● 7 Videos + Discussion Topics
● 5 Assignment Suggestions
● Common Core Standards
This content package is designed to be adapted to however your classroom will celebrate National Poetry Month. The activities range from the reading of poetry and defining a poem to writing their own pieces for a classroom open mic. The primary aim of this package is to help your students build an appreciation for poetry, confidence in performance, and to learn about its creative freedom without being overwhelmed by poetry’s forms and rules.
The first clip in this collection from Poetry Defined introduces students to the origins and celebrations common for National Poetry Month, as well as international events and holidays for poetry. The clip discusses a few ways that April can be filled with poetry, from reading a poem every day to writing one. This is a good time to share with your students how you’ll celebrate in your classroom.
Alternatively, you may have students break into groups based on their own choices for how to celebrate National Poetry Month. They could also vote as a class, or organize their own ideas for April, such as a classroom open mic or web conference at the end of the month.
Assignment: Have your students begin a poetry journal for the month of April. This can be a physical notebook or done digitally. Throughout the month, students should write down their reactions to the poems they read or they could simply keep a log of their own ideas and poem starters. How they use this journal throughout the month depends on the classroom.
For the first entry, ask students to write their own definition of poetry and why. If students aren’t familiar with poetry, they can write what their preconceptions are. It will be interesting to see how their definition changes at the end of the month!
Clip: “National Poetry Month - Poetry Defined”
Begin by leading your class in a discussion about the music they listen to and how the lyrics are a form of poetry. Specifically, ask them about how music - different songs, genres, or styles - makes them feel. Is there a style of music or content of lyrics that makes them feel excited, depressed, joyful, or lonely?
Once students are ready, play the clip. They might be expecting music! Ask students to expand on their ideas from earlier. Though Denice isn’t singing, her poem is about the music of her mother’s accent and, indeed, she delivers the poem with rhythm, feeling, and crescendos.
Assignment: Depending on your classroom, you may want to provide students with a selection of poems, poetry books, or direct students to research the internet. Ask them to select a poem to practice reading aloud to a partner, parent or guardian. Emphasize that students don’t need to memorize the poem, but they should aim to read it differently than they would a paragraph or caption.
You may want to add a short writing assignment to this activity. Ask students to write a paragraph about what they learned from reading poetry aloud, or to describe a pop song that shares similar themes.
Clip: “TED-Ed: Denice Frohman: ‘Accents’”
As students learned previously, not all poetry is meant to be read! Some poetry, like Denice Frohman’s “Accents” or lyrics in a song, shine when they’re heard.
Review these concepts and pose discussion questions to students that can be explored in pairs, small groups, or as a class: What is poetry, really? Can any pretty use of language be poetry? Does poetry always have rules? Is poetry that follows rules better than poetry without rules? Why might those rules be useful for creativity?
Play the clip. You may want to ask students to take notes or fill out a worksheet to check for understanding. In this clip, poetry is emphasized to be a concept more than a set of rules to follow. Poetic devices like meter and rhyme are explained as tools to achieve the goals of poetry, and no rule or device is always required. Highlight this for your students, especially if they’re confused about rhythm, sonnets, couplets, and other devices of poetry.
After the clip, you can once again address the discussion questions from earlier.
Assignment: Ask your students to write a poem in an unconventional way. They can emphasize the shape of the poem like e.e. cummings, create poetry art, or utilize the Twitter character limit space. You may want to challenge them to write about specific subject matter or practice using specific poetic devices, like couplets. Add this to their poetry month journal if you’re using them.
Clip: “TED-ED: What makes a poem a poem? - Melissa Kovacs”
Before playing the first clip, “Analyze the structure of a poem,” introduce your students to Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Once they have an understanding of the content and imagery of the poem, play the clip.
The clip teaches students how each stanza acts like a puzzle piece to create a whole picture. They don’t shine when they stand on their own, and contribute to something larger, like a final image, an overall emotion, concept, or story.
You may want your students to take notes on their own printed copy of “The Road Not Taken.”
After the clip, ask students about the difference between line breaks and stanza breaks. Have some students volunteer to read aloud, and ask for them to notice how a pause between two lines might be longer than the pause between two stanzas. Remind students that the format of a poem is usually meant to help the reader with rhythm; other times, it’s a visual effect; other times, it’s both!
Next, play Phil Kay’s poem. In this piece, Kay is actually telling a very personal story - but he delivers it poetically. See if students can tell where the line breaks and stanza breaks might be placed. If they had to divide the poem into parts, how would they do it? How does each part fit the whole?
Assignment: You may want to provide your students with a poem such as Phil Kay’s or have your students find their own multi-stanza poem for this assignment. Encourage them to mark up their copy of the poem with an analysis of how each stanza fits into the whole of the poem, then transcribe those notes into a typed or handwritten analysis. If students choose their own poems, they can share them in groups; if they’re analyzing the same poem, you can lead them in Socratic Seminar or ask them to pair-check to improve the clarity of their ideas.
Clips: “Analyze the structure of a poem” and “Poet Phil Kaye remembers his grandfather and reimagines traditional masculinity”
In this lesson, students will be introduced to three poets who use their background or identity to inform their poetry.
Begin with the clip interviewing Sherman Alexie. (You may want to present this with specific poems by Alexie, but he does read poetry in the clip!) Alexie explains how his storytelling culture informed his desire to write, how the drum of his culture is similar to the concluding couplet of his poems, and how his life experiences appear in his poetry.
After the clip, ask students to discuss in pairs how cultural backgrounds can influence an approach to art. Have them share their ideas or examples they thought of. If students are stuck, you can point to Japanese manga and anime art styles or the African origins of rhythms in hip-hop.
Next, play Lee Mokobe’s poem. You may want to preview the clip; if it wouldn’t work in your classroom, you can move on to Erica Dawson’s poem.
Ask students to listen for metaphors in Lee Mokobe’s poem and discuss them in pairs before sharing their thoughts and reactions with the class. What was powerful about Mokobe describing his body as a house falling apart? Help students see the connection between this image and how Mokobe begins and ends the poem with references to prayer and churches.
Now, ask students about the variety of experiences. Does every person from a particular culture or identity label have the same experience? Why or why not? Be sure to ask them what was something unique to Alexie that influenced his poetry that had little to do with his culture (his grief for his father and love of basketball).
Then, play the clip “Why This Poet Says There Is No…”; in it, Erica Dawson expresses her frustration at being seen as the voice of the ‘Black experience’ when there are no two experiences that are identical.
After checking for understanding, provide your students with their next assignment.
Assignment: Ask your students to write a poem about themselves. This could be an I Am poem, or it could be done in a creative way such as through an important memory they have. Help your students think about themselves as unique individuals with a story to tell that no one else has, and how often that story is part of a larger culture or identity we might belong to. Encourage students to be proud of what makes them different or unique and explore that in a poem.
This assignment would be great for students to share in a classroom open at the end of National Poetry Month. It could also be a poem they workshop in their groups, or they could create an art project to go with it.
Clips: “Poet Sherman Alexie Talks 'Faces' & 'War Dances' (Oct. 22, 2009)” “Lee Mokobe: A powerful poem about what it feels like to be transgender” “Why This Poet Says There Is No 'Single Story Spun On A Single Tongue
1. National Poetry Month - Poetry Defined
2. TED-Ed: Denice Frohman: "Accents"
3. TED-ED: What makes a poem a poem? - Melissa Kovacs
4. Poet Phil Kaye remembers his grandfather and reimagines traditional
5. Poet Sherman Alexie Talks 'Faces' & 'War Dances' (Oct. 22, 2009)
6. Lee Mokobe: A powerful poem about what it feels like to be transgender
7. Why This Poet Says There Is No 'Single Story Spun On A Single Tongue'