Teaching Poetry

Poetry evokes emotion, and that’s the key to effective teaching. Whether you have young students that are just starting to understand rhyme or college age students who know what they enjoy, there’s always new insights and revelations to be had.

The most difficult challenge is teaching poetry to students who aren’t particularly interested in the field – or at least think that they aren’t. We believe there’s a genre and style of poetry for everyone, and it’s often no more than a case of a funny or controversial poem to bring out emotion and appreciation. For that reason, it’s best to introduce some light-hearted poetry in modern English that is easy to understand.

Poems that tell a story or are written in colloquial language often appeal to teenagers and younger students. Poems which are about a familiar place or experience are also great as learners can identify with them easily. They are also good for building into extended projects in the classroom (for example looking at the geography, history and literature of a region for primary school students).

Teaching students from a set syllabus is more difficult, particularly if you’re teaching poetry that even you aren’t particularly keen on. To be successful at teaching any kind of poem or poetry, it’s important to find meaning that will interest your students. Avoid starting with close technical analysis of the language, and instead read the poem through and discuss potential meanings and issues in the text to ensure everyone understands the poem more clearly. Never ask broad questions such as ‘What did you think of this?’ as even university students will struggle to come up with something (or be too reluctant to speak out).

It’s a good idea to prepare guided discussion questions in advance, starting with close, easy questions and broadening out or expanding on the initial area. Complex poems should be taken line by line, and in the case of lengthy texts such as Paradise Lost, take care to reduce the amount of poetry looked at per class to prevent students feeling overwhelmed.

If you have any tips or examples of how you taught/teach poetry successfully, feel free to contact us at poets@discoveringpoetry.co.uk and we’ll add your thoughts to this page. Thanks!