I love poetry. I have published a small chapbook, The Sister Series, and hundreds of poems in online and print journals. However, one of the most difficult jobs I have faced as a teacher is getting my students to embrace and love poetry. Actually, I think they like poetry as many keep journals and all know the words to their favorite songs, I just think somewhere along the line it became uncool to love poetry at school.
Junior high students are oozing with emotions. They cry, gash, and vent. Then they hug, smile, and skip. Yes, they skip. So one day, mid-way through the standard poetry lesson(which was crashing and burning), I scrapped the entire unit. When I got home, I began to develop a poetry unit based on emotions that contained very little grading or rubrics.
The lesson is quite easy. Teachers, first pick four-five emotions. Or you can have the children pick the emotions. For each emotion, locate poems. I try to use one of my poems( so they can get inside the poet’s head), Tupac (it amazes the kids that I know who he is), poets I know(Christine Potter, Kay Day, Patricia Fargnolli), and poets other than the standard white, middle class, dead male ones.
Once you pick your emotions, poems, and present the poem, then ask the students the following questions (I have the kids put the poems and responses to these questions in a homemade journal.)
- Why ?
- Who cares ?
- What does this poem mean?
- Will I recommend this poem to friends?
- Will I remember this poem?
- What poetic devices are in this poem?
You can also go one step further and have the students write their own poems using the selected emotions and then have the students present them. Remember, JH kids either love the stage or hate it. Do not ruin a successful unit by forcing a presentation.
A Sample Unit
” His Hands” by Natasha Tretheway(from Domestic Work)
“Surface Hunting” by Claudia Emerson( www.blackbird.vcu.edu/v2n1/poetry/emerson_c/hunting.htm )
“Picture This” by Carol Parris Krauss (Snow Monkey, Volume 6, Issue 1, 2004, www.ravennapress.com )
“Dear G” by Kay Day( from A Poetry Break, www.kayday.net)
“Daddy” by Sylvia Plath(from Ariel)
“Providing for Each Other” by Marie Howe(from The Good Thief)
“Marital Discord” by Deborah Landau(from Orchidelirium)
“Celebration” by Patricia Fargnoli(from Duties of the Spirit)
“Sometimes I am Victorious and Even Beautiful” by Mary Oliver( from What We Do Not Know)
“Sometimes I Cry” by Tupac (poetry.rapgenius.com/2pac-sometimes-i-cry-poem-annotated )
” Talking to Beethoven, 1967″ by Christine Potter ( from Zero Degrees at First Light)
I still teach what I consider to be the classic poets, but not until long after this unit is finished. I have found in over twenty-five years of teaching that at the junior high level, kids are seeking self discovery and self expression. My unit and plan covers both of those goals and gives children a strong foundation for loving poetry and becoming life long lovers of poetry.