfolio." A portofolio is a body of work that can be contributed to throughout the unit or the term. When the student and the teacher decide that the portfolio is ready for rassessment, the process of evaluation "often invovles several people, certainly the two of them, but possibly other teachers, an administrator, even a parent or a person from the community (maybe a poet!)." (Somers 174)

The following list is what Somers suggest a "poetry portfolio" might include (he also lists examples of the evaluation criteria to be used):

1. A folder of poems the student likes, some with written reasons for her preferences.
Criteria: total number of poems, evidence of breadth of search, evidence of maturity in appreciation (e.g. poems that do not rhyme in addition to some that do), evidence of enthusiasm for particular favourites.
Criteria for written explanations: clarity, detail, conciseness, absence of errors

2. A collection of original poems as well as the draft versions of those poems, the student might select two or three for final evaluation.
Criteria: originality, clarity, compression of thought, vividness of language, use of selected forms and techniques, absence of errors in mechanics.

3. A set of critiques of selected poems, with one or two highlighted.
Criteria: quality of thought, reference to (use of) concepts studied, variety of poems critiqued, quality of writing

4. An annotated collection of Internet sites on poetry that the student has found interesting or useful either to himself or to a given audience (e.g. a poetry teacher).
Criteria: variety of sites, quality of sites, evidence of effort, accuracy of URLs, quality of writing in the annotations

5. Drawings or paintings to accompany one or more favourite poems accompanied by explanations of choice and purposes.
Criteria: quality of the art work (to be judged by an art teacher), quality of writing in the explanation

6. The oral reading of a number of selected poems.
Criteria: quality of performance in terms of appropriateness of intonation, volume, pronunciation and pace; number and variety of poems selected.

7. The performance of a poem (perhaps involving other students); chroal reading, mime, dance, readers theater, etc.
Criteria: originality of performance, quality of performance, depth of interpretation

8. A multimedia presentation of a selected poem.
Criteria: variety of media used, quality of presentation (continuity, clarity, etc)

9. A bibliography of works on a selected favourite poet.
Criteria: length of bibliography, variety of sources consulted, accuracy of citations

"Teaching Poetry in High School" by Albert B. Somers

I think that Somers' suggestion that student and teacher work together in advance to select options from this list that the student would like to do, as well as setting up a schedule of stages and deadlines would be perfect for the poetry teaching classroom. In this case, the teacher is more like a poetry coach or mentor, guiding without direct instruction, because discovery of one's poetic voice cannot exactly be taught. That being the case, Somers' idea of Authentic Assessment using a poetry portfolio would allow assessment of the student's work to be ongoing and allow the teacher to properly evaluate the student's development throughout the unit or term. Like Somers, I Authentic Assessment because of its "emphasis on gradual improvement, on the student having a voice, on the development of a close working relationship between the teacher and student, and on the student's growth in evaluating his or her own work." (Somers 176)

John Webster, from the University of Washington, also thinks that students keeping a portfolio of their poetry throughout the term is beneficial. He writes "students...benefit greatly from the portfolio's providing a concrete place in which they can see thier own work grow. This is true literally; by course end students will have accumulated thirty to forty pages of writing..., all of it produced by thier own hands. But the sense of a student's work growing has a more abstract force, for as students review thier work...they can see for themselves how much more sophisticated their thinking has become." (Teaching Poetry, Chapter 4, p.73)

Humour Helps!

Sometimes no matter how much you encourage students to find their own poetic voices, they retain an image of poets as morose, Sylvia Plath-like figures who dress in black and speak only of deep, deep, meaningful things. Thinking about poetry in this way is not only counterproductive, it's discouraging! When you feel your students are discouraged and unsure how to write "meaningful" poetry, try to inject some humour into the classroom. One of the best ways to do this is to make fun of the stereotypical poet! The following Youtube video might work!

General Resource Pages with Lesson Plans:

Songs My Teacher Taught Me: Poetry Lesson Plans

Tips for Teaching Poetry


Teaching Basic Poetry

How to Teach Poetry to High School Students

Teach Your Students to Write Poetry

Teaching Ideas Showcase: Starred Ideas for Teaching Poetry

Outta Ray's Head: The Poetry Page

Writing Lesson Plans - Poetry

The Teacher's Guide: Poetry