Hey Fam! Been a minute! The school year is coming to an end and for some (like me!), we are already two weeks into summer vacation! So, teachers, what is your plan for the break? Truth, we never really get a break: tons of planning for next school year, tons of reading for professional development, etc. Well, I’ve got good news for Literature teachers.

Are you planning to teach poetry next school year and you’re at lost as to what to do or where to start? Here are six tricks that worked for my secondary students!

  1. Visuals: Poetry, overtime, has been termed boring. Truth is, it really can be. But to destroy this claim and set an exciting mood, you should start by sharing with your students videos of poetry performances. Think about the group you teach and what excites them. Is it soccer? Dance? Girl rights? Music? Whatever it is, you’re just a click away on the internet! Spend the first two lessons sharing these videos with them on a projector and make sure that while being enjoyable, they’re informative/educative enough to initiate conversations among students. Ask them probing, thoughtful questions from what they have watched, allow students time to think and share responses, allow them counter each other’s stand and pitch in here and there. What you are doing at this stage is stimulating their minds and getting them to flow with the concept of poetry, unknown to them. If you work in a school with no technical support, think about how you can use your smart phone or personal laptop to share these videos. A suggestion will be to have the students sit on the floor, in a circular form while you’re in the middle or any comfortable position, your phone held high or close enough for everyone. Look out to borrow or buy speakers to connect to your phone. If this fails, then be the live entertainer. Get card boards with poems written on them. Let your voice be loud and dramatic as you explain concepts from the poems and throw questions their way. The whole process, completely successful or not, already sets an exciting mood!
  2. You Guide: Now that the students have watched these videos (or you, as the case may be 😁), it’s time to really teach them poetry. Ask them to attempt a definition or list the importance of poetry based on what they’ve seen. Listen to their suggestions and praise their efforts, then introduce the definition/importance. Give notes, if need be, but make sure students contribute more verbally. Talk about the different types of poetry, patterns, etc. and finally introduce figures of speech. This might take two or three lessons.
  3. Understanding Figures of Speech:To teach these, I highlighted about fifteen figures of speech that I thought my students should know in middle school (junior secondary school). Next, I did a power point presentation explaining these devices and showing them the difference between ‘literally’ and ‘literary’ before mentioning that our focus is on literary devices. My presentation was filled with images and I allowed students attempt their own sentence examples of certain figures of speech. Then I broke the class into four groups, each group selected a colourful paper containing four literary devices. The task was to work with your teammates, come up with definitions of the devices given, examples and prepare a class presentation. I did this to let them assume the role of the teacher and synthesise the topic well enough to teach each other. Next, was a quiz. I prepared a quiz on figures of speech and turned it into a group contest. I read sentences and each group deciphered their figurative terms. Class contests always charge students’ brains (no one wants to come last) and is usually an effervescent way of teaching students the importance of healthy competition. The lesson on Figures of Speech took me about a week.
  4. Time to Study Those Poems! If you already have a list of poems recommended for study, this is time to start studying them. Close reading is the ideal way to get students relate to poems (and other texts) on an academic level. I taught my kids to do this for each of the poem we studied by introducing:

-First Read: At this stage, we read a poem just once to find its literal meaning. I read the lines aloud while students read along, silently. Guiding questions to help with understanding at this level may include: what do you think this poem is about? What does the title make you think of? Who do you think is the speaker(s)? Think about many other obvious questions that can get your kids talking and accept all their responses, whether right or wrong. It’s important to record some of their responses on the board or a poster for reference purposes and to give students the feeling that their voice matters.

-Second Read: Here, I allowed students do a reading on their own to analyse the figurative language used in the poem. I gave them about ten minutes to read and underline striking lines based on their understanding of literary devices. Some students may be able to work alone, while others will need the support of a group. Depending on your students’ needs, provide all relevant support: independent or group practice can work effectively, just make sure to circulate and confirm that everyone is engaging with the poem. Guiding questions include: how do you think the speaker in the poem feels? What line(s) made you think so? What figures of speech can you spot? What lines appeal to you and why? After students finished annotating the poem, I led a whole class discussion on their findings and made corrections or added more ideas where need be, while students took note.

-Third Read: Find the central idea or theme. By now, we had fully engaged with the poem. I prompted the students by asking: what message do you think this poem is trying to pass and how do you know this? I cold-called students to share their responses and I applauded them and made modifications. Then I referred them to the answers on the board based on our first reading and we compared them. This helps students track the progress of their understanding in terms of engaging with a poem. The lesson on studying poetry can last for two weeks or more, depending on the number of poems to be studied. My students and I studied about eight poems on slavery (because they were learning about slavery in Social Studies) and we spent two weeks on that.

  1. Formative Assessment:As you study your poems in class, engage students in formative assessments to gauge the level they are at and to learn what weaknesses to work on. I did this by asking my students to independently read and annotate poems, identify the central idea (theme) in a poem and explain their choices in written samples and to select literary devices from a poem and write about them by relating them to the theme of the poem. This helped me know what lessons were successful and what lessons to reteach. Again, the number of formative assessments given depends on the needs of your students.
  2. Bring Back The Fun — Poetry Slam!Bring back the fun in your class by introducing the slam poetry and more videos of poetry performances. Wait for my next post for details on this 😉.

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