I Sing … of Comparisons
As a class, read “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman and “I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes. Create a Venn diagram to compare the two poems. Next, compare the backgrounds of the two poets and what historical events might have influenced them. (Whitman frequently wrote about the Civil War; Hughes lived during the Great Depression.) Discuss how the times a poet lives in can influence his or her work. Ask what today’s poets might write about (war, ecological issues). Next, discuss how Hughes often cited Whitman as an influence—as the similar titles of the poems suggest. Challenge students to write their own “inspired by” work.
All-In for Allegory
An allegory is a story or poem that has two meanings: a literal meaning and a figurative one. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost is one excellent example of an allegory. Have students read the poem silently and then ask them what it’s about (a man choosing between two paths in the woods). Challenge them to consider what the “road less traveled” means (the value in taking a path most people don’t take). Ask kids to look for clues that show the author is glad he took one path over the other, and then have them write about a time they had to make a tough decision and if they chose the easy road or the hard road.
Find poem here: “The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost
Jabbering About “Jabberwocky”
Most poems beg to be read out loud—and the nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll is no exception. After commenting on the colorful, made-up words Carroll uses, read the poem out loud yourself, then invite a few students to do a dramatic reading. Afterward, ask students if they can tell you what the poem is about (a boy fighting a mythical monster). Discuss how Carroll manages to convey his meaning using words morphed from other words (these are called portmanteaus). For instance, frumious combines fuming and furious. And discuss how Alice herself said about the poem: “It seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t know exactly what they are.” Next, have students go through the poem and underline all the nonsense words. Have them replace those words with more standard words and compare which version they like better. Variation: Have students create a “Jabberwocky” word key that defines the nonsense words.
Find poem here: “Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll
Imagine a Poem
Using imagery, or sensory details, can help bring a story or poem to life. Ask your students to close their eyes as you read "Oranges” by Gary Soto. Tell them to imagine the scene in their minds and notice how the poet uses many of the senses. Have them also note how the poet uses details (candies are “tiered like bleachers”) to bring the scene to life. The poem is about the first time the poet walked with a girl, so ask students to think of a “first” in their own lives and brainstorm sensory details about the event. Challenge them to include all five senses. Have them write poems to share during a classroom poetry slam.
Find poem here: "Oranges” by Gary Soto
Figuring Out Figurative
Poetry often uses figurative language to convey ideas and to create a mood. As a class, read Mary Oliver’s “When Death Comes.” Make a list of the ways the poet describes death—as a hungry bear, as an iceberg, as the “measle-pox.” Ask students to speculate why the poet chose certain words or phrases. Do they think the poet is afraid of death? Why or why not? Next, ask students to pick a topic and create a list of words or phrases to describe that topic. For example, a baby might be a squeaky mouse or a wrapped present. Have them use the lists to write a poem.
Find poem here: "When Death Comes" by Mary Oliver
A diamante poem is a great way to practice descriptive writing. A diamante is a seven-line, diamond-shaped poem that begins with a single word and ends with its opposite:
Line 1: One noun (or topic)
Line 2: Two adjectives about the noun
Line 3: Three gerunds (-ing verbs) that relate to the noun
Line 4: Four nouns (the first two relate to the noun in Line 1, the last two relate to the noun in Line 7)
Line 5: Three gerunds that relate to the noun in Line 7
Line 6: Two adjectives that describe the noun in Line 7
Line 7: Renames the noun from Line 1 (its opposite)
After sharing a few examples and writing a group diamante, invite students to write their own. For a challenge, have them choose an abstract topic like loneliness. Display the poems on diamond-shaped pieces of paper.
Find examples here: Diamante Poems