First Impressions: Poetry at the Beginning of the Year

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

Portrait of Robinson Jeffers. Photo by Carl Van Vechten, July 6, 1937.

Portrait of Robinson Jeffers. Photo by Carl Van Vechten, July 6, 1937.

Welcome back to another year of the “Teacher’s Corner”! I am excited to share more ideas and suggestions for engaging students at all levels with poetry. Let’s jump right in with a beginning of the year experience.

Too often our students come to us with negative feelings about poetry, either based on experience or preconceived notions. In order to give them a fresh start with reading poetry and to help teachers understand what impressions students have about poetry, I suggest starting with a few poems about poetry, specifically:

Walt Whitman, 1819-1892. Photoprint by Sarony, 1878.

Walt Whitman, 1819-1892. Photoprint by Sarony, 1878.

Read two or more of these poems with your students to make comparisons, open a discussion about different views of writing poetry, and observe how your students interact with poetry.

Begin by reading one of the poems aloud. I would start with Whitman. The first time you read, ask students just to listen, maybe even with their eyes closed to encourage auditory mindfulness. The second time you read it ask students to jot down impressions or thoughts they have as the poem progresses. Read a third time, this time projecting or posting the text as you read and asking students to add to their written notes if they notice something different from the second reading.

Group students to share their impressions with a partner or small group. Ask individual students to share their thoughts with the class.

Follow the same procedure to read one or more other poems. After reading as many as you feel are appropriate, ask:

  • What do the poems have in common?
  • What is unique to each?
  • What does each have to say about poems and/or writing poetry?
  • Do you feel a connection with the perspective of any of the poems? Why or why not?

From this experience you will be able to anecdotally assess student attitudes toward reading, and also perhaps writing, poetry.

How do you approach discovering student feelings about poetry?

One Comment

  1. Shirl
    September 28, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    I am a writer and reader of poems.

    I would keep them away as far as possible from “school” type “activities.” Especially if we believe they come to us not “liking” poetry.

    I would want students to hear read aloud each day and to read lots of different poems without having to DO anything. Just open it up to saying something about each one, noticing something and saying those things. Gradually inviting them to choose and share a poem they’ve read that they like for some reason, has moved them in some way, that they would want to hold onto (or not for some reason). Maybe copying those for all. Perhaps to collect poems they want to keep.

    As Frost says, literature is a circulation, we need first “To build up a friendship….”

    There’s no need, in my opinion, to begin by choosing a set number of poems then asking “teacher” questions, pitting one poem against another. Students will still start out by believing reading poems is “just for school.” Instead of coming into a world of poetry. Believing poems are for life.

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