Poetic Justice: Pushing Poetry Beyond the Bounds of Language Arts Class

The first piece of writing I ever memorized was a poem. These days, students have a more mixed view of poetry and give the form very little thought, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

April is National Poetry Month, making it a great time to introduce poetry in unexpected places.April is National Poetry Month, which makes it a good time to expose classes to poetry in unexpected places. Celebrating a month of poetry outside the language arts classroom introduces students to the unexpected benefits of poetic writing — from helping them understand content to remembering important material.

It is important to help students see poetry as much more than simply seeing/reading lines in a book. Today’s poetry diverges sharply from the standard rhyme schemes printed on pages. It encompasses stage performances, rap music and the transitional sections of students’ favorite music videos or albums. Helping students see the liveliness of poetry can help them appreciate it.

Integrating poetry in unusual places can be an excellent way to celebrate National Poetry Month. These tips can help you make it happen:

Start with brain breaks

As students begin class, consider sharing spoken-word poetry with them. There is no shortage of age-appropriate poetry you can read yourself or have them share. Choose your favorites or have students bring in their own.

Check out the world of beautiful, animated or performed poetry on YouTube. Consider taking a short break to read a poem on topics that students love. You can also introduce students to poetry that will help them think and reflect on their own behavior, like Shane Koyczan’s “To This Day.” While they may not enhance curriculum, these breaks will expose students to multiple forms of poetry.

Opening topics to poetry

Physics, history, math — pretty much any course or content poses opportunities for including poetry. The website Rhyme N Learn, for instance, has several science- and math-related raps to share with students.

Exposing students to content through poetry helps them realize it’s more than just words on a page. It also may help them memorize concepts or ideas they are struggling with.

History is full of event-related poetry that can help students identify personally or emotionally with the material they hear or read about. For example, Jacqueline Woodson’s “Brown Girl Dreaming” has a variety of poems that intertwine memoir with historically significant events or moments.

Students often have a difficult time humanizing events that happened outside of their direct experience. Reading poetry can help them see these events happened to people just like them.

Let them be poets

Once you’ve introduced students to poetry, consider challenging them to write some themselves. The process of taking content-related information and crafting a poem or piece of music requires students to distill and reorganize what they have learned. They can use this activity to study for a test or make it a piece of a larger project.

Students in Scott Guenthner’s mythology class, for example, illustrated their understanding of mythology in a rap called “Alexander the Great and ‘The Waters of Eternal Life.’ ” Creating and expressing a set of ideas, events or a story helps students commit those things to memory in a unique way.

Poetry can be playful

Whether using poetry to help calm the class, prepare them to interact with content material or assess their ability to integrate and reformulate ideas, give poetry a try in the classroom during National Poetry Month. Sure, students won’t study it in the same way they would in a language arts classroom, but there is benefit to this: When it’s not a writing assignment for English class, it feels like playing.

And playing through poetry can be a great path to learning.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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