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In my English classes, I like to begin the study of poetry by teaching poetry terms using popular music. To teach simile, I first discuss the definition of simile, a comparison of two unlike things using like or as, and give my own example. Then I play a few pop songs that use simile (Britney Spears' "Like a Circus" is an excellent choice). Then I repeat the process with metaphor, using different music (Kenny Chesney's "You Save Me" is one good example).
I find that showing students the relevance of poetic terms and poetry in the modern day, outside the realm of literature analysis, makes them more apt to study and enjoy the poetry of the past. If Katy Perry uses simile and metaphor, poetry must be cool, right?
One of the worst things to do is to take the purely analytical approach to poetry and dissect it into figures of speech, meter, form, etc. Since poetry is the music of the soul, it should always be read aloud, as mentioned above. The students' first reactions are important since people all bring part of themselves to a poem. Then, there can be the discussions of lines that a person likes and why these lines cause reactions.
To find the meaning that the poet wishes to convey, finding the controlling metaphor of the poem is helpful; that is, finding the tension that exists between the literal and the figurative.
There are many helpful strategies for teaching poetry. One effective way is to begin by reading aloud; you or a student might read the poem aloud, sentence by sentence. The class may discuss (or you may ask questions about) the sense and the effect of each sentence. Questions about specific topics, will allow students to see how the poem’s ideas are presented, and these questions may provide data about the poem that you can put together, along with the class, to develop a larger view. Analysis of this type can be followed by synthesis: a set of questions designed to allow the class to pull the whole poem back together into a coherent moment of experience, thought, and emotion. Again, by using questions and allowing responses (or insisting on them), you give your students the chance to follow your methods and thereby learn the process of interpretation and understanding. At the close of discussion, you might have a student (perhaps the same student) read the poem aloud again. Let us hope that this second reading will gain from the intervening process of discovery and experience.
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