Ode to Poetry or How I Learned to Accept it in the Classroom

3:00 AM

Ah poetry!   You and I definitely have a love-hate relationship.  I like poetry, I really do.  I took a Victorian Poetry class in college.  "My heart is gladder than all these. Because my love has come to me. " Beautiful, but I remember it from an episode of Cheers. The Lady of Shallott, a masterpiece.  I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, an ode of daffodils, I can't get enough. But that's in my finer moments.

See the guy sleeping in the picture?  That's me when I have to teach it to my classes.  I really didn't think poetry had any place in the modern classroom.  It should be an elective in high school.  What use is poetry in the real world? Have I ever written a haiku about how much I love shoes?  An angry sonnet to the gas company? And if any boyfriend had EVER given me a poem as a gift that would have been the end of that relationship.

So what changed?  As with so many things, I did. Christina Rossetti, William Wordsworth and Tennyson are all excellent but there have been a few poets since the 1880s. While I always saw the benefit of Jack Prelutsky or Shel Silverstein in elementary school, poetry in middle school escaped me.  Then I discovered Nikki Grimes.  She's a modern poet with a modern voice and a modern take on poetry.  Her poems tell a story, a story that really relates to kids. Many of her characters are middle school or high school age and their problems are relatable to my students.

So how to go about teaching poetry to middle school kids?  Start with the basics, figurative language. Similes, metaphors and imagery are in so many different books that it just makes sense to introduce the terms every year in my class. My Figurative Language Match Game is the perfect way to get kids immersed in the terms.  Then I hit them with a Nikki Grimes book.  My two favorites are Garvey's Choice and Words with Wings.  Garvey's Choice is about a boy who would rather join chorus than football and that causes a riff with his dad.  Words with Wings is about a young girl who daydreams to dull the pain of her parents' divorce. Both highly relatable characters and situations.  

So now with an array of lessons covering figurative language and in depth comprehension questions and analysis on contemporary poems, I have finally come to agree that poetry deserves its place in middle school, just as much as teen angst, hormones, and algebra. 

by Unknown

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