Poetry Writing ISN’T Just for April

by Thom Smith

As we inch closer to another National Poetry Month (April), I wanted to encourage all educators to use poetry in your classroom throughout the school year!  Poetry reading and writing should NOT be brought to the attention of our students only in April.  Poetry has so many positive uses in the classroom and it is often underutilized.  It is the ultimate writing tool that can be integrated into any lesson or unit with ease…and it ain’t just about that lovey-dovey stuff, either!

Poetry is a fun way for students to describe anything and everything they are learning about – from geometry to the industrial revolution, from geology to Jane Austen!  It can be used as a quick assessment to determine student progress, an added element to a class project, or simply as another assignment to strengthen writing skills.  And let’s not leave out social emotional learning topics – writing poetry can also be a great way for students to express their own thoughts, and consider other people’s emotions as well.

Another benefit of having students write poetry is that it is almost always a quick assignment.  This is NOT to say that students should work fast while writing writing poetry – only that poetry is often an assignment that takes less time to complete than, let’s say, an essay, or a “#1-30 in your workbook” activity.  And since every word used in a poem should be chosen carefully, a student who follows this important guideline should produce a poem with depth, not just information.  

Writing poetry also blends creativity into student assignments.  Instead of students defining a math term, have them describe a vocabulary word with a poem, like an acrostic.  Instead of students filling out a graphic organizer, have them write a limerick about a book’s main character.  Instead of students writing their conclusions to science experiments, have them try writing a poem about their entire investigative process.  Instead of students writing a research report on a battle, have them try writing a poem from the perspective of a general, or the general’s horse!

Additionally, poetry tasks can help struggling and reluctant writers.  A five paragraph essay, or a five page essay for a kid who despises writing?  That’s not just a tough task, that’s a task that will help a kid despise writing even more.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t instruct our students on how to write essays, but do you want to bring struggling students back to a level of writing toleration, or better yet, move them forward to a level of writing enjoyment?  Show them examples of all types of poetry – humorous, simple, blunt, moving – and then encourage them to do the same.  Children of all ages and writing abilities never cease to amaze me with their poetic compositions, and they will amaze you, too!

What are other ways to integrate writing poetry into the classroom?  Here are a few suggestions, with some repetition of what has already been mentioned:

  • Literature Studies – poems about characters or poetry from a character’s point of view; response-to-author poems, poetry about specific moments in a piece of literature, or about the main idea
  • Science – observation poems, perspective of an element poem, conclusion poem
  • History – historical figure poems, historical event poems, “if I could change history” poems
  • Math – poems from the perspective of a number or symbol or shape, poems about feelings about math, poems about uses of math, poems about famous mathematicians
  • Writing – poetry can be fused together with the teaching of all forms of writing – narrative, persuasive, informative, expository, and even research writing!

And as I mentioned earlier, National Poetry Month is near!  Here are some things you and your school can consider implementing this April:

  • Instead of “March Madness” how about an “April Gladness” competition?  Choose 64 poems and have students take turns reading them aloud to their classmates.  Each day, conduct head-to-head match-ups between poems until the last day in April when one poem can be declared “Champion!”
  • Got a poem in your pocket?  This is a longstanding tradition to provide students with simple yet beloved poems for them to share with others – other students, teachers, family members, or community members!  It promotes reading poetry and produces smiles along the way!
  • Have a poetry jam!  Have students write poems throughout the month of April, and toward the end of the month, have a poetry jam that allows students to read their favorite poems in front of an audience of your choosing – their classmates, their school, even their neighborhood!
  • Poetry Club – I have facilitated after school poetry clubs for over a decade.  They don’t take too much time or effort, but they do result in a lot of fun, creativity, and creations.  Meet once a week (or more), even until the end of the year, and showcase the club’s writing via a poetry jam or “publishing” their works.
  • Publish Poetry – I’m not talking about contacting a book publisher in hopes of getting your students’ poems on the shelves of a Barnes and Noble (although that would be nice).  If teaching poetry during April, or leading a poetry club, or both, gather student writing into a compilation and print mini books, or have students illustrate their own books of poetry, or see if their are any mini grants being provided in your area so you can pay to have your students’ verse showcased in a book format.

I want to mention two more things: 

  • Poetry writing should not be absent from poetry reading.  As you integrate writing into any type of lesson or project, be sure to have students read samples of writing as well.  You wouldn’t tell people to play pickleball without explaining how to play the game first, just as you shouldn’t tell kids to write poetry without having them explore other poets’ writings first.  There are poems about so many topics in so many different types of formats…something for every student to read and enjoy!
  • You DO NOT need to be a poet to teach students how to write poetry.  There are tons of examples of great poetry out there to share with students, there are local poets in your area who would be willing to help you with your instruction, and there are many helpful resources like “The Academy of American Poets” that can boost your poetry lessons. 

So whether it’s April or October, summer school or night school, USE POETRY IN YOUR CLASSROOM.  You won’t regret it, and your students will benefit!

Thom Smith

Thom Smith Thom Smith is currently a fourth grade teacher in New London, New Hampshire. He has experience as an educator at the preschool, elementary, middle, and college levels. He has also been an administrator at the middle school level. He has an Early Childhood Education Degree, Elementary Education Certification, and a Masters in Educational Leadership. He is also a Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical recipient. He is a lucky and grateful husband, and a father to eight wonderful, rambunctious children. When he isn't spending time with his family or students, Thom loves to write poetry, hike, bike, and enjoy the vacation world that surrounds him in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.