The very most effective book I have used to teach poetry is
Lies, and Dreams, by Kenneth Koch (available at
Amazon.com and elsewhere). The following is a slideshow that
demonstrates most of the different kinds of poetry Koch
Koch's book gives actual directions, but you can see in the
slideshow how each poem works. If you have students write
each type of poem, they will soon begin to understand how
poetry works and how it can be so powerful. This is much
more active learning than reading about poetry or even
Tools, you can create an instant poem online, view
lesson plans, and download tools for making poetry. The
metaphor tool opens as a Flash window, for example. Here is
a comment from a student about using Poetry Tools:
One of the best ways to do poetry writing, especially in the
beginning, is in small groups--e.g., in a group of five,
each person could add one line--or in pairs. I found that my
ESL and EFL students wound up writing even more poems in
their journals/portfolios, just for the sheer pleasure of
Read/Write/Think . . .
site (sponsored by IRA and NCTE) is oriented to native
English speakers, but has some great tools for writing
poetry online. Their Flash-based activities are informative
about poems and metaphoric language as well as helping
students instantly create interesting poems online. Two of
these targeted for grades 6-12 (that is, adult learners
Poems use the letters in a
word to begin each line of the poem. All lines of the
poem relate to or describe the main topic word. Students
are prompted to brainstorm, write, and revise their
poems, thus reinforcing elements of the writing process.
(Flash required; printable.)
(see also cinquain poems
use nouns, adjectives, and gerunds to
describe a central topic or two opposing topics (for
example, night/day or winter/spring). The tool has
numerous word study applications and reinforces the
connection between word study (parts of speech) and the
writing process. (Flash required; printable.)
Shape Poems (especially for younger students) describe an object and are written in the
shape of the object. In this online tool, students are
prompted to brainstorm, write, and revise their poems,
thus reinforcing elements of the writing process.
Students can also print their finished shape poems and
you can encourage them to devise their own shapes and
also has some nice Flash-based applications for writing
different types of essays. Take a look!
Other Poetry Types
One other type of poem I have often used is the cinquain
(5 lines): Each line uses a different sense. I usually start
with a color:
...looks like a
brilliant sunny day
...feels like a
fuzzy dandelion leaf
citrus iced tea
You can have students fill in the words after "like" as a
group in the class. Then they can do their own poem with a
different color. Then ask them to write one more, but remove
the "sounds like," etc. stems. It makes for "real" poetry,
that is, it turns the similes into metaphors. Again, once
students understand how metaphors work, they can start to
recognize and incorporate them into other types of writing.
You can break down each poem in the slideshow and see how it
is structured; then have students write one together as a
whole class and eventually make their own poems
After they have done some of the poems demonstrated in the
slideshow, I also would have them try haiku
in an English version: 5 words in the first line, 7 words in
the second, and 5 words in the last. The lines must include
a place, a time, a plant or tree that symbolizes a season, a
color, and a feeling/emotion (all of these may be implied).
The last line must make a contrast:
whipping morning branches
sidewalks, umbrellas fast against rain
Dogwoods blooming pink and white
Used to be.../But now...
As Koch points out, students really like the I used to
be.../But now I am.../ type of poem, as everyone
feels the sense of change and continuity that makes up their
own personality. I had students write this poem using a
different animal for each line, with accompanying
adjectives, colors, etc.:
I used to be . . .
. . . stubborn as a mule, bookish and grey as an
But now I am . . .
. . . patient as an ant, lively and
red as a robin.
Discussion of the appropriateness of different animals, and
their meanings in different cultures can be quite
interesting. You can also use the used to be/but now format
poems, or haiku. You can also make up
your own rules for poems, e.g., a sestina with six stanzas
of six lines each using the different senses, one to each
line (and the "sixth sense"). Blending and mixing the
different formats will start to feel natural, and students
will spontaneously come up with their own.
For a very complete set of lessons in teaching poetry, see Creating
Poetry Collections at the Read/Write/Think
Poetry from its very beginnings has been a communal
endeavor. ("Homer" was probably a collection of the work of
numerous bards over the centuries.) And poetry has been
almost exclusively oral up until just a few centuries ago.
Students love to read their poems to each other--and they
like making poems about each other, as in the acronym poem
illustrated in the slideshow. Publishing online, preferably
with a podcast reading, is also a good project that would
use technology skills, drawing, digital images or video,
audio/speaking, etc., as well as creative writing. Or use VoiceThread to have
students speak, illustrate, and comment on each other's
poems. Please have students put their poem productions on a
blog or wiki or podcast, or "publish" them online in some
way--and I would love to see how their efforts turn out. My
students have always loved the poetry writing section of a
creative writing course the best.
Sites to Read and
Resource for Teaching International Poetry -
An online resource
for classroom teachers teaching international poetry.
Language Arts standards in poetry (preK-8).
a free online collection of stories and poems in mp3 to
listen to online or download. Read as you listen; print your
own book of favorites.
Lesson Plan for Teaching Poetry
"Hurrah for Poetry!" by Sara Sahr, TESOL
Connections, April 2013
Please see also Quicksteps to Writing a Short
Story when you are ready to move to short
stories. What students have learned about metaphor should
now carry over into prose.
If you are aware of other good resouces for
teaching poetry, please write to me at ehansonsmi
Dr. Elizabeth Hanson-Smith
Teacher Educator, Online Consultant