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Ideas for Teaching Poetry




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If you are using the Kalliope exercises in class, I have found the following pattern most useful:

  1. Why Write?
  2. Critiquing
  3. A "warm up" wordplay exercise
  4. Alternate basic exercises and advanced forms
    with wordplay exercises and lighter forms

When I teach classes and workshops, the forms that students of all ages get most enthusiastic about doing are the short, structured ones: haiku, lune, cinquain and diamante.

When teaching rhyme and rhythm, read examples of good poetry out loud. This is far more influential than drilling in iambic, anapestic, and trochaic pentameter.

Another important aspect of poetry and other powerful writing is attention to concrete detail. It can be interesting to challenge students to describe something in their environment without naming it, to describe it by shape and color and other specifics so that other students can identify it. Or have them go on a short walk and write specific things they observe. These and other exercises can get them taking notice of more detail around them as well as more detail in what they read.

If you really want to get to the heart of poetry, be prepared for highly charged emotional issues to come up. The more honestly your students can confront the thoughts and emotions within themselves, the more they can find within what they read, and vice versa. A powerful example of the use of image in poetry is "My Father's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke, which begins "The whiskey on your breath / Could make a small boy dizzy; / But I hung on like death: / Such waltzing is not easy." Can you create an atmosphere where students can write of similar situations in their own lives?