Poetry’s Potential in Content Area Classrooms

“A poem is many things. It is the flutter of soft wings or a fist beating against the ear.  It is animal crackers or Roman noses or grisly ways and horrible deaths.  It is laughter or crying. It is courage or fear. It is a song or a curse. It is the freshness of love and newborn seasons or the stench of hate and garbage cans. It is an adventure, a sentiment, an observation, a comment on the world. It is all these things, and many things more.”

The following description of poetry is from the 1967 textbook Counterpoint in Literature.  Poetry is old, ancient, and goes far back way before this textbook was published.  Poetry is ancient.  Many see poetry as what Carl Sanburg describes as “the art which gathers the beautiful into words.”  Millions of people read poetry.  Poetry is standard in English classroom but for teachers outside the English content ares, poetry might seem unimportant. They are wrong.  Poetry belongs in any content area classroom.  What might seem like a diversion from the common core standards or textbook lesson, poetry can enhance literacy in the content area and deepen student understanding.

Here are a few trustworthy poetry activities that can be employed in any content area classroom and grade level.

1) Found Poems – A found poem is one of my favorite poetry forms for students to create. A found poem is taking another person’s prose which the writer then uses to create a poem so that it has a totally different meaning.  Annie Dillard’s Mornings Like This is a collection of her found poems created from newspaper articles and other interesting text.

2) Ode – An ode is a poetry form that praises the ordinary things: socks, a particular person, our world.  Students can write an ode to an element on the periodic table or even an ode to a number that holds special meaning to them.

3) Haiku – Many students have been introduced to the poetic form of haiku. It is a deceptively simple form which constructs an entire poem with only 17 syllables organized in three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables, respectively.  Traditionally haiku is about nature but the mathematical elements of this poetry form lend lots of play in a math classroom.

4) Bio and Histopoems – A biopoem or a histopoem provides students with the opportunity to create a biographical or historical summary about a topic or person. Each line of a biopoem or a histopoem has a prescribed focus which guides students to summarize the information from a variety of perspectives.  Click here for one prescribed biopoem format.

5) Poetry Self- Portrait – Have students find five poems that are reflections or portraits of themselves – of the different aspects of themselves.  Have students collect the poems they feel deeply connected to, poems that speak to who they are.  Then have students write a brief reflection on why they chose each poem.

“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                           –Allen Ginsberg


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