Poetry Flailings

This week I tried my hand at teaching poetry.

The thing is, I had approximately 20 minutes each day to teach said poetry.

The assessment I’ve been given to use basically requires them to be able to identify a number of poetry terms (like the sonic devices, terms like “stanza” and “meter”, and so-on), as well as identify several different kinds of poems (including ballad, free verse, and cinquain, among others).

Knowing this – and trying to fit all of this into 1 week of 20-minute-per-day-sessions – I ended up teaching a series of seriously sub-par lessons.

Sitting here writing this in reflection, it’s all so clear.  Students are not going to remember what the definition of “alliteration” is if all I do is tell them what it is whilst pointing to the dictionary definition of it displayed on a document cam, from my place at the front of the classroom where I am chained to the computer desk.  Students are not going to recall or understand things that they haven’t explored and discovered themselves.  Students are not going to learn from the bad poetry teachers from Dead Poet’s Society – which is who I felt like at several points this week.

Oh, I had my successes.  Showing them what “ballad” is by playing When I Was Your Man by Bruno Mars as a demonstration was a slam-dunk.  And clearly these kids are very into sharing their own poetry – clearly, the most engaging parts of each lesson have been the times when students have shared.

That just makes the realization that I spent other times doing nothing that was conducive to anyone’s learning all the more frustrating.  I guess what I’m feeling right now is mainly a sense that I barely know what I’m doing – that if I ever succeed, it’s by accident. I feel like most of the theory I’ve had crammed into my brain over the past year has fled my skull, leaving only vague emptinesses. I feel paralyzed in a state between not quite being able to recall the reasons why I do what I do, and not having enough experience to know how to move forward.

Okay, I’m going to stop now, and pose 2 questions.

1. What the heck do you do when you have only 20 minutes to teach something?

2. What’s the best way to teach poetry to a class of 5th graders with a very wide range of comfort with that sort of literature?


2 thoughts on “Poetry Flailings

  1. professorjvg

    Great questions Blue Dot.

    Here are some back, to one who has been so playful himself with poetry this year:

    How will 5th graders’ lives be better, having learned poetry this year with you? How much do they have to learn now to experience the richer sense of the power of words, and what can wait?

    What happens if we switch the question around? What can students learn about the wonder of poetry in 20 minutes a day?

    What if there are 5 best ways, not one?


    How is a Tweet like and unlike a haiku? (that one is off the cuff…!)

  2. futureteacher232

    I was struck by your comment, “I feel paralyzed in a state between not quite being able to recall the reasons why I do what I do, and not having enough experience to know how to move forward.” Don’t feel discouraged. I feel we all have our moments of uncertainty, especially lately as we are trying on these new techniques. We all have to remember that we are all still learning everyday, and it is okay to make mistakes. That is one of the ways we learn. The only way to get enough experience to move on is to keep trucking along and try our best. In time the experiences will come that help guide us to move forward. I believe that you are making a positive difference in each of your student’s lives.

    To try and answer you questions, I would suggest continue trying to teach poetry by connecting to the student’s interests. I loved how you connected poetry styles to the pop culture that the students know. Maybe try to challenge the students to pick one of the styles you are teaching and write a poem they can share with the class. It sounds like they like to share their ideas. In 20 minutes it is hard to fit everything in, especially when it is a new style everyday. I wonder if you could try and read poetry during a read aloud so poetry is present during multiple parts of the day, and not just those 20 minutes.


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