Today is the start of second semester, and the beginning of a new course for me to teach: Poetry.

It’s not new for our district, just new to me.

As a self-professed lover and consumer of poetry, I am both thrilled for this opportunity and nervous about it, as you might imagine, so I’m reflecting on current practices in order to think about taking them to the “next level.”

I’ve taught quite a bit of poetry in my day, and have worked steadily over the last ten years or so to create a more immersive, creative, and authentic experience with it for my students.

Let me explain.

English teachers well know the trepidation students have over studying poetry, convinced by some late-elementary-middle / high school teacher that they did not possibly understand it as well as they might have, otherwise they’d have had the same genius insights their classmates or – sadly – their teacher might have had.

As a result, as with all things we don’t understand, we – they – develop an animosity for it. This animosity is often in direct correlation to how rigidly they were expected to understand the text. Answer closed-style short answer questions? A decent level of hatred. Write an essay where there are perceived “right” or “better” answers? A lot of hatred. Answer multiple choice questions where there is only one right answer? Why even try? You get the picture.

I have had many students over the years share that they truly never thought they could like – let alone love – poetry and yet… now they do.

I’m no magician. But I am dogged and determined and effusive and inviting in sharing what is, in many ways, the most stylized use and creation and genre of the written word.

My three principles of approach are: immersion, low-risk learning opportunities, and invitation to authorship.


  • start class each day with a poem chosen and read by a student (more on this here)
  • layer on Poetry Out Loud with projects designed to build intimacy with the poem
  • include poetry in each unit of study
  • include one round of book clubs using collections of contemporary poetry
  • share my own poetry


  • many poems are listened to and discussed – even written about – but never “assessed”
  • poems are sometimes used to introduce topics, rather than as the focus of study
  • students create anthologies of favorites, reflecting on why


  • we write in response to poems
  • we mimic styles of poems
  • students are invited to respond to analytical writing prompts in any genre, including poetry
  • we write “template” poems (think of this as a much looser version of MadLibs)
  • we publish poems in our literary magazines

You can imagine much more, I’m sure. The point is, it’s all around them. For better or for worse. Usually for better.

It’s perhaps worth noting that my “definition” of poetry is incredibly loose. In fact, it’s now looser than ever, because where I used to define it as “not prose,” now…I’m not sure that’s even so true. I leave it – as with all things identity-related these days – in the hands of the owner/creator. You’ve written a poem? Fantastic. This is prose? Wonderful. I can’t wait to read it. Here’s one that crossed my feed that I think you might like…