Reading & Literacy

Poem Trees, Lego Diagrams, and Other Ideas for Teaching National Poetry Month

By Marlena Chertock — April 01, 2014 4 min read
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While it may be April Fools’ Day, today also marks the start of National Poetry Month. (No fooling.) So we’ve been asking educators on Twitter to share the classroom activities and resources they use to teach poetry. Here’s a roundup:

Jennifer Dietrich, a 4th grade teacher in Leavenworth, Kan., plans to transform her classroom into a poetry café this month, where students can approach a microphone and share poetry they have written or enjoy. The Young Adult Library Services Association offers tips on how to create an open mic experience, such as encouraging a set time for readers and using an emcee to host the event.

Rebecca Harmon, an adjunct professor at Westmoreland County Community College and Community College of Allegheny County, suggests having students write “Wiki poetry,” where one starts off a line and then others add to the piece. The result is a collective poem.

Sean Hill, a teacher on assignment at Crooksville Exempted Village Schools, in Ohio, suggests asking students to bring in poems they like or have written themselves and attach them to a “Christmas” tree in the classroom. This creates a class poet tree or poetry (because we all love puns).

Texas teacher Jeff Veal uses Poetry Creator, a free app, to teach his students haiku. The app allows users to create mash-ups of poems and songs through refrigerator magnetic poetry.

Simone Haughey, a primary languages teacher at Robin Hood Primary School, in the U.K., shares that, back in 2011, she had her year 4 students send their poems to a local poetry club. The class received mailed feedback from members of the club, and Haughey says the students enjoyed sharing their work with an audience who appreciated poetry. Teachers can locate local poetry clubs through Meetup or on (though the latter only lists U.S. events).

Carolyn Durley, who teaches biology and social media at Okanagan Mission Secondary School, in Kelowna, Canada, shares a wealth of poetic resources on her blog. Durley also curates a #poetryintheclassroom Pinterest board, which is filled with YouTube poems, examples of found and blackout poems, biopoems, and other ideas for helping inspire students.

The Capital Area School Development Association shares a list of writing prompts from poet Kelli Russell Agodon’s website. The prompts include: “Write a poem about a superhero coming to your house and confronting you about something” and “find a favorite recipe. Now write a poem inspired or in the style of that recipe about a family secret—yours or someone else’s.”

Here are some other teaching resources that might come in handy this month.

Ed-U-Like blogger Rachel Stevens, a U.K. teacher, documents how she teaches poetic structure to students using Legos. (You read that right: Legos.) She creates Lego diagrams to demonstrate intangible poetic concepts for her students. “If a poem’s structure is erratic; unpredictable, non-uniform; inconsistent, what could this indicate about the themes and ideas behind it?” reads a note above a loosely-built Lego structure, with blocks jutting out from all sides. Another note above a clean stack of Legos reads, “If the structure is regular; uniform; standardized; ordered, what could this demonstrate? Security? Safety? Rules? Boundaries? Restraints?”

If students are confused by poetic vocabulary, they can peruse the Poetry Foundation’s glossary of poetic terms (among other resources on the site).

Throughout the month, five National Student Poets, a signature initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, will be visiting schools, libraries, and festivals around the country to spread the craft. The program awards young poets $5,000 and shares their achievements with the country. This year’s student poets are: Nathan Cummings, 18, from Mercer Island, Wash.; Michaela Coplen, 18, from Carlisle, Pa.; Louis Lafair, 18, from Austin, Texas; Aline Dolinh, 15, from Oakton, Va.; and Sojourner Ahebee, 18, from Interlochen, Mich. has a range of resources on its website, including the Poet-to-Poet multimedia project in which students in grades 3-12 can send in poems responding to ones shared by award-winning poets. Students and teachers are invited to send “response poems” including full name, age, and school name to by April 30. The chosen poems will be published on in May. The site also has a poetry map to explore regional poets. Teachers can ask students to find poets in their state and research poems about the state.

And don’t forget—April 26 is Poem in Your Pocket Day. Students can bring their favorite poem or write their own and carry it with them for the entire day to share with others. There are several Poem in Your Pocket Day events, like distributing bookmarks with poems on them or hosting a “poem for pockets” give-a-way. Here are pocket-sized poem PDFs to get started.

Teachers can also assign poets or ask students to choose poets to research for a poet of the day project. Or students can serve as poets of the day and read a poem they have written to the class. ReadWriteThink offers several poetic forms that students can use as models, as well as lesson or unit plans broken into grade levels. One unit introduces bilingual spoken-word, where teachers can host a poetry slam in the school or community.

Follow the #NationalPoetryMonth or #NaPoMo hash tags on Twitter for more ideas.

Happy National Poetry Month. Write on!

Photo: Jacqueline Suskin‘s Poem Store at the Oregon Country Fair—WikiMedia Commons.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.