2. Poetry: Why Bother?!

Source of Poems:

FAVORITE POEM VIDEOS (provide printed poems as well):

"The Sloth" by Theodore Roethke
from "Song of Myself" (50 & 52) by Walt Whitman
"I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" (288) by Emily Dickinson
"Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation" by Stanley Kunitz
"A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
from "Gitanjali" by Rabindranath Tagore
"Minstrel Man" by Langston Hughes
"Ay Ay Ay de la Grifa Negra" by Julia de Burgos

Teacher's Reflection:

When I introduce poetry to students, I ask them to tell me why they do or don't like it. Often students have a negative reaction to poetry because they think the words are too hard to understand. They are intimidated by the vocabulary and by the seeming-arbitrary arrangement of words on a page. I spend a week or two giving them poems that use words that will be unfamiliar to many of them, asking them to look in the dictionary and provide a definition for any word that they don't know. (I encourage them to make this practice a habit.) Once we break through the mystery of new words, the poems begin to make sense, and as the magic starts to emerge, the students warm up to the poetry — though they're sometimes still cautious. This lesson may build on that interest, helping them to realize the meaning poetry can have in their own lives.

Teaching Ideas:

  • Students will view Favorite Poem videos, featuring a variety of people reading and talking about a beloved poem. (Suggestions above — the readers should be selected to represent a range of readers and reasons they're drawn to a poem).

  • After each reading, the student will write why each person in the video chose his or her particular poem. By doing this, students will consider for themselves why these poems are important to another person, why the readers are so profoundly affected by what they read.

  • Students will select from among the clips the reader and poem that most interests them. Encourage several students to read the poem they've chosen aloud and to speak personally about their interest in it — pointing out particular words, lines or ideas that appeal to them.

  • This introductory lesson could lead well into an independent exploration of poetry for students, with the goal of their finding a meaningful poem to share and discuss with the class.

Based on a lesson by Carol Resneck, Chelsea High School, Chelsea, MA

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