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Poetry in the Classroom

Poetry is a fundamental aspect of literature. There’s no escaping teaching poetry in the classroom, and we shouldn’t want to escape it. It’s a versatile craft, being that there are 12 types of poetry, and the creation and appreciation of poetry has been providing entertainment, catharsis, and philosophical insight for almost as long as we’ve had language.

It’s important to teach the characteristics of poetry alongside different poetry definitions and examples, but this is easier said than done. But don’t fret! In this piece, we’ll cover strategies you can use to teach poetry effectively.

Importance of Poetry in Education

So, why is it important to study poetry? There are plenty of reasons. Though poetry often gets overlooked in favor of prose and drama, there’s a lot to learn from poems. For instance, it can help elementary students learn phonics and rhyme. You can employ it in middle and high school to encourage students to analyze a text in small bursts. In creative writing, poetry helps teach imagery in all its forms. The importance of poetry in education cannot be overstated. 

Poetry can also help students learn how they can craft impactful language in very few words. This isn’t just a skill for creative writing, but a powerful tool in the age of Tweets and social media captions—where very few words can make or break a career or reputation. And these are only a few of the reasons why poetry is important.

What Can We Learn from Poetry

People justify cutting poetry from the curriculum by claiming it's frivolous. What practical skills and knowledge can you really glean from poems? In fact, poetry is good for developing numerous skills, and that’s why teaching poetry is so important.

So, what can we learn from poetry? 

Developmental Learning
Young children benefit a lot from poetry, since it helps teach the rhythm of grammar. Poems written in meter can help students understand words and where they fit in a sentence.

A lot of students struggle with expressing their ideas on the page. Poetry is good for developing skills, especially communication skills. Poetry helps students learn to think outside of the box and find creative ways of expressing their thoughts.

Emotional Control
Not only does poetry help students communicate their feelings, but it also gives them an outlet for expressing those feelings. Providing students with healthy, artistic outlets can help their mental health tremendously. Poetry has a relatively low bar of entry, with students needing only basic literacy to begin.

Due to poetry’s shortened form, each word is more significant. Because of this, poetry forces each student to consider the exact specific meaning of each word in the poem. This can help students better understand vocabulary and help them remember the words.

Social Emotional Learning
Poetry can help facilitate many aspects of Social Emotional Learning (SEL), including empathy, self-expression, and understanding. Whether you’re using William Blake to discuss the lives of impoverished children, Claude McKay to discuss racial tensions, Maya Angelou to discuss feminism, or Joy Harjo to discuss life on reservations, poetry opens a nuance an elegant gateway into exploring the lives of others. 

Which Skills Can Be Enhanced by Teaching of Poetry

Still, you might be wondering “Which skills can be enhanced by teaching of poetry?” If you don’t believe any of the aforementioned assets are valuable, practical skills, let’s look at how poetry contributes to the curriculum, as that answer also lends itself to the importance of poetry in life and literature. Look at this as poem skills = life skills. 

Literature & Language Arts
The first and most obvious application of poetry is in teaching language arts. As we mentioned previously, it can do everything from teaching young students developmental skills to teaching older students vocabulary. Let’s take a look at some other useful ways poetry can enhance your lesson plans.

Discussing Theme
In literature, we often try to read books with a broad range of themes. If you’re trying to cover each theme in depth, it helps to have another work with a similar theme to add to the discussion. Though you might not have time for another novel or short story, you probably have enough time for a poem.

Adding poems as supplementary works can help students analyze themes from a different perspective without overwhelming them with extra reading.

Understanding Context
Similarly, poems can help us understand the time when another work was written. Since no work was created in a vacuum, sharing a relevant poem from one of your novelist's contemporaries can help students better understand the time period at question.

In addition to the major issues of the day, you can use poems as a gateway for discussing the stylistic conventions of the time. 

Inspire Creative Writing
Everyone knows the best way to teach creative writing is to encourage students to read. But some students don’t have the luxury of sitting down with a novel every night. Poetry is a great way to help inspire creative writing in students in relatively little time.

Even if you aren’t writing poems, aspects of poetry—metaphor, imagery, et cetera—translate well to writing prose.

Outside of Language Arts
You may be surprised poetry has practical applications outside of the ELA classroom. Let’s discuss some of those reasons.

Analytical Skills
Teaching poetry often involves a lot of dissection. While some students can read a poem and immediately feel its impact, many students can’t. It isn’t until they break down all the nuances and deeper meanings of the poem that they truly understand.

Poetry demands an in-depth reading, analyzing every single image, rhyme, and word. This sort of deep analysis isn’t just beneficial in the classroom, but also in life. This skill can apply to reading news articles, problem-solving, and even STEM skills.

Historical Context
Poetry is the oldest literary art form, predating even written language. Since poetry has been around almost as long as we’ve had language, it has accompanied the human race through all eras. This is why poetry is important to history and society.

Reading poems from different eras and discussing how they were consumed (or performed) can help students better understand what life was like during those periods. Studying The Illiad and The Odyssey can help students understand ancient Greek culture, and reading Emily Dickinson helps us understand the Calvinist ideology she often rebelled against.

Many teachers understand poetry’s importance, but they don’t know how to present a poem in class. Though this might seem like a simple task to some, to others it's as daunting as performing on stage in front of a live audience.

Though your exact method of presentation can vary, let’s take a look at some tips for presenting a poem.

How to Present a Poem in Class

Many teachers understand poetry’s importance, but they don’t know how to present a poem in class. Though this might seem like a simple task to some, to others it's as daunting as performing on stage in front of a live audience.

Though your exact method of presentation can vary, let’s take a look at some tips for presenting a poem.

Tips for Reading and Reciting

While reading or reciting a poem might be nerve-wracking, it’s important to relax. If you’re too nervous, you may stumble over your words, speak too quickly, or speak too quietly. Use good posture and remember how much you enjoy the poem.

Make sure you speak at a good pace. If you’re too slow, the poem will drag on. If you’re too fast, your students might not be able to understand. You should also project so students in the back can hear you. Make sure you enunciate each word clearly, but don’t overdo it.

How to Present a Poem
You might still be unclear on how to present a poem in class. To show your students a new poem for the first time, there are several methods you can utilize. How to introduce a poem is crucial, as this weighs heavily on how your class will receive it. 

Have them read it
The most obvious answer is to allow students to read it themselves. You can pass it out, pull it up on a projector, write it on the whiteboard, or whatever manner you see fit. Give students a few minutes to read the poem, telling them to indicate when they’re finished. Once they’re done reading, you can skip right into discussion.

Read it out loud
The next most obvious answer is to read it to them. Again, you might want to consider giving them some method to read along. Remember to use the above tips for recitation and make sure all your students can hear and understand you.

Break into groups
Have your students break into groups and give each group a poem. Tell them to read the poem, then discuss it as a group. This takes some of the pressure off you, and gives your students a chance to interact with their peers.

Read poems "just for fun"
At the beginning and/or end of class, read a poem you feel your students might enjoy. Don’t attach any assignments or discussion to the poem, just let them hear it. This will help them think of poems as something more than just something they read for class.

Play an audio recording
If available, hearing a poem in its writer’s voice can provide valuable insight. It also saves you the trouble of having to read it yourself.

You can also find plenty of poetry readings produced in high-quality studios by practiced readers.


Poetry is a vital part of the curriculum, not a luxury we can omit. Though you might not have all the time in the world to sit down and discuss poetry with your students, you can find other creative ways to incorporate it into your subject matter.

Show your students what they can learn from poetry, and they will see why poetry is important in society.

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