What is Poetry Anyway?

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SWBAT understand that poetry is a structure of writing that allows the author to express thoughts and feelings in an artistic way.

Big Idea

Poetry is more than short lines on paper.


15 minutes

This lesson is about pulling kids into poetry a bit more and giving them an idea about what poetry really is. Not the definition of poetry, but what it is to many people. The standards ask our students to understand characters and events in poetry, but students also need to understand poetry. I start this unit by breaking down the preconceived notion that students have to sift through all of the poetic lines for the "right" answer and show them what poetry means to some people. My students will be starting to answer the essential question: How do readers interpret the meaning of a poem? This lesson won't completely answer that question, but will start the process. 

Begin by handing out the lyrics to your favorite song. (clean versions of course!) Be sure they are typed just like a poem. I pulled out the words refrain and chorus from mine. Here's what mine looked like- Song Activating. Have the students secure these in their binders or notebooks and tell them: Today I want you to read my favorite poem and think about what it means. What is the poet trying to say? 

Let students discuss for a little. I ask my students to write on the text itself and jot down ideas like when they are close reading. They may do this in groups if your kids need the interaction. I always start out letting my kids work with partners to ease any stress they may be feeling. Once students have discussed for 3-5 minutes. Ask them if they would like to have it read aloud. I read it aloud first, making sure they can hear the rhythm. Then have a sound clip of your song ready or a youtube video and ask students if they'd like to hear the poet read it aloud. Play the song.



Most students will immediately "get it." If your students aren't real impressed with your song choice, stop and ask them if they think songs are poetry. How do you know? What makes it poetry or not poetry? Just get these thoughts moving around a bit before jumping in and telling them that their favorite songs are definitely poems. (they may not be the most profound messages being sent these days, but poems nonetheless!) Tell students: Poetry is made up of elements like stanzas. Are there stanzas in my song? Words that rhyme. Can you find those in my poem? rhythm and beats; Do you feel like there was a rhythm when I read this? when it was played as a song? Poetry connects simple thoughts with feeling and emotion. Does my song do that? How could I know the meaning of this poem so quickly?  Discuss these thoughts and help students understand that I like this particular artist and his music, so I may find meaning more quickly. The same thing happens in poetry and the more comfortable we can get with the elements and language, the easier it can become to find meaning.

Then have students work with a partner to think of some songs they think are poems. 1s tell 2s a song that you like. Then 2s tell 1s a song you like. Call on 2s to share what the 1s shared and the reverse to keep partners accountable for speaking. I like to have students write some of these on the board so I have some ideas of lyrics to use later in the unit. 


15 minutes

I choose to have students read some poems about poetry, so they will start to figure out what poetry really is. Start this part of the lesson by passing out and displaying the Introduction to Poetry poem by Billy Collins.

For this poem, model a few strategies to help students understand what goes through your mind while reading. I read the poem once to the students and then read it again to break down each stanza to try to make sense of it, jotting down notes all the while.  I like Poetry Think Alouds because this seems to be the hardest type of text for my students to understand. They've all moved into reading to learn at this point, but their comprehension is almost at the learning to read stage when it comes to poetry. Perhaps with poetry as part of the Common Core Standards, this will change for my students over the years, but for now, I have to really model that thought process of breaking down the meaning of a poem with my students.

Once we've discussed the poem and made annotations, I guide the students through writing about the poem. Students will answer the following question with me on the left side in their notebook. What does the author feel that people do to poems? Model answering this question and write this out on the board. 

Guided Practice

10 minutes

Students will receive the poem "Eating Poetry." Students can place these in their notebooks or binders. I tell the students: Earlier we read a poem that described the wonder of finding our way through a poem like a mouse in a maze  or like searching for the light switch in the dark. Now I want to to try to search for the meaning of this poem, just as you would do those things. Imagine yourself in the dark, searching for something. Are you in the dark about the meaning of this poem now? What does it mean to say that someone is in the dark? When we find the meaning of the poem, how does that related to the light switch going on? 

Give students some time to think about and discuss these ideas. We're trying to build the understanding that poetry can be felt, that meanings can be made clear with a little patience and understanding. I try not to force meaning upon my kids, because that's where I feel I lose. When they start to eagerly hunt for the hidden meanings within poems, I know I've done my job. 

Once this brief discussion has happened, allow students to work in pairs or groups to read through and annotate the poem. Earlier I modeled my expectations of annotating and I let the students know that I am looking for all signs of their thinking jotted down on paper. Give the students 5-6 minutes to work through this poem. There will probably be some laughs and huhs? as the author compares himself to a dog, but this may take them some time to get to that point. 

Once students have completed the reading, ask: So what is the author trying to say? Did you get to know the author a little bit? Discuss answers and guide them to the idea that the author loves poetry like food and is just eating these poems up. The librarian is sad because all of her poems are gone and then he snarls at her looking for more. Kids usually get pretty excited about finding the meaning and even more excited when they had the same thoughts. 

I then have the students write about the poem on the page adjacent in their notebooks or on the back. Ask students to tell what the poem means and how they feel about the poem. This isn't too deep, but keeps the kids reading and responding to poetry. If they can write about it, then chances are they truly get it. At this time I move around to work with students who seem like they aren't sure what to write. I will help them make sense of the poem. Sometimes it's just rereading something or trying to connect the ideas to something that matters to the student. 

Independent Practice or Small Groups

15 minutes

At this point students can either try to read and interpret the poem "Where do I Find Poetry?" from this Teaching to Make a Difference Georgia Heard resource on their own or in small groups. I am going to bring 6 of my struggling readers to my back table to work with them on the poem and let the rest of my class try this on their own. I will leave time for review and sharing as a closure. 

In my small group, I will continue to model the thoughts I have as I read. They need to practice stopping when they are confused and rereading to find meaning. Sometimes in poetry it helps to stop and visualize small parts at a time, which is what I plan to do.

The first stanza of the poem is easy to figure out, but my students may struggle with the metaphors used to describe how poetry is all around. My struggling students may see only the literal meaning behind the other stanzas, so I want to help them find that figurative meaning. I purposely do not start with figurative language because one, it's taught in the previous grades, and two, I want my students to get an overall feel for the language being used before I define each type. I will have discussions about the way author's compare one aspect to something else and have the kids notice it before I bog them down with having to identify what type of literary term that might be. I think that, as the first poem I used so beautifully says, is how we tie the poems up and beat the confessions out of them.