Top 3 Ways to Help Kids Love Poetry

11 Feb

1st edition

When you say the word “poetry” these days, it is often greeted with a groan, even from grown adults. “I just don’t get poetry,” people say. This attitude starts young and calcifies as we age.

This is silly. Poetry isn’t just about “getting” or “not getting” it; it’s about experiencing it. You don’t “get” birdsong or drumbeats–you just listen to them and enjoy them. Likewise, poetry isn’t just about analysis (though it can certainly be enriched by it); it’s about listening, enjoying, and–eventually–tattooing a few choice words into your heart. If you understand that, you love poetry. The following three things are tools that help me get my kids to approach poetry in this way:

1. Listen to poems out loud. Several times. One of the best investments I ever made was a $10 pair of portable speakers that I carry to every class. Whenever I read a poem with my kids, I try to play a recording of the author (or an actor, if it’s a long deceased poet) reading the work. We listen to it twice through, first just to listen and second to take notes and ask questions. Taking the poem off the page helps students to remember that it is just words thought up by some person, not an impenetrable and anonymous text.

2. Memorize poems. Memorization has gotten a bad rap as a boring or old-school exercise, but poetry was born to be memorized. Rehearsing the words over and over makes them more familiar and less frightening. It unlocks the meaning. It builds a connection between the reader and the poet. To start a unit on poetry, let your students find poets that they like and memorize a work by that poet.

3. Write poems. This is perhaps the best way to make poetry accessible because once a student has written a poem, they have seen poetry from the other side. They know, now, that it is not so mystical and strange. They are poets, and so they can approach other poets as colleagues, not as confused students.

How do you get your students to relate to poetry? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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2 Responses to “Top 3 Ways to Help Kids Love Poetry”

  1. Jackie February 15, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    I’ve had great success the past few years doing a “March Madness” style tournament of poetry in my class–I think one of the reasons they like is that they simply have to react to these poems and vote them up or down, which removes some of the pressure and allows them to have a more immediate emotional reaction to what they hear. We finish with an explication, so they do have to test their analysis skills, but I think being exposed to a lot of poems without having to analyze each one helps them understand a little more why people fall in love with poems.

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