4 Reasons To Teach Poetry

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For many people, the mere mention of poetry invokes images of old poets writing love poems about unrequited love. For those that know better, poetry is everything from hilarious commentary on daily life to pointed insight into the human condition. Why should we teach this art form? Let’s talk about some reasons to teach poetry.

Reason One:  Poetry Speaks in a Different Way Than Prose

Prose is a wonderful thing – whether it is the short story or the novel, the autobiography or the opinion essay, well-written prose can delve into and explore subjects in unique and interesting ways.

But like any art, even the most expertly written prose will not speak to everyone.  Because poetry is of a different art form, both in format and in the way it approaches issues, poetry often reaches people that prose does not and in ways that prose does not.  By using poetry in our classroom, we open up the world of literature to all these people that may never partially or completely connect to prose.

Reason Two:  An Incredible Diversity Of Material

Think of the different types of poetry that you are familiar with.  In just a few moments your list might include forms like haiku, free verse, limerick, ballad, sonnet, narrative, etc.  Now consider the differences between a 17th-century sonnet and a modern, stream-of-consciousness, free verse poem; it is almost shocking that they are considered part of the same category of literature. 

But that is the beauty of a poetry unit – there is just so much diversity to offer your students.  When it comes right down to it, the variety you can include is only going to be limited by your time constraints and your own willingness to branch out.

Need more reasons to teach poetry?

Reason Three:  The Ability To Be Current

While Romeo and Juliet and Of Mice and Men have a place in literature classrooms, many of us also desire to include more current titles in our curriculum.  Poetry can be current in ways that many other types of literature used in the classroom cannot. 

This is for several reasons – whereas longer works take months (or even years) to write and get published and then even more time for teachers to find, vet, and write curriculum for, poems might be composed in a matter of hours and available from reputable online sources where the teacher can find and use them mere days later. 

Because of this, quality poetry speaking to current world events and movements and even material simply written by individuals not dead before our students were born can be easily accessed and used in the classroom.  This ability to be current and accessible is something few other types of literature can offer teachers and their students. When Amanda Gorman presented at the inauguration of President Joe Biden teachers everywhere wanted to use her poem in their classes the next day.

Free spoken word poetry lesson image.

Reason Four:  It Does Not Require Weeks Of Teaching

You may choose to do a poetry unit that covers a wide variety of styles, poets, vocabulary, and themes.  There is nothing wrong with this; sometimes you want that depth, and a multi-week poetry unit can be a magnificent thing.  That being said, sometimes we need something that can fill a week or a day or even just twenty minutes or something that can be used to address a theme from another work we are teaching in a different manner.  Poetry can do this. 

Every time you teach a poem, you don’t have to teach it in-depth.  Having student read and react to poetry on a regular basis can be a valuable exercise, intertextual themes and discussion can be invaluable teaching tools, and no matter how you go about teaching it, it is impossible to teach a short story in twenty minutes or a novel in the two days before vacation.

These are just a few of the many, many reasons that poetry is a wonderful thing.  Encourage yourself to find ways to use it in your classroom as something you not only are required to teach but something that is an invaluable component of your curriculum.

These 4 reasons to teach poetry are a great reminder of why we as teachers should strive to add more poetry to our units.

Check out these ready-to-go middle school poetry units.

Photo of a lessons from a middle school poetry unit.

More Poetry Resources

  1. Diversifying Your Poetry Curriculum
  2. Teaching Poetry to Middle School Students
  3. Fresh Ideas For Teaching Poetry
  4. Middle School Poetry Units

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