What Are the Best Tips for Teaching Poetry?

Dan Cavallari

Teaching poetry can be difficult because many students are intimidated by this writing form and may not have a solid understanding of why poetry matters. It is important to find ways to engage the students in the material when teaching poetry by not only choosing the right poems to teach, but also by understanding the personalities and interests of the students to be taught. Starting with very simple concepts and allowing the students a bit of free rein in the subject matter can help them become engaged before moving onto more difficult topics and poems.

Teachers should start off with modern poets who use modern language when teaching students poetry.
Teachers should start off with modern poets who use modern language when teaching students poetry.

One reason that teaching poetry can be difficult is because students tend to have a difficult time understanding figurative language. This is any word or phrase that has an implied meaning; examples include similes, metaphors, metonymy, synecdoche, and so on. Before teaching poetry to a class of students, try teaching one or two of these literary devices. Simile is perhaps the easiest concept for students to grasp, so this is a good starting point. Give students plenty of examples of similes; mix famous similes from poems and literary works with similes made up on the spot; challenge students to come up with the most creative similes they can think of.

Starting out with modern poetry could be a good way to draw students in during early teaching sessions.
Starting out with modern poetry could be a good way to draw students in during early teaching sessions.

Once students have a basic understanding of some types of figurative language, present the students with simpler, shorter poems that express one emotion throughout. Point out the literary devices the students have learned. It may help to choose a poem without any rhyme scheme at first to allow students to focus on the figurative language instead. This will make teaching poetry a bit easier at the onset. Once the students can recognize and use figurative language, it may be a good idea to move onto rhyme schemes and common types of poems. While the sonnet is perhaps the most well known form of poetry, it may not be the best place to start. Begin with a simple rhyme scheme, such as ABABA, and so on.

The more engaged with the materials the students are, the easier teaching poetry will be for the teacher. Instead of starting off a lesson with Shakespearean sonnets, the teacher should perhaps start with a modern poet who uses modern language the students can connect with. Moving to Shakespeare later on is certainly important, but it is more important for the students to understand the point of poetry before delving into exceptionally challenging works.

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Discussion Comments


@Sunshine31 - I also think that studying different types of poetry and offering the students a specific example of each type of poetic structure will make it more likely for the students to recognize the type of poetry that it is.

My daughter studied poetry in her fourth grade class and the assignments were a little difficult. I think that anytime you do something for the first time, it always seems hard. The kids in my daughter’s class had to put together many different types of poems. The easiest poem for her was the alliteration and a metaphor.

The alliteration was her favorite because she enjoyed beginning each line with the same letter sound. She loved reading it aloud, and her poems were entered in the country youth fair. The teacher was able to put all of her student’s poems and bounded them together. Although it was a lot of work, my daughter enjoyed the process towards the end when she became more familiar with the poems.


@Cupcake15 - I agree with you. I also think that using music especially popular music makes the poetry lesson so memorable that the students would probably love it because the music is familiar to them, and a lot of these classic poems are not.

It is just like if you give a student a work of Shakespeare like Romeo and Juliet without underscoring the central themes of passionate romantic love and the loyalty of the family, then the students will not appreciate the rich language and the message of the work will be lost. When students lose interest is it hard to get them back on track this is why teaching poetry writing is so difficult.


I think that teaching poetry to kids can be really difficult, but if you use poems about life that kids could relate to it might make it easier for them to remember the literary technique used to produce the poetry.

I think that this is similar to exposing kids to books when they are really young so that when they get older it will be easier for them to learn how to read than a child that did not have this exposure. I also heard that some teachers begin teaching poetry through music which can also be effective because it makes the lesson more memorable. I think that teaching poetry to high school students this way might be the most effective method.

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