Methods #4: Teaching Poetry Outside the Box

One thing that I can completely agree with LouAnne Johnson about is students dislike for poetry.  I have not yet taught a poetry unit but my students shuddered when I told them we would be learning about poetry in the coming semester.  I think it is wonderful how LouAnne Johnson tackled introducing the subject to her resistant students through the use of song.  Like Mrs. Johnson I have had my students complete an assignment about their favorite songs, I used it to help teach my students about inferences, but I will go once again to the music well to help them learn about poetry.

Mrs. Johnson simply typed up several song lyrics to pass out to her class for the students to read.  Students began to identify the lyrics of songs and Mrs. Johnson asked her students if they thought that the songs were poetry.  One student prompted her questions further by asking why Mrs. Johnson didn’t simply tell them the answer to which she replies, ‘”You tell me.’ I insisted,’You know what a poem is don’t you?'” (198).

I found it amusing that she comments about loving how students walk right into what you want to teach them at times after spending a great deal of the book discussing how the mind cooperates more when presented with the unexpected, it seems she is further proving her point about this.

Her students did not expect to learn about poetry in the ways she was teaching them and she recognized the likelihood of resistance from them so she quickly transitions from reading the songs to a lesson on onomatopoeia before her students can resist.  This quick transition enabled her students to peak their interest while she prior to her introduction to poetic terminology and doctrine.

I have had classes at the college level where we shared our favorite song as a spoken word project and I remember being incredibly moved by some of them.  I hope to move my students as I was while engaging them in learning as Mrs. Johnson does.


2 thoughts on “Methods #4: Teaching Poetry Outside the Box

  1. I think students’ reluctance to read and study poetry has everything to do with the stupid ways we teach it in school. Have you read Billy Collins’s poem, “Introduction to Poetry”? I now tend to use poetry throughout the year rather than do a poetry unit, but when I do poetry units, I always start with that Collins poem and assure students that we are not going to beat poetry with hoses or tie them up! Another idea: spoken word! My students and I are all obsessed with Sarah Kay, Phil Kaye, Malcolm London, Daniel Beaty, and Clint Smith. (Many of their poems will be appropriate for your classroom; some will not, so check first!) Do you know Sarah Kay’s TED talk, If I Should Have a Daughter? Start there! My students all LOVE this talk! I use it in probably every class I teach.


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