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Teaching Poetry

poetry in block letters

Do you use poetry in your homeschool, or is it one of those topics you think about but can't quite work into your already busy schedule? Teaching this art is a good way to help students learn more about language and to explore their creative sides.

Basics of Teaching Poetry

Ideally, the emphasis for younger students should be on enjoying and appreciating poetry. As students get older, they can begin to delve into poetry analysis, such as identifying poetic devices and themes. For maximum enjoyment and learning opportunities, encourage your children to both read and write poems when you are teaching poetry.

Common Terms

Understanding the following terms can help develop a vocabulary for discussing poetry:

  • Alliteration - A repetition of sounds in the stressed syllables of a series of words
  • Imagery - Using figurative words to create a vision in the mind's eye of persons, places, things or ideas
  • Metaphor - A figure of speech that makes a comparison or an association between two things that are unrelated; i.e., rollercoaster of emotions
  • Rhyme - Words that sound similar at the end; i.e., cold and bold
  • Rhythm - A regularly recurring pattern of words or sounds
  • Simile - A figure of speech that uses the word like or as to compare two things that are alike in some way; i.e., blind as a bat
  • Stanza - A group of phrases that form divisions in a poem
  • Theme - A recurring idea expressed in the poem
  • Verse - Writing that has a particular rhythm to it; a specific section of a poem

Ideas for Reading Poetry

For reading assignments, poems can easily stand alone, but it's also possible to include poems as part of the readings in homeschool unit studies. Reading poetry aloud can help your children appreciate the lyrical language, the flow of the words, and the impact of rhyme.

Novels in Verse

For a unique take on poetry, give your children the opportunity to read novels in verse, books that present a narrative through a series of poems.

  • Witness and Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse both combine poetry and historical fiction. Out of the Dust, the 1998 Newbery Award winner, depicts the life of a young girl growing up during the Depression. Witness describes a 1920s town as it reacts to the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • The Make Lemonade series by Virginia Euwer Wolff follows an inner-city teenager as she struggles to improve her life with a good education and details the lessons she learns about life along the way. Sonya Sones has also written several young adult books that tell coming of age tales through poetry.

Additional Suggestions

  • Children usually love humorous poetry. The works of Shel Silverstein are a popular choice in teaching poetry.
  • You may want to introduce poetry through a familiar poem, such as a favorite rhyming children's book or an iconic title like 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.
  • Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes have been beloved for generations and are a good foundation for learning poetry for young children.
  • When introducing poetry analysis, don't focus on too many aspects at once. Instead, present a single poem with a clear theme, an interesting metaphor, frequent use of alliteration, and so on.
  • Aliens Have Landed at Our School is a fun classic that helps to train children in rhyme while telling a fun tale..
  • Have teens learn more about the poets and their lives as a means to help your students understand poetry better. They should study great poets like Langston Hughes, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and more.

Ideas for Writing Poetry

Poetry offers a unique way for children to present their thoughts. When writing a poem, they can play with words, create images and express complex ideas in just a few words.

Formal Poetry Forms

When teaching poetry, ask your children to write within formal poetry forms. This stretches their creative writing muscles. For some children, writing to a set form can also be a safety net, making the plunge into poetry less daunting. Some forms include:

  • Acrostic - The first letter of each line forms a word, usually the poem's topic, when read from top to bottom.
  • Bio poem - This is an 11-line, biographical poem which follows a specific pattern for giving the info it provides.
  • Cinquain - This is a 5- line poem which has a set syllable pattern of 2, 4, 6, 8, 2.
  • Haiku - This is a Japanese form of poetry which has three lines with a syllable pattern of 5, 7. 5.
  • Limerick - This is a typically humorous poem composed of one couplet and one triplet for a total of five lines with a syllable pattern of 8, 8, 5, 5, 8.
  • List poem - This poem begins with a topic that states what it's going to tell you about. It then tells a short story with a beginning and an ending, and each line begins with the same structure, i.e., When my...
  • Sestina - This poem is made up of seven stanzas. The first six stanzas contain six lines, and the seventh stanza has only three lines. Additionally, each stanza follows its own pattern.
  • Shape poem - The lines/words of the poem are arranged to form a physical shape that is typically related to the poem's topic. For example, the poem forms the shape of an umbrella when the topic is about an umbrella.
  • Sonnet - This is a 14-line poem which is written in iambic pentameter, and it was very popular during William Shakespeare's era.

Poetry Lesson Plans

No matter what the age of the student, teaching poetry can help to expand their minds and can enhance their social consciousness.

Preschool Ideas

Students in this tender age group are usually familiar with nursery rhymes, so using these simple rhymes is a good way to teach them about poetry.

  • Read a favorite nursery rhyme to the student or students
  • Ask your student to listen for the words that rhyme
  • Then ask your student to come-up with a list of words that rhyme with the rhyming words she just identified
  • Replace the rhyming words in the nursery rhyme with the new list of words and read it to the student

Ideas for Elementary-Aged Students

Help your school-aged child explore the world around them by helping them compose a poem.

  • Choose a topic to write a poem about such as the circus, a tree or anything else that the child shows an interest in
  • Ask your student to generate a list of words that revolve around the topic
  • Have your student use the word list to create a four line poem
  • Have your child recite the poem or poems in front of a group of friends or extended family

Middle School Plans

By middle school, kids are becoming more familiar with famous poets and are able to read poetry by themselves.

  • Teach the differences between rhyming couplets, haiku, acrostic and free verse poems
  • Have the student choose a topic
  • Have him write a poem in three different styles about the same topic
  • Compare and contrast the different poems

Poetry Curriculum

There are a variety of curriculum resources available for homeschool families.

Preschool

Elementary School

Middle School

Poetry Resources

Take full advantage of the resources available in your community and online when teaching poetry.

  • Visit your local library for a wide variety of poetry books. Poetry may be located in the non-fiction section or among the picture books.
  • Attend a poetry performance to see literature in action. Look for readings at bookstores, universities and coffee shops.
  • The Academy of American Poets offers a wealth of resources, including poems, biographies of poets, audio files of poems, and ideas for teaching poetry. The organization also sponsors National Poetry Month in April of each year.

However you choose to incorporate poetry into your homeschool lessons, take some time to explore the form and have fun!

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Teaching Poetry