how would you introduce a unit in poetry and/or mythology to middle or high school students?After teaching literature in middle and high school, I can assist students of whatever age to begin to...

how would you introduce a unit in poetry and/or mythology to middle or high school students?

After teaching literature in middle and high school, I can assist students of whatever age to begin to understand  these two forms of art and hopefully to gain an appreciation for these forms and for our aesthetic approach to life questions.

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kiwi's profile pic

kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

I found using 'Love That Dog' by Sharon Creech invaluable with my middle school students. The book is about a young boy studying poetry at school who develops an interest in Wlter Dean Myers' work. His teacher introduces the class to a well chosen range of eminent poetry. My students enjoyed reading the boy's early responses to poetry and could track track his developing understanding and appreciation. I got some great work from them as a result.

We have been looking at Maori myths as we are in NZ and I find that asking the students for their stories and the myths they know is a good start. It is interesting to share the variations around the same story. 

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profwelcher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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I have also used popular song lyrics as an introduction to poetry.  While this "poetry" is often of quite poorly written, and not to be held up as an example of great literary merit, it remains something with which they are familiar.  I have always found that starting with the familiar and working toward the unfamiliar is a good plan.

After working with popular song lyrics, perhaps you could then move to other song lyrics with a higher degree of literary merit, but with which they might still be familiar.  Perhaps the words to "American, The Beautiful" would be a starting place.

I have also found that the "biographical poem" is one way to engage their thinking.  One way of doing this is to give them some "fill in" or "complete this sentence" prompts.  Start with their names, then give a line each to: who is___________; who is afraid of_______________; who loves_____________; who hopes to be___________________,a etc.

Limericks are also a good introduction, given their humorous nature.  After reading several by Ogden Nash, the students can usually write one themselves.  The same can be said about Haiku.

These shorter, more approachable, forms can then often lead to the more advanced forms, such as sonnets, etc.

As to mythology, I find that a good starting place is something from the movie world, such as "Star Wars", and others of that ilk. Most of these feature larger-than-life characters with wisdom beyond that of most mortals, giving you a good place to start in comparing those characters and stories to those of Norse and Greek myths.

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kmcappello | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted on

It's great to meet another Koch fan.  I've found that when his philosophy of teaching poetry is applied in the classroom, the discussions and writing assignments are richer.  Also, younger students have discovered things about challenging poems that even I haven't noticed before.

It's funny that you mention creative writing classes for adults.  I have used the same assignments for both college-level and middle-school-level creative writing classes myself.  There's something to be said about approaching poetry with the eyes (and ears) of a child.

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

In a recent article in The Guardian, Andrew Motion, former poet laureate for the UK, stated his opinion that popular songs and poems written specifically for children are inadequate as a means of poetic education.  I agree with the previous posters that these are good places to start, but the challenge of great, powerful poetry should be provided as well.  As a middle school teacher, I shared a range of poetry with my students including classic pieces from Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, and e.e. cummings as well as more contemporary work from Sonia Sanchez, Mary Oliver, Donald Justice, and others.  Their insights into some of the more difficult pieces were astounding and illuminating.

Speaking of, e.e. cummings is the perfect type of poet to share with those new to poetry.  His work is joyful, playful, and fun to read aloud, but he is also using some pretty complicated poetic techniques and delving into serious subjects which really get students involved and interested.

I agree completely that popular songs and poems written for children don't replace more challenging, enduring poetry. For anyone looking for an approach to using great poems with younger audiences, I always recommend Kenneth Koch's book Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? Each chapter has a great poem (e.g. Blake's "Tiger") along with a good, specific discussion of how that poem can be used in the classroom with elementary school children to teach both the reading and writing of poetry. I use Koch's methods in my own (adult) creative writing classrooms.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

To help students understand poetry turn them in to poets. Sandford Lynne has a wonderful process called “Sketching Poetry.” He has taken hundreds of words and sorted them into groups of four. Three seem to fit, and the fourth doesn’t. The student selects a group of four words and then uses these words to write sentences about a topic of his or her choice. They revise the sentences, and then simply put line breaks where they need them before writing the final draft of the poem. These kids end up with some incredible work because they have had to fit poetic thoughts to the words. Easy if they all fit, but not so easy when one doesn’t belong such as: homeless, cold, winter, and garden. Your kids will feel like poets and be more willing to learn about others.

kmcappello's profile pic

kmcappello | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted on

In a recent article in The Guardian, Andrew Motion, former poet laureate for the UK, stated his opinion that popular songs and poems written specifically for children are inadequate as a means of poetic education.  I agree with the previous posters that these are good places to start, but the challenge of great, powerful poetry should be provided as well.  As a middle school teacher, I shared a range of poetry with my students including classic pieces from Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, and e.e. cummings as well as more contemporary work from Sonia Sanchez, Mary Oliver, Donald Justice, and others.  Their insights into some of the more difficult pieces were astounding and illuminating.

Speaking of, e.e. cummings is the perfect type of poet to share with those new to poetry.  His work is joyful, playful, and fun to read aloud, but he is also using some pretty complicated poetic techniques and delving into serious subjects which really get students involved and interested.

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drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

jk80 and scarlet pimpernel have the right idea by linking the introduction of the poetry unit to contemporary song lyrics. ANYTHING you introduce in any classroom needs first to engage the students' attention. By referencing song lyrics that they will all be familiar with as an introductory activity, you can be assured of engaging their attention, even if they usually hate English.

What I enjoyed doing was analyzing meter and rhyme scheme of rap lyrics...Will Smith and heavily edited Eminem were two of my favorites. The kids become quite invested in this type of exercise, and it was one of the few I could do myself at the board without them nodding off. They also use figurative language, simile, metaphor, all the things that you want kids to analyze in "real" poetry.

msteacher203's profile pic

msteacher203 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

Most importantly, you want to intrigue students and make the material enjoyable. Start by reading Dr. Seuss poems (good for all ages) or showing clips from Def Jam's Poetry Slams.

I agree with Post 2 in using popular songs to introduce poetry. You can take this one step further and have students comopare a song with a classic poem. You can choose these pairings by matching similar themes, or similar use of literary devices. You can provide the pairings, or let students find songs that match a poem. If you want specific lesson ideas that pull from popular songs and classic poetry, read Hip Hop Poetry and the Classics by Alan Sitomer and Michael Cirelli.

Early student products from this unit could include added verses to songs or poems, or creating an "I Am" poem. In an "I Am" poem, students finish sentence-starters to create a poem that reflects who they are. Once I read samples, students really seem to get creative with this assignment. I return to this assignment for characterization in stories. Students choose a character to write an "I Am" poem for.

I really like the idea in Post 4. You may introduce this project by showing them a couple of examples. The rock band Styx is named after the river of death. Apolo Ono and Venus Williams have names that derive from Greek mythology. Colleges have mythological mascots (Purdue Centaurs, UCSD's Tritons) as well as professional sports teams (NFL Tennessee Titans). Many brand names have mythological derivations (Nike). In the recent movie Avatar, the story takes place on the planet of Pandora. You can explain why the name "Pandora" was chosen. You may also choose to introduce words that relate to Greek mythology ("tantalize" stems from the story of "Tantalus", "atlas" from the story of "Atlas", "narcissism" from the story of "Narcissus").

Students always love webquests as "into" activities. You can create a worksheet or project outline of what you'd like students to research on the internet. Student interest is peaked as they find out the answers themselves.

You may also be interested in teaching about mythology from other cultures as well. Students can research mythological stories from their own culture and present to the class for extra credit.

scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

For poetry, I agree with post 2 that the lyrics of current songs are an excellent, attention-getting way of introducting poetic techniques and styles.  I've used songs as a means of introduction for poetry for years, and my students always enjoy it and develop a better appreciate for poetry afterwards.

In regards to mythology, I would certainly introduce the 12 major gods and goddesses first along with their realms and symbols.  If students know them, it is so much easier for them to understand specific myths.  One fun activity that my students have enjoyed it a competition that I set up to see who can find the most words, companies, objects, etc., that come from the 12 major gods'/goddesses names or symbols.  This helps them see how far-reaching Greek and Roman mythology really is.

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Since ancient mythology is quite poetic, you can kill two birds with one stone by looking at Greek or Roman mythology. I suggest that you start with common myths that they may know and one that are short and sweet. A great place to start is Ovid, the Roman poet. He strings along myths. There is much more here that you can imagine. Almost every myth you know if probably there. Also you can introduce these myths through discussion, since many of these myths have a moral lesson or problematize various issues. Or you can approach these myth from modern angles, since many people have reworked these myths.

jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I think that a good way to introduce a subject to younger audiences is often to start with the familiar and build from there.

For a unit on poetry, for example, you might consider presenting lyrics from a current song and perhaps even rhymes on greeting cards. If I were selecting the materials, I would try to stack the odds a little in the favor of the song lyrics, choosing a set of lyrics with evocative images, clever turns of phrases, etc. and contrast that sort of poetry with the less challenging and less rewarding lines that are often found on greeting cards. Presenting lyrics from several genres of music might be a good idea, such as both rap and country.

For a unit on mythology, you might consider beginning with a widely shared story that does not need to be literally true to have meaning. Picking the story, of course, may be a bit tricky. (Know your audience. I wouldn't choose the creation story from Genesis, for example, because many of my students aren't very open to seeing the bible as anything but literal truth, and I would probably end up hurting several people's feelngs and getting one or two students angry at me.)

It just occured to me that maybe a short clip of professional wrestling might work for mythology. We don't have to believe that the struggles in the ring are "real" for them to have meaning, and that meaning is often presented in terms of an eternal struggle between good and evil, fair and unfair, etc. If this possibility interests you, you may wish to read Roland Barthes' essay on wrestling in his book Mythologies (see the link below).

You're absolutely asking the right questions from the start, I think. I really like your mention at the end of your question of "our aesthetic approach to life questions."

thewanderlust878's profile pic

thewanderlust878 | Student, College Freshman | (Level 3) Salutatorian

Posted on

I think that it would be slightly difficult to get students interested in poetry if they are not keen on reading. I would definitely start with the unit in mythology, to get them excited, because a lot of students really like mythology. You could also find ways to incorporate poetry into the mythology, such as poems from the time period, poems that relate to the same themes, or poems about mythology that were written at a later date. 

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s-f- | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

well, i learned about mythology last year...one thing that would have helped me a lot is if my teacher had given me some background information on mythology because when we were learning it we started reading parts from the middle of the odyssey and it made absolutely no sense.

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jrespress | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Background is everything. As teachers, we must always go into units under the assumption that students know nothing about the subject. For a unit on mythology, I would begin by introducing the characters. Many lists have been compiled for these, so I would find a text and a website and compare the two to come up with a reliable list. Once the students are familiar with the characters, I would begin by telling the key stories. It is important to remember the purpose and source for the stories and explain these to the students. To get the students involved, I would have them rewrite a story including themselves to share with the class. This could be a group activity if you are comfortable with those.

For poetry, I would create a booklet with a definition of each type of poem to be covered and an example. I would have the students read the poetry and write their own poetry. According to the time alloted, I would have each student read one of his/her poems to the class.

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love-math | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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My favorite English teacher used music lyrics to introduce poetry. He also showed us that not all lyrics are enunciated properly.

Mythology could be introduced through the "Percy Jackson & the Olympians" series by Rick Riordan since the first book "tfhe Lightning thief" will be coming out at the theaters soom you could do all kinds of activites around it.

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