Delight, Wisdom, and Illumination: Poetry Activities for All Ages

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

— Allen Ginsberg

Poetry is a multifaceted tool that can provide students opportunities to reflect on literature, content area subjects, or their own feelings, while increasing their understanding of the material being covered within classroom instruction. Poetry supports  language and reading development. Poetry brings aesthetic connections to topics and provides a personal relationship with content material. Robert Frost once wrote, “a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” (1973)  Sharing poetry with our students offers both delight and insight of the power of words.

Here are a few different types of poems that fit into any content area classroom for reading and writing.

An ODE is a poem in praise of the ordinary things in life. The ode was originally a Greek form of dramatic poetry. Some odes follow a specific rhyme scheme and stanza pattern, but it is not necessary. Think about having your students write an ode for a specific time or event in history, a scientific concept, or an ode to celebrate a famous mathematician.

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 histopoem has a prescribed focus which guides students to summarize the information from a variety of perspectives. Biopoem and histopoems are great to use in social studies, science, and with literature.

Students can write HAIKU based on visual images for a unit on the environment or create haiku about something they are studying in your content area. Haiku are 17 syllable poems that are usually about nature and don’t rhyme. Haiku are three lines that follow 5-7-5 form.

Poet and educator, Georgia Heard, writes “Anger is a tremendous source of creativity.” In social studies class students can examine the poetry written about the past wars. Sidney Keyes, a British poet, wrote about WWII. Both Wilfrid Gibson and Siegfried Sassoon fought in the front lines during WWI and later wrote poems about the war.

Without using any words, only sounds create a musical poem or SOUND POEM. Have students write a sound poem about their mother. Then, go around the room and have people read aloud their sound poem

A FOUND POEM is shaped from a collection of words or phrases found in one text. A found poem may be created by students after a test has been read, in part or in whole. To create a found poem, readers select and combined memorable words and phrases from a text to create or “find” a poem. Annie Dilliard’s Mornings Like This is a collection of found poems to share with others. Whether students use a textbook, article, or a piece of literature, a found poem helps to understand the text deeply and make meaning.

SAY IT BUT DON’T REALLY SAY IT POEM In Eve Merriam’s poem New Love she expresses love without ever using the word love. How then do we know that she is talking about love? Have you students write a love poem (or a poem about anything) without saying or using the word it’s about.

New Love
by Eve Merriam

I am telling my hands
not to blossom into roses

I am telling my feet
not to turn into birds
and fly over rooftops

and I am putting a hat on my head
so the flaming meteors
in my hair
will hardly show.

RESPONDING TO POETRY As students listen to a poem being read aloud, have students make a list of the things that “snap, crackle, and pop in their ears . . . words, sounds, rhythms, and phrases. Students can draw a picture (realistic or abstract) of whatever the poem is saying. Maybe the poem reminds you of a song or the sound of a specific musical instrument. Students can describe the sounds and songs. Describe a memory or person the poem might evoke. Does the poem remind you of something? Make a connection. Or just respond to the poem in any way you wish.

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