Teach a Poem to Your College Students - Different Ways to Teach Poetry

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Teaching literature is not easy. You have to study and understand the writer's point of view and styles in his or her literary works. It is also not enough to simply stand in front of your class, and if read a literary piece. Students will find this method boring and too traditional. If your students keep yawning during your class, it's a pretty good indication your technique isn't working. It's your job to keep your class alert and engaged. There are different ways to teach poetry that encourage your students to enjoy and participate in your class. If you have been newly hired as a college literature instructor, and you are looking for strategies to teach poetry, then you have come to the right page! In this article, we will discuss how to teach a poem to your college students.

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Understanding Poetry

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Poetry refers to literary works written in verse. The best of poetry is a clever arrangement of words written with emotional intensity or sincerity and profound insight. These literary works can also be mysterious and may have different meanings, depending on the readers' perspective. Poetry can be works of great beauty due to its meter and rhyme, like the ebb and flow of an ocean. If a poem follows a specific structure, composed of rhymes and meters, it is considered an impressive poem. Take the literary works of Shakespeare's sonnets as examples, they are perfect because of the style and brilliant imagination. It is very important to understand the types of poetry and their styles before teaching poetry in class.

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There are many different types of poetry: Ballad, elegy, lyrical poetry, sonnets, haiku, free verse, narrative, epic, ode, etc. The aforementioned are the most discussed styles of poetry in the classroom. Like the examples of Shakespeare and Elizabeth Browning, sonnets are quite difficult to write. A sonnet is a 14-line rhyming poem with set structure. Every line should have 10 syllables and is divided into two, three, or even, four sections. Shakespearean sonnets use iambic pentameter, a five-beat poetic line, however, there are other kinds of meters that you can also teach to your students: Pentameter, hexameter, octameter, etc. A poem that rhymes resembles music when read aloud. You should also be aware of rhymes used in a poem, just like in Shakespeare's sonnet 116. See structure below:

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In the picture above, you will see red letters beside each line. That is the rhyming format used in sonnet 116. You should implement the same method in your class by asking them to use that rhyming format.

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Different Ways to Teach Poetry:

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Here they are, strategies for teaching poetry. Reading a poem in front of your class and discussing something about it every day is boring. You should use other strategies when focusing on a poem. Below is a list of strategies that you can implement in your classroom:

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  1. 1
    Ask your students to find examples of figurative language in the poem you are studying
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    Figures of speech refer to similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia, exaggeration, etc., used in a poem. Writers utilize this kind of figurative style, which is why many people have trouble understanding the meaning of a poem. Before asking your students to point out examples of figurative speech, make sure you have discussed examples of these. It would be smart to make this an interactive exercise where all students can participate. Call on them one by one to give examples so they can express their own opinion and what they know about the words. Ask follow-up questions regarding their understanding of the poem. Encourage discussion.
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  2. 2
    Get your students to write a poem
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    If you are going to discuss a Shakespearean sonnet, you can also prepare a writing activity for your class, inspired by the sonnet. This is a real challenge for your students, as writing an iambic pentameter sonnet is no easy task, especially if there are meters, feet, and rhymes to follow. This should be implemented in class, so you will be able to gauge your students' talents and capabilities in crafting a poem. In the beginning, they may not be very skilled at writing sonnets, but over time they will improve. Writing a sonnet is a mind-boggling activity. First, they'll have to come up with a concept or subject to write about. Then, they'll have to consider how to tell their story within the parameters of the style and structure of a sonnet, while touching people emotionally. It may be tough, but they will also enjoy what they are doing. Make sure you have discussed forms and meters of poetry before asking them to write one as these are tools they will need to accomplish this task. Free-verse, as it's name implies, is a lot easier, and may be a better place to start.
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  3. 3
    Dramatize a poem
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    You can turn a literary piece, like an epic poem, into a drama for presentation on the stage. Beowulf is an example of a heroic epic poem. It is written in old English consisting of long lines of alliteration, so it can be challenging. This can be so much fun, as the students will also get to know each other a little better. Give them ample time to rehearse the poem, which will likely lead them to a better understanding of what they're reading. Give them the option of using props and costumes, as these are things to enhance the poem, especially if you've created groups and you're judging them. If you have a small class size, 10-15 students, you can ask them to work together as one group, but each member will be scored or graded differently.
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  4. 4
    Poems tell stories to
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    Have your class turn a poem into a short story based on their interpretation of a poem. This will test both their comprehension and writing skills. For instance, Edgar Allan Poe's, 'The Raven' is a mystical poem about Lenore. The poem was based on his wife, Virginia Clemm, who died from tuberculosis. This will test how well they do in converting a poem to a short story. Your criteria should consider the following: Grammatical structure, relevance, the flow of the story, etc.
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  5. 5
    Utilize an Inference Graphic Organizer
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    By using an Inference Graphic Organizer (IGO), the students will be able to understand a poem by breaking it down based on their understanding and experiences. Teach your students how to make an Inference Graphic Organizer, before asking them to break down their understanding of a poem. An IGO usually has three parts and is written in three columns:  
    1. Details or statements from a poem.
    2. What I know from reading or experience.
    3. Inference (a conclusion drawn from reasoning or evidence).
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  6. 6
    Utilize the approaches of literary criticism
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    Modern writers have their own approach to literary criticism. The five major approaches are the following: Historical criticism, biographical criticism, psychological criticism, sociological criticism, and mythological criticism. It's necessary to apply these approaches in order to understand a poem and teach your students.  
    1. Regarding the works of Edgar Allan Poe, many of them involve insanity and a madman. This kind of poetry can be studied by using psychological criticism. You and your students should discuss and criticize the psychological matters involved in the works of Poe. Are the works somehow related to his life? Is the writer paralleling his own psychological problems? What inspired the writer to focus on these topics? The questions can also be answered using a biographical approach. Many of his works mirror his life. You should study the author's life and not just his work, as this can help you to better understand his poetry.
    2. Using a historical approach, you should connect poetry to history, When was the poem written? What was life like during that time? If your students have knowledge about history, they may be able to better understand a poem. They will be able to criticize a poem based on its historical theme. This strategy will help your students understand a poem by using different approaches to literary criticism. In this case, you should require a class report. Everyone should be able to participate and comprehend a poem by using any of these approaches to literary criticism, or a combination of several.
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  7. 7
    Implement a poem recitation in class
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    Who says poetry recitation is only for kids? Poetic recitation is for college students too. Some of the best literary Professors have said that a poem should always be read aloud. Some poems have rhymes and meters, and they are to be read with proper intonation, using the stressed and unstressed sounds properly, like in Shakespearean sonnets. You can also try this method in your class and use it as criteria for judging. In order to learn more about the proper intonation when reading a poem, read and study the forms, rhymes, and meters of poetry. You can find some on the Internet.
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Tips in Teaching Poetry:

Keep in mind that you are teaching other people. You should not teach only for yourself and for money. Teaching is an art, a profession, and a mission. Your purpose is to allow your students to learn from you and not be bored by your process. Take note of the tips written below:

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  1. 1
    Do not read a poem and only provide your own interpretation to your class
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    All art is subjective, and each person's perception is valid, and will differ from yours, and the other students. You should incorporate interaction (collaboration and brainstorming), so your students will be engaged with your discussion. Make sure each student has a copy of the piece for reference. In your class, discussion between the students is more important than you telling them what they should think. They are college students, not children. Do not spoon-feed them. As an instructor or a professor, you are only there to instruct and guide them, not to think for them.
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  2. 2
    Make the use of different methods to teaching poetry
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    In order to keep your students engaged and excited in the classroom, vary your approach, and keep changing the way in which you teach poetry. If you continue to use the same predictable method every day, your students will have no interest in what you are saying. Students get bored if they just sit in their chairs through the entire class, listening to you pontificate. Let them move, participate, and have fun instead. Keep in mind that teaching is an art. You are an artist, and you must be creative and diverse in your teaching methods to be effective.
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  3. 3
    Begin with the end in mind
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    This is the most popular principle implemented by many teachers in class. You should begin with the "end" (goal) in mind before doing anything. Have a clear idea of what goal you will aim for every day in your class. Elementary and high school teachers have lesson plans, and college instructors and professors have syllabi. These will help you keep track of where you are going, what you are teaching, and in what style you are teaching throughout the semester.
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  4. 4
    Familiarize yourself with the figures of speech, rhyming words, forms and meters of poetry, etc
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    You cannot understand a poem if you do not have knowledge of figurative language, connotation and denotation. The word "rose" used in a poem may mean something different, so you should have knowledge of connotations. In literature, the word "rose" means passion and love. However, roses have different colors with different connotations. Also, forms and meters should be studied as well. As a literature instructor or professor, you, yourself, should know how to write a poem using rhymes and meters and be able to show it to your students as an example.
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Questions and Answers

10 syllable 14 line sonnets?

This is called a blank verse sonnet. There are 14 lines in the entire poem and each line would contain 10 syllables. Since this is a rather stiff number to follow, rhymes are usually not necessary.

Sonnet poems about sports?

Writing a sonnet is a challenge. Here are a few examples of sonnets. Ihttp://www.teenink.com/poetry/sonnet/article/188465/The-Game-of-Basketball/

http://www.poetrysoup.com/poems/about/sonnet_football_poems

Will students be able to create ways to present a poem in various ways?

Yes, students can present their poems in many ways ranging from singing, rapping, dancing or playing an instrument. There are many ways for students or people to express themselves through poetry.

Poems with figures of speech?

Most poems use many examples of figures of speech. Take for example Shakespeare's poems and plays. He uses a lot of figures of speech in order to play with the imagination of his readers.

Even sonnets and very short poems would contain a lot of figures of speech. In fact, the beauty of poems lies so much on that. The meaning is not only what you see, but how much you try to figure out what is being said based on the speech used.

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Love poetry rhymes?

Love poetry rhymes can be found in a lot of R&B songs or rap songs that appeal to a younger generation. Younger generations listen to rap/pop/R&B/Country and etc., moving to the rhymes or verses in the song not realizing they are actually listening to poetry. Rap is more obviously a style of urban poetry.

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How can I introduce the poem of Octavio Paz, "Two Bodies" to college students?

How can I link such poem to their lives?

You can introduce the poem of Octavio Paz, "Two Bodies" to college students by asking them if they have friends who they are so close to, they could be lovers.

Most college students are already at the age where they have already experienced finding their true friends or lovers and through this poem, it shows two people with differences can bring conflict into their relationship. The night could be about those problems that they encounter and not the literal night. It could be show the darker days in any relationship when there are problems and conflict.

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That poem could easily connect with your student's lives by focusing on the problems or conflicts they have encountered in their own relationships, whether with their friends or lovers.

How to teach ULYSSES by Alfred Lord Tennyson?

How should I explain it in intermediate class? Suggest any tips analyze this poem.

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Help teaching a poem for classmates?

Your purpose here is to write a two page "lecture" or teaching module to help others understand a poem of your choice from the textbook. For ease of reference, you may want to title your post with your name and the name of the poem, then start your discussion post with a copy of the poem. Decide what you would like to focus on: a theme, a genre like horror, humor, etc., an argument, a technique which enhances the meaning, etc.). You may need to furnish information necessary for your "students" to understand your focus or the poem, but you are not just explaining it to them. You are trying to find ways to get THEM to understand it. You can point out a theme, detail, or idea, then have them find other instances. You may ask critical questions. You may set up an argument or debate and ask for their rationales. Do whatever you like to provoke thought and understanding!

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How do rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, onomatopoeia, meter contribute to the meaning of a poem?

I know what is the meaning of the above mentioned figures of speech, but the problem with me is how do they contribute to the meaning. For example, what emphasis is there by the use of alliteration and onomatopoeia in Shakespeare's line from Tempest "Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies". I would be grateful to you if you could help me solve this problem. Thank you in advance.

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Hi, I'm going to teach The long love that in my thought doth harbor by Sir Thomas Wyatt?

Can you give me any clues how I shall start or hold the class alive? what are the best steps to teach poetry? This will be my first poetry lesson.

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Lesson plan for solitary reaper and why I had made this plan for grade 9th?

Hi. I want to know how to make lesson plan, goals, warm up, materials, objectives, and activity.

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How to give motivation by teaching poetry? how to start a poem in the motor mouth classroom?

As am fresher in teaching.I didn't get good confident in teaching poetry.so I hope this message will help me how to teach poetry in the classroom. I want to make my class more active, so kindly give some tips to teaching. I have tried: To control the class in a good manner. I think it was caused by: My teaching is not effective.so kindly tell me how to handle it effectively

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See more questions like this: How to teach novel through discussion method?

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Recent edits by: mesi, Maria, Nuance

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