The Favorite Poem Project will soon enhance and expand our services for teachers in person and online—including lesson plans, collaboration and advice about FPP events, and new programs. Although the on-campus K-12 Institute has run its course, we will keep working to make available the spirit of the Institute and its practical materials. We will also be adding new videos to our website, and including those from our MOOC “The Art of Poetry.” Stay tuned for the launch of the new Robert Pinsky Poetry Archive.
Thanks to the work of our previous director Laura Marris, new director Annette Frost and I look forward to collaborating with educators on a vision of poetry’s central role in education, in the study of language, and in culture itself.
For more information, please email Annette Frost, Favorite Poem Project Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Often the best comedians, or poets, can make the darkest or most troubling experiences funny, inspiring the kind of laughter that gives access to insight.
School events are more compelling when they involve different people from the school community — teachers, parents, children, administrators, and other community members — coming together to celebrate the beauty and power of poetry. This celebration supports the Favorite Poem Project's key ideas of physicality and autonomy.
The text below is from the comprehensive classroom resource for instructors that accompanies the textbook edition of the Favorite Poem Project anthology An Invitation to Poetry.
Asking students, as the Favorite Poem Project asks people in general, to read poems aloud and say something personal about them demonstrates that those processes can be joyous rather than intimidating or dry. To recite a poem aloud fulfills a natural need, stimulated by the pleasurable, moving experience of the poem.
There are different approaches to organizing a Favorite Poem reading, but the goal remains the same: autonomous, individual connection with a work of art, and the ability to communicate that connection by speaking the poem in one's own voice and by saying something about it in one's own words.
Favorite Poem readings tend to create an atmosphere of respect and attention, as students listen to their peers share poems that mean something to them. The format for a reading within a single classroom is simple: each student reads a poem and says a few sentences about why this particular poem is important as a personal choice. (Our advice is to rule out written statements or notes: the only piece of paper allowed would be the text of the poem itself.) It may seem risky, but our inclination is to allow all sorts of material such as song lyrics, nursery rhymes, or anything that has found its way into print. If the student chooses to start with the words of a silly song—even in a defiant or teasing spirit—the requirement to say something to one's peers about the importance of the choice can lead to the fulfillment of the educational goal.
For the students' in-class reading, photocopies can be useful, but there is much to be gained from careful listening, with no text to rely on, and for welcoming the idea that a poem or parts of a poem can be heard over again, the way one plays or sings a favorite song more than once.
The anthology assignment (detailed elsewhere in this guide) is good preparation for a Favorite Poem reading, perhaps at the end of the term, with students choosing one poem from their collection to share with the rest of the class. It may be beneficial to have a Favorite Poem reading early in the term, and then again toward the end, with students choosing a different poem each time. Perhaps their tastes or interests will have changed over the course of the semester. Another option would be to begin each class with one or two students presenting a favorite poem.
A more ambitious step, beyond an in-class Favorite Poem reading, would be to organize an evening event inviting others from the university community to participate—several students, the high school principal or university president, custodial staff, administrators, professors of various subjects, maybe a coach. Another approach would be to extend the reach even further, finding readers from the broader community, the city or town—a mayor or alderman, a grade school student, a radio or TV personality, a doctor or banker or librarian. Students might get involved in tracking down readers and helping put together such an event. Many schools, colleges, and universities have presented events of this kind with wonderful results.
By involving the school community, or reaching out to the broader community, a Favorite Poem reading can help build important ties between a school and the community that supports or contains the school. For more information about planning an event that involves the community, visit favoritepoem.org/getinvolved.html. These readings demonstrate that poetry is part of life as well as an object for study. They create the opportunity to learn something more about poetry from people who take pleasure in it—not only or primarily scholars or poets, but anyone who loves a poem.
Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz
Below are additional, specific ideas for a variety of school events, designed by teachers who've written to us about their successes:
The poetry institute was a reaffirmation of why I love poetry as well as a reminder of why I became a teacher. I aim to spark the same kind of love for poetry in others. I believe this week-long institute has given me the tools to do just that! Thank you!
—Tamara Dalton, Needham High School, Needham, MA
The level of excitement generated by bringing the Favorite Poem Project to my classroom is astounding.
—Virginia Dent, Lansing High School, Lansing, NY
The Favorite Poem Project videos provoke interest and conversation among students and are wonderfully helpful as an introduction to poetry.
—Frannie Moyer, Newton South High School, Newton, MA
The Favorite Poem Project seeks to improve poetry's place in American classrooms by encouraging active, engaging poetry lessons that emphasize a direct, vocal connection to poems. The lessons below were developed by teachers as part of their participation in the Favorite Poem Project summer poetry institutes hosted by Boston University.
In keeping with the goals of the Favorite Poem Project, the lessons presented here focus on appreciating poetry—reading, discussing, and enjoying poems—rather than on the writing of original poetry. Several of the lessons emphasize pleasure in the words and sounds of poems as place to begin—reminding students that poetry is art, and that it is satisfying and exciting to discover a poem that enthralls you and to say it in your own voice. If poetry is first presented in classrooms as something to seek out and enjoy, rather than something to pick apart, label and decipher, students are more likely to become interested in developing a deeper understanding of meaning in poems, in looking more closely at forms, in learning the tools poets use and the terms that identify those tools.
Many of these lessons make use of the Favorite Poem Project video segments. The videos are available for viewing on this Web site, or may be purchased on DVD with the anthology An Invitation to Poetry. The book/DVD set is also available in a paperback textbook edition for use in high school and introductory college courses. A comprehensive classroom guide written by Robert Pinsky, Maggie Dietz, Todd Hearon and Jill McDonough is available to instructors who adopt the text for a course.
Though the lessons below are organized by grade level, many of them could easily be adapted for students in higher or lower grades.
The Art of Poetry Video Repository is a portal to the video mini-lectures and discussions from The Art of Poetry, Robert Pinsky’s edX/Boston University MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). The lecture segments, usually five minutes in length or less, are on such topics as Music and Poetry; Teasing, Flirting, and Courting; Kidding and Tribute; and Difficulty and Pleasure. The discussion segments, also quite brief, take up those topics and others, with Robert Pinsky moderating and commenting. The people participating in the discussions include non-students (for instance, a landscaper, an engineer) as well as students in high school, college, and graduate school. The videos are meant to address the needs and interests of teachers, students, and anyone interested in the art of poetry.
Poetry, deeply rooted in human culture, is intricately connected to many disciplines, such as visual art, music, history and religious and social studies. The Favorite Poem Project shows a great deal in particular about American culture at the end of the twentieth century—through the poems people choose, which span ages and cultures, and through the stories they tell, which are often connected to other art forms, social and cultural questions, and other aspects of contemporary life.
Teachers have found many ways to incorporate poetry into areas of studies other than Language Arts. Below are some of their ideas, including many which make us use of specific Favorite Poem video segments.
Liz Stinger, a teacher of mechanical drafting/CADD at Mount Joy Career and Technology Center wrote to us about her daughter's success in combining two disciplines in one paper:
I learned to love and appreciate poetry from an exceptional high school English teacher. I have never missed an opportunity to use poetry in everyday life.
This "lesson" gave my daughter an appreciation for poetry and earned her an "A" by combining a literature and a history assignment during her senior year in high school. Her English assignment was to select a topic and develop a research paper. Her history assignment was to write a paper on World War I. With both teachers' permission, she selected the weapons of WWI as her topic and used the poetry of WWI, along with other resources, to develop the paper. The poetry helped the information become alive. The names of the weapons and the words used in describing them, their sounds, gave a dimension to the research that factual prose could not. She titled the paper "The Weapons of WWI through Its Poetry."