How to Engage Your Students in Poetry - EB Academics

How to Engage Your Students in Poetry

Poetry can be a tough sell to middle school students. It’s not always easy to get them interested in analyzing literary devices, identifying themes, or exploring symbolism. However, with the right approach, poetry can become a source of excitement and engagement in the classroom. In this blog post, we’ll explore an activity called Guess Who that can be used to kick off a poetry unit and hook students on this beautiful form of literature.

Guess Who Activity

The Guess Who activity is designed to be an Into lesson that spans the first two days of your poetry unit. In this activity, students will analyze poems by famous poets and then write their own poems using the same themes.

On the second day, students will walk around the classroom, reading excerpts from the poems, and guessing whether each excerpt was written by a classmate or a published poet. This activity is designed to encourage critical thinking, foster creativity, and promote engagement in the classroom.

Setting Up the Guess Who Activity

To set up the Guess Who activity, choose a few poets and 1-2 of their poems for your students to analyze. You will determine the theme or themes from these poems and list them on the board. At this point, you won’t tell your students anything other than the themes of the poems. Don’t let them know that the themes are from poems already written.

Write Poems

Next, instruct students to compose their own poems centered around those same themes. You can give as much or as little direction as you like with this part. Do you want them to include certain figurative language? Great. Do you want them to work with a partner? That’s fine. Rather have them do it independently? Totally optional!

You can even incorporate AI to help students write their poems! We know this is a hot button issue among teachers and schools, but perhaps you want to try and use it as a tool in the classroom. You could have students use a tool like Chat GPT to write a poem using the theme you provided. Teach students how to instruct Chat Gpt to write the poem, (or add onto something they’ve already written), make the poem stronger…use more figurative language, write it at a higher reading level, include symbolism…you get the idea.

Display and Analyze Poetry

On day 2 of the Guess Who activity, hang excerpts from students’ poems and the original poems you gathered all around your classroom. Each excerpt should be on a different piece of paper, so that students can walk around and read a bunch of different poems. It’s super helpful to number each poem that you hang up so that the next part of the activity flows smoothly.

Have students number a piece of paper with however many poems you have hung up. Students will be walking around and analyzing each excerpt and then guessing if the poem was written by a student or a famous poet.

As students walk around the room, they can use the following questions to analyze the poems:

  • How does the poet use literary devices such as imagery, symbolism, and metaphor to convey the theme?
  • What is the poem’s tone, and how does it contribute to the overall meaning of the stanza?
  • How does the poet use language and word choice to create a specific effect or tone?
  • How does the poet use imagery and symbolism to reveal deeper meanings?
  • What is the poet’s attitude toward the subject and how is it conveyed in the poem?
  • Guess Who: Student Poet or Published Poet? (This is where students will write down whether or not they think the poem was created by a classmate or not.)

Other Options

If you have a large class and this will just be too long of an activity to include excerpts of everyone’s poems as well as excerpts from published poets, consider having students work in partners or groups of three to write a poem, or split the class into two groups and have each group only complete half a gallery walk. 

If you choose this option of splitting the class into 2 groups, just make sure you include the same published poets’ excerpts in each group…even better if they are the same station number in each group.

For example, if you are including an excerpt from Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too, ” perhaps label it #1 and hang it in the #1 spot in both groups, so that when you reflect on the activity as a class, and you ask students to determine if poem #1 was written by a classmate or a published poet, they are all talking about the same poem.

Why Use the Guess Who Activity?

Using this Guess Who activity is a great way to kick off your poetry unit because it allows students to actively engage with  poems and to use their critical thinking skills. It encourages them to closely analyze the poem’s themes, style, and language to determine the author. 

It also gives them the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned about different poets and their styles to the task at hand.Additionally, by trying to guess the author, students are encouraged to pay attention to the small details and to the technical elements of the poem, which can deepen their understanding of the poem. 

Moreover, it allows them to appreciate the work of their classmates and to see the potential within them. It also allows them to discover different poets, their work, and the rich heritage of poetry.

This activity is fun and interactive as students collaborate to identify the author of the poem, which can foster a positive and supportive learning environment. It also allows students to express their own opinions, which can lead to lively class discussions and debates. 

All these elements together make the activity an engaging one, encouraging students to actively participate in their own learning, and to actively question and analyze the poems they are reading.

Let us know if you give this Guess Who activity a try! We’d love to hear what your students thought of it!

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Then, pick the date you’re going to teach it in your classroom, and sit back while you watch as your students show up to your classroom pumped about what the day holds…and gush about your class to their parents on the car ride home!

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