Teaching Poetry From The Inside Out

By Marlene Roseboom Marlene #imaginED poetry(Teacher, MEd in Imaginative Education)

The question was recently put to me, seeing that April is poetry month, of how to use cognitive tools to teach poetry.  That’s a pretty easy question to answer, seeing as poetry has embedded within itself many cognitive tools. (Think, for example, of emotion, imagery, metaphor, and music – these are what make poetry!)  Whoever you are and whatever you teach, there are endless possibilities to incorporate cognitive tools in teaching poetry.

(Not sure what a cognitive tool is? Learn more from imaginED’s Tools of Imagination Series. A teaching TIP for Imaginative Educators is released each week.)

Here are a few suggestions for using cognitive tools for teaching poetry:

  • The body and emotions: Herein lies the heart of poetry. Have your students go outside and do a nature walk, or have them experience (or remember experiencing!) something else through their senses. This experience could be an event or it could just simply be a student’s favorite or least favorite sensory experience (what they love or hate to do or eat or feel, for example). Brainstorm sense images for each sense (what does the student see, feel, hear, smell, taste); tweak those sense images using poetic devices (onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, consonance, metaphor, etc.). This example from a student, thinking of riding her bike –  “sputtering bitter bugs out of my grinning face” – exemplifies this attention to both emotion and the somatic in poetry. poetry #imaginED

  • Binary opposites: Have students explore opposites (and extremes) using Haiku. Juxtaposition (of opposites) is essential to effective Haiku poetry. However, any poetry can be adapted to the exploration of opposites (diamante, limericks, etc.)  See example of fun opposite poem here.

  • Story: Have students analyze or write a ballad. Alternatively, have them tell a personal story through poetry.

  • Metaphor: Essentially, poetry is metaphor. But, specific metaphor poetry can also be written. 

  • Drama:  Shakespearean drama is poetry (as it is composed of iambic pentameter). Have students memorize an important or famous passage from one of his plays and perform it to the class.

  • Jokes and humor: Analyze/create limericks or other funny poetry. And who could leave out Shel Silverstein when talking about humorous poems? poetry #imaginED

  • Mental images: Like metaphor, mental imagery lies at the heart of poetry. Poetry creation should always start with mental images. This poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which is rife with imagery, is a personal favourite.

  • Music: Lyrics are poetry. Have students analyze music, or experience it. Then, have them write their own lyrics to a familiar tune.

  • Extremes & Limits: Analyze or write poetry about extreme experiences. A favourite in one of my classes is Canadian poet Earle Birney’s “David”. Students also really enjoy tinkering with hyperbole, which is a deliberate going beyond the limits of reality. Have students compete to create the most extreme hyperbole poem.

  • Humanization of knowledge: Have students write a poem as “The Life of an __________________” (whatever the current topic is). For example, students could write a poem on “The Life of an Earthworm.”

  • Graphic organizers: When studying elements of poetry, graphic organizers can be used to help analyze the poem.

  • Revolt/idealism: Have students study the history of, and analyze and create (G-rated) rap or hip hop music – the original protest music. Tie in to a study on human rights. There are some excellent ideas here.

  • Change of context/role play: Have students act out a ballad or write poetry that they can act out.dress up #imaginED

  • Tools for theoretic/philosophic forms of engagement:

    Analyze poetry thematically. Have students learn to identify the common theme among poems and analyze what each poet has to say about that theme.  See how the form of poetry relates to its theme.

    Teach students to understand how irony (opposites/tension within a poem) is essential in order for poetry to convey its meaning – how the poet’s use of irony says something that mere prose could never say.

    Teach students to recognize the inadequacy of language to convey meaning. Discuss why poetry is the best way to convey/experience/ feel connected to the human condition.

    Examine the poetry of a certain era (or the current one) and analyze how the poems reflect the culture of the times.

And all that is just a start!

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