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Poetry in the Classroom

“April is the cruelest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot in “The Waste Land,” but for poetry, March & April are among the most important months. Perhaps it is the spring that encourages us to embrace the poetic, as around the world and in the United States, March & April are important months for celebrating poetry.

Maya Angelou at Clinton's Inauguration

Maya Angelou reading at Bill Clinton’s Inauguration.

World Poetry Day is on March 21st each year. It was designated as such by UNESCO in 1999. If you did not address World Poetry Day during March, there is plenty of time to celebrate international poets during National Poetry Month, an annual celebration since the Academy of American Poets’ first designated it in 1996.

Poetry is one of the oldest art forms in the world, and celebrating poetry can take on many forms.

Research – Have students pick a country and learn about their poetic heritage. Spain, Italy, France, Japan, China, Nigeria, South Africa, and many other countries have a rich poetic heritage. A great deal of poetry is free online, so feel free to let students loose.

Read Aloud – Once students have picked a poem, or a poem in translation, encourage them to read the poem aloud! For elementary school student reading projects, concentrate on easier authors like Shel Silverstein. For older students, challenge them to read harder material, or even try reading poetry in its original language as best they can. An important aspect of poetry is how it comes alive when spoken, as it is meant to be performed. A great middle school writing project is for students to research a poet, write about their work, and emulate their style (how many great poets learned to write poetry!) in a Studentreasures book.

Impact – Help students appreciate the broad influence of poetry by looking at how it’s been used in society. Great poets like Maya Angelou give readings at Presidential Inaugurations, while singer-songwriters that have had a huge influence on American music, like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, have taken poetry as their formal inspiration. If students are interested in music, ask them to bring their favorite songs, whether hip-hop, country, or rock, and explore the ways in which they use poetry to connect with the listener.

How do you plan on celebrating poetry this spring? Let us know in the comments.

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