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What has been your most successful activity for teaching a poem?I'm going to attend a...

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cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted June 1, 2008 at 8:42 AM via web

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What has been your most successful activity for teaching a poem?

I'm going to attend a conference on teaching poetry later this summer, and I'm to bring with me my most successful poetry activity. I'm struggling to determine which poem I think I've been most successful teaching or, for that matter, which approach has been most successful. Although I teach many poems to both freshmen and AP seniors, no single activity or technique stands out for me. I'm leaning toward a "found" poetry exercise using "constantly risking absurdity." Do you have a favorite that you can share? 

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Susan Woodward | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted June 1, 2008 at 10:44 AM (Answer #2)

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My kids seem to like the free-verse color connotation poem (I know, it's a mouthful!).  I have the kids select any color and then do a webbing that includes the five senses as well as a "branch" for emotions.  Then I have them come up with associations for each that are inspired by the color.  We do a practice round with an invisible ball of color.  I "toss" the ball to a student and ask him/her to take a bite of "blue" and tell me what it tastes like; I write their response on the board under "Taste".  The student then tosses the "ball" to another student and asks that person to do something similar (Hold it to his ear and describe what blue "sounds" like).  Keep going until everyone in the room has had a chance to contribute and each of the senses and the one for emotions has at least three responses.  Then I have the kids look at all the words they've written associated with blue, and then see if any patterns form in the words.  I then ask them what they might be able to write a poem about based on the associated words (the poem is not about the color itself, but is INSPIRED by images associated with it). 

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malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted June 1, 2008 at 12:50 PM (Answer #3)

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This last semester, I did a poetry unit where we started out by reading a variety of poems from various authors, all time-periods, to help them get a sense of how different poetry can be.  Then I gave them the assignment to write a poem...the stipulations were that they had to include at least 5 words that I gave them from a random list of around 15 words, and they also had to choose a subject/title from the list of titles I gave them (I think I had 10 for them to choose from).  Words included "wet," "black," "tree," "bank," etc., and titles included "Why the Pavement Wept," "The Sound of Nothing," etc.  My 8th and 9th grade English classes both did this and really enjoyed it.

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted June 1, 2008 at 2:18 PM (Answer #4)

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One of my colleagues has an interesting lesson plan. Each semester, she has a "coffee house." She invites other classes to visit her senior English class for a cup of coffee and poetry readings. The kids always look forward to this activity, and you'd be surprised at the quality of some of the poems. It seems that knowing they'll eventually have an audience makes them take it seriously and do their best.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 2, 2008 at 5:29 AM (Answer #5)

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Poetry is so visual.  I like getting kids to see and connect with the images poets use to convey their meaning.

The poem I love teaching is "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning."  I focus on the metaphorical conceit, and I read the poem three times.  The first, to get the general meaning across to the students. I ask if they understand it at this point, and some do, but most are clueless.  For the second reading, I use a poster I have made with images for each stanza--a coffin and flowers at a funeral, storms and people crying, eyes, lips, hands, symbols of a holy connection (cross, church front), the earth and universe,  a compass drawing a circle, golden wedding bands, two smiling, elderly people holding hands.

I arrange these images that I collected in a large circle as if the compass itself had drawn it...indicating again how life and his journey will come full circle and his explanation will give her comfort in his absence...I also number each group of images by the stanza number.  In addition, I break down the title Vale=Latin for Farewell and Diction=speaking  "A farewell speaking, forbidding mourning". 

Then, we read it a third time together.  The kids really love the images and they "GET IT".  This is one poem they don't forget since they are such visual creatures.  Then I give them the remainder of the period to choose a poem from the list I have made (all from this time period and in the textbook) which they will break down the way I have and teach to the class.  I end up with some amazing visual representations and the kids do an awesome job.

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Susan Woodward | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted June 2, 2008 at 8:54 AM (Answer #6)

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Poetry is so visual.  I like getting kids to see and connect with the images poets use to convey their meaning.

The poem I love teaching is "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning."  I focus on the metaphorical conceit, and I read the poem three times.  The first, to get the general meaning across to the students. I ask if they understand it at this point, and some do, but most are clueless.  For the second reading, I use a poster I have made with images for each stanza--a coffin and flowers at a funeral, storms and people crying, eyes, lips, hands, symbols of a holy connection (cross, church front), the earth and universe,  a compass drawing a circle, golden wedding bands, two smiling, elderly people holding hands.

I arrange these images that I collected in a large circle as if the compass itself had drawn it...indicating again how life and his journey will come full circle and his explanation will give her comfort in his absence...I also number each group of images by the stanza number.  In addition, I break down the title Vale=Latin for Farewell and Diction=speaking  "A farewell speaking, forbidding mourning". 

Then, we read it a third time together.  The kids really love the images and they "GET IT".  This is one poem they don't forget since they are such visual creatures.  Then I give them the remainder of the period to choose a poem from the list I have made (all from this time period and in the textbook) which they will break down the way I have and teach to the class.  I end up with some amazing visual representations and the kids do an awesome job.

What a great idea!  I will keep that in mind for the future for my freshmen!

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kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted June 2, 2008 at 7:59 PM (Answer #7)

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I love doing a "Song Lyrics Poetry Exercise."  Students bring in lyrics from a song that has great meaning to them.  They don't know WHY they're bringing it in; however, they do know it has to do with poetry because we study it when doing this exercise.  Once they bring it in, they have 2 class periods to do a writing exercise about it.  It has to be about 500 words.  They have to discuss 1) Why they chose the artist and song, 2) and why the song lyrics can be classified as poetry, using evidence from what they've learned about poetry (whether it has rhyme scheme or no rhyme scheme, a certain meter, and other elements).  students ALWAYS enjoy this exercise. Once they finish over the 2 day period, I let each student tell the class members about their lyrics and their justification for it being poetry.

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jilllessa | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted June 7, 2008 at 5:56 PM (Answer #8)

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I have also had great success with the Song Lyric Poetry Exercise described by kwoo1213.  A colleague of mine also had a cool coffee house for her Seniors this year and they wrote some really awesome poetry about it.  Another lesson plan I use as an interdisciplinary English/history lesson is to use the Al Stewart song "Road to Moscow" and analyze it to learn about the war on the Russian front as well as about the poetic elements of the lyrics.  I got this lesson plan from a teacher in Tuscon.  It begins with showing pictures of the Russian front and then reading through the lyrics together analyzing the poem.  We discuss how the poem either supports or does not support the view of the war from the pictures as well as the point of view of the speaker, the imagery of the poem and it's overall message.  After the discussion we listen to the song and talk about how the music adds or detracts from the picture of the front that the poem portrays.  I hope that some of this helps.

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lequam | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted June 10, 2008 at 12:52 PM (Answer #9)

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I have had great success with having my students create a visual representation of the poem.  I start off the lesson by having students look at different advertisements.  We discuss how the words are used, what colors are used, and how the layout is organized.  We talk about what appeals to the consumer and how the visual presentation of the advertisement sells the product. 

Then, we look at a poem (I try to choose a poem that has strong visual imagery.) such as Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" or Frost's "The Pasture" or Lux's "The Cellar Stairs." We talk about the meaning, the mood, and the imagery of the poem, and then, I tell them that their assignment is to create a visual representation of the poem.  They are required to use words from the poem, pictures, and color, and they must try to convey the meaning and the mood in their visual representation. 

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cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted June 11, 2008 at 7:24 PM (Answer #10)

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Thank you all so much for these great suggestions! I feel rejuvenated and inspired, and I can hardly wait to try these approaches. (But I'm not that eager for school to start again just yet, you know?) I appreciate your sharing and feel fortunate to be among such generous colleagues.

Jo

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reidalot | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted June 12, 2008 at 3:18 AM (Answer #11)

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When I teach poetry in college, we color code. The students must always use 5 different colors to literally, color, words, associations, images, etc...that seem to stand out to them or to form a pattern. They do a key for their colors: perhaps, red words would be vivid verbs.Then we discuss, and some wonderful things occur! First, read the poem once aloud and pause. Then read the poem again. Do not let them discuss the poem as a class yet! Usually, for the first time, I will give them their first hint what to color, perhaps words of darkness, these dark words could literally be words like black, stormy, bleak (it will depend on the poem) or metaphorically dark, such as death, sullen graveyard, etc...They choose the next four criteria to color code. The colors do not have to correspond to their images: for example, they could color code as orange a poetic device such as alliteration. I always make a poetic device  one of the 5 criteria. This poetic device could also be the poem's structure. However, the purpose of this exercise is to have the student uncover motifs and find meaning on their own without the teacher/professor leading them there first. After color coding, we all discuss and share. You will be amazed at the poetic analysis you will hear as the students each dug into the poem on their own.This is a great way to make students also feel comfortable in a semester course. I also use this technique for prose passages, 40 lines or less, to uncover motifs, characterization, etc...excellent for Shakespeare!Try this on "Two Sisters of Persephone" by Sylvia Plath for an amazing class and a great vehicle for teaching imagery, motifs, mood, tone, and structure!

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cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted July 1, 2008 at 6:02 PM (Answer #12)

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Greetings to all ~ I'm here at the Conference on Poetry and Teaching at Frost Place in New Hampshire. We have a magnificent place to talk about and write poetry, sitting in Robert Frost's barn! Even after only two days, I've already gathered so many new ideas from colleagues and from the poets themselves. Imagine my delight in discovering that one of the poets is someone whose work I've listened to Garrison Keillor read on NPR many times: Baron Wormser. Just wanted to say if you have questions that I can pass on, I'll be happy to ask. Of course, I will also be more than willing to share the ideas and titles of books recommended. Right now, however, I've barely begun to process it all myself. I love it!

 Jo

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leirose | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 1, 2008 at 7:47 AM (Answer #13)

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What has been your most successful activity for teaching a poem?

I'm going to attend a conference on teaching poetry later this summer, and I'm to bring with me my most successful poetry activity. I'm struggling to determine which poem I think I've been most successful teaching or, for that matter, which approach has been most successful. Although I teach many poems to both freshmen and AP seniors, no single activity or technique stands out for me. I'm leaning toward a "found" poetry exercise using "constantly risking absurdity." Do you have a favorite that you can share? 

Teaching poetry is one of the things I love most! Though I'm not offering a particular activity here, I want to let you know about a way of looking at poetry I find invaluable--and provide a link to a paper I have presented on the subject, discussing Wilfred Owen's "Strange Meeting" (http://www.leilarosen.net/Poetry_As_Justice--Strange_Meeting.htm.) This approach to poetry is based on the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method, and shows that poetry has the way of seeing the world we all need in our lives, because in a true poem, the structure of reality is presented justly. The founder of Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel, explained: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." In the lesson I describe in the paper in the link above, I show how the painful war between sameness and difference that causes racism is musically, powerfully opposed in the poetic technique of "Strange Meeting." Students loved seeing this, and even those who said they didn't like poetry before came to care for it through this method. This happens every semester! I hope you find it useful, as many teachers have when I've presented this at English conferences.

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engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted August 8, 2008 at 7:21 AM (Answer #14)

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One poetry activity I like to do focuses on the theme of fatherhood and parental relations. Students, even from broken homes, understand the importance of a father-figure in their lives, and the three poems I use for comparison and contrast provide them with different perspectives on the matter.

"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden illustrates the regret that a grown man feels toward the indifference with which he treated his father, who was largely responsible for his care and provision. Its beautiful language and imagery also serve as a stepping stone to discussing the Harlem Renaissance.

"Daddy" by Sylvia Plath shows the flip side of that coin: Plath relates the Nazi-like nature of her own father, and then tells readers "Daddy, I have had to kill you." This activity then stems into a discussion of figurative language: Did she really kill him, or just exterminate his memory from her life?

Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz" always stirs a controversy in class. The language inevitably divides students into two groups: One that thinks the father was abusive, and one that thinks the poem illustrates the loving horseplay between father and son. A debate can be held, where the two sides must defend their viewpoint, or the poem can simply be tied into the two above, comparing and contrasting using visual organizers.

Hope all this helps in some way. It certainly has worked in the past, anyway.

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