1. Initiating Activity for a Poetry Unit

Source of Poems:

Favorite Poem Project videos, volumes of poems, poetry anthologies, Internet, etc.

Teachers' Reflections:

We have taken very much to heart the question of the ordering of events within a poetry unit, or a year-long poetry study. This lesson seeks first to help students find an immediate connection to a poem. We hope that the unit as a whole will move them towards a deeper consideration of poems, while still maintaining a visceral attachment to them, and we feel that to underscore the democratic spirit of this unit, it is important that, as far as possible, the teacher should participate alongside the students.

Teaching Ideas:

1. With very little preamble, show 6 - 10 Favorite Poem Project video segments. You should select these according to the needs and tastes of your class.

2. Ask students to write a response to a single segment that spoke to them strongly.

3. Ask them to discuss what appealed to them, what they noticed, etc. Ask in particular about what they feel makes a good reading of a poem.

4. Ask the students "What poetry is in your head?" — anything at all, from Shel Silverstein, to snippets of Shakespeare, to song lyrics. Ask, "Is there a poem you know well enough to recite?" Encourage students to recite any poems they know.

5. Assign the homework:

Find a poem that you like, and be ready to read it to the class, and talk about why you like it.

Teachers whose students may need more guidance and encouragement might want to pause at this point to accompany their students to the library for a period of searching for poems. Otherwise, teachers could send their students to their bookshelves at home, the library, the Internet, or classroom books.

Students should:

1. Write out the poem legibly. It is not sufficient to bring in a sheet printed from the Internet, or a book with a bookmark in it.

2. Look up any unfamiliar words in the poem and prepare definitions.

3. Practice reading the poem aloud at least three times. It may be helpful to remind them that punctuation marks serve as a sort of score, with commas as breaths and periods as full beats, and that it's not necessary to pause unnaturally at each line-ending, especially those that are enjambed (where the syntax of one line runs into the next without punctuation). Remind them, too, to check pronunciation of unfamiliar words.

4. Think carefully about, but do not write out, what they will say about the personal significance of this poem.

5. The in-class reading. Students will share the poems they've discovered with the class, and speak about what in the poem draws them to it. All the students could share poems during a single class, or the activity could be spread over a few classes, with a handful of students sharing a poem each day to start or end the class. Teachers, don't forget to bring one of your favorite poems to share.

Teaching Connections:

We see this activity leading naturally into a unit that is student-driven to a considerable degree, which could culminate in students working in groups to produce their own favorite poem videos, either within the school, or in the wider community.

Lesson by Kelly Aravian (Needham High School, Needham, MA), Ronna Frick (Wellesley High School, Wellesley, MA), Mary Henry (Veterans Memorial High School, Peabody, MA), and Emma Leslie (Newton South High School, Newton, MA)

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