Poetry Unit Engagement

Use these strategies to help create poetry unit engagement when teaching poetry in your middle school ELA classroom.

Do you find it challenging to create poetry unit engagement in your classroom?

Poetry seems to be one of those topics that significantly divides both students and teachers into the “love it” and “hate it” categories.  

While the “love it” students are naturally engaged in this common and often mandatory unit, engagement is much harder to achieve amongst the “hate it” category.  

Since these students often make up a significant portion of your class, let’s talk about some ways we can encourage engagement when teaching poetry.

Choice

No matter where or who you teach, students have opinions and preferences about the materials you present in class.  

One of the best ways to build engagement into your poetry unit is to provide opportunities for student choice.  Human beings are naturally more engaged with things that they have picked – they are invested because they have chosen it.  

Here are some easy ways to allow student choice:

  • Pick two or three poems that will fulfill your curricular needs for the day.  Present these briefly to your students, and then have them vote on which poem will be used or allow them to select which one they want to use.
  • Allow/assign students to each bring in a poem that they have found for use in class. You might give students class time and resources to pull their poems from. Do this a few days to a few weeks before you start the unit, so you have time to create quality lessons in conjunction with these poems.
  • Allow students freedom of choice (again, possibly from a curated list of poems or poets) when choosing poems for their own reports and projects.  This way they can choose something that they are interested in and/or something that speaks to them.  What your students produce will be all the better for this.

There are so many wonderful poems out there that are both free and easily accessible that incorporating choice into your poetry unit should not be difficult. Increasing student choice in your poetry lessons will help create poetry unit engagement.

Variety

Don’t get stuck only studying a few types of poems, assuming that these are going to be the ones that your students are interested in. While it may be true that your romance-inclined pupils love the sonnets it also may not be true.  

And frankly, if you don’t take the time to expose your students to everything from the haiku to the poetry slam, you never know which student is going to discover a love of a form they had never thought about or seen before.  

And don’t forget that variety also applies to the types of activities you do with the poems you study. Some students will love open interpretation activities while others do much better with creating visual art in conjunction with what they read or even writing their own poems. By giving students this variety, you engage more students throughout your unit.

Video

Students love watching videos, and the Internet is a font of wonderful material to use in your poetry unit. Videos of superbly talented individuals – both famous and not – are readily and freely available for use in your classroom.  

From great actors like James Earl Jones to the poets themselves like Gwendolyn Brooks to new voices like Amanda Gorman and many more that you have never heard of before, incorporating these videos into your lessons instead of just reading the poems yourself or having students read them aloud brings talent, diversity, and natural interest into your lessons.

Engaging Lessons

It is important to plan engaging yet rigorous lessons for your students. These middle school poetry units are full of engaging lessons that students will enjoy. 

Each unit follows the same lesson outline with different content for each grade.

  1. What is Poetry? Lesson
  2. What is Topic and Theme? Lesson
  3. Figurative Language Lesson
  4. Poetry Analysis
  5. Spoken Word Analysis
  6. Song Lyric Analysis
  7. Poetry Creation
  8. Poetry Showcase

Check out this feedback for my 6th-grade poetry unit.

“This was a great resource to use with poetry instruction.  It was clear, concise, and engaging.  It hit on everything my students needed and did it in a way that was engaging and did not elicit an “ugghhh poetry!”  response from my students!  They were ready to learn and engage with the lessons each day and did so without complaint! Wahoo!”

Grab these poetry units on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Don’t forget that if you are not interested in what you are teaching, there is little chance that your students will be interested in it.  

Even if poetry is not your cup of tea, find ways that you yourself can engage with the material. 

Finding your passion for what you are teaching is the first step to a great unit! I hope you can use some of these ideas to help with creating poetry unit engagement in your classroom. 

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