Beginning with Poetry

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.

Children in classroom. Glass negative, between 1919 and 1929, from the American National Red Cross photograph collection.
//hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.14985

One way to show students the importance of poetry is to start sharing poems at the beginning of the school year, even perhaps on the first day. An extensive resource for poems chosen for a high school audience (though many of the works are appropriate for a younger audience as well) is Poetry 180, a project launched in 2001 by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

The initial poem in the collection, Collins’s own “Introduction to Poetry,” was selected first, I believe, because it is accessible to readers of many ages. The poem’s message about enjoying poetry without “tortur[ing] a confession out of it” also helps set the tone in your classroom or library by encouraging students to read poetry for poetry’s sake.

However, you might instead want to introduce students to savoring poetry with humorous pieces or works about beginnings. Like Poetry 180, the Poetry Foundation website features a poem of the day, and is easily searchable to find topics or specific poems that fit with your class’s interests and needs. One poem I like for young students is Jacqueline Woodson’s “on paper.” One for older students that may spark conversation is “We Real Cool,” by Gwendolyn Brooks.

Another source for daily poems is the Academy of American Poets website, which offers a Poem a Day email service to anyone who wishes to subscribe. Consider asking students to sign up, then allow a few minutes of each class, or once a week, for students to share or respond to poems that may have caught their notice. You may have to model this a few times until they understand how to share their personal reactions and thoughts and not an analysis or explication.

Students of all ages, grade levels, and reading abilities can find pleasure in reading poetry if we afford them the opportunity to do so regularly.

How do you begin with poetry?

One Comment

  1. Christine Shugrue
    September 6, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    I started day one with John Moffitt “ to look at anything “ … it has been an awesome poem to go back to again & again .

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