Are you looking for fun, easy poetry activities to use in ELA? Wondering how to teach poetry in the classroom but can’t figure out how? Check out this post for more fun poetry activities to use in your ELA lessons.

Before we begin, let’s have a look at that old, nagging question…

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Why should we be teaching poetry in the classroom?

Teaching poetry is important because it’s a way of looking at the world that is concise, brief, direct, and intense. Poetry requires students to think and to connect their own lived experience with the poem to make meaning.

Poetry is a form of expression using incredibly concise language. Making meaning from poetry helps students understand the impact that a few brief words can have. 

Further, the nuances of the language can help students realize how word choices and literary techniques are used in other writing to persuade them.

Writing poetry has also been shown to improve mental health. It allows people to express emotions in a controlled way, particularly about darker subject matters such as depression, death, and grief.

Poetry also helps people look at ideas and experiences from different perspectives. This makes poetry useful in the classroom because poems are typically quite short and you’re able to look at contrasting ideas in class quickly.

Poetry can also be really fun. Because poems are often short, students can use them to make multiple attempts at analysis without having to read reams of paper. 

And, while I don’t have any actual evidence to back this up besides my own experiences, I think students with lower literacy skills often find poetry more engaging. I suspect this is because they’re able to make meaning from the text without having to decode as much information (such as reading an entire novel, short story, or news article).

What are common roadblocks for teaching poetry in the classroom?

One of the biggest problems that teachers face when trying to teach poetry to their students is a lack of understanding.

How many times have you read a poem and had absolutely no idea what it was about? Did you quickly Google the name of the poet and the poem and find the CliffsNotes? I know I’ve done that on more than one occasion. And it makes me feel stupid because I feel like I should be able to just know what the poem is about.

And you can bet that’s exactly how your students feel: stupid, lost, and unsure. Once I accepted that I wouldn’t always understand a poem straight up and that I’d have to take my time to figure it out, I started to enjoy poetry so much more.

You can show your students this too. You can model looking at an unfamiliar poem and working out bit by bit what it’s trying to say. 

You can model this by comparing the poem to what you and your students know in your/their own lives. Then you can compare the poem to what we’ve read in other texts. 

One of the other problems teachers often face when teaching poetry is…

the intimidation factor.

People (myself included!) find poetry hard and feel intimidated. We don’t want to have a go because we don’t want to be wrong, feel embarrassed, or seem stupid. 

While it’s easy to say there’s no wrong answer, when you don’t understand a poem, it can be almost impossible to form any kind of interpretation.

Along with the intimidation factor, another problem teachers face when teaching poetry is a lack of knowledge. I know that I lack knowledge of poetry. 

My schooling career covered very little. I think I studied poetry maybe two or three times in school. In university, I studied poetry about the same amount.

Because of this, I don’t have that interconnected understanding of different poems and lines of poetry. That interconnected knowledge helps people derive so much meaning and joy from poetry. However, I still enjoy teaching poetry because the students get it and enjoy it. 

Students can identify poetic devices such as metaphors, similes, assonance, and alliteration quickly and easily. I think they do it so much easier in poetry because it is so brief. I know my students sometimes sometimes struggle to find those devices in longer prose texts.

Another thing I like about teaching poetry is that…

Much of the knowledge that students might lack, particularly regarding poetic devices, can be taught quite easily. It doesn’t take long and it’s not difficult to teach students to look out for similes, metaphors, assonance, alliteration, and rhetorical questions.

Students can easily look at the shape of a poem and see if it has an impact on their understanding of the poem or the meaning they think the author intends. These are skills that can be taught quickly.

Finally, a big problem with poetry is the boring analysis essays that teachers often get students to write.

Some of that is just the education system. Teachers need to assess students’ learning and if you don’t have an essay or an analysis, you have some kind of exam. That’s the nature of assessment in education.

But by including poetry more in our curriculums and classroom activities (not necessarily just in assessment), we can show students how poetry can be meaningful and fun to read. 

How can you make poetry fun? Five fun poetry activities you can do in the classroom

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Let’s have a look at different ways that you can create fun poetry activities in the classroom. Hopefully, you can try and give students a break from the boring analysis essay and redress a lack of understanding about poetry. 

You’re likely going to want to do some kind of preparation before you’re teaching a poetry unit. You’re going to want to have a look at poetic devices and make sure that students can identify basic devices such as simile, metaphor, alliteration, and assonance. 

You might even build on these to include rhyming schemes, rhetorical questions, repetition, and allusion. Personally, I avoid spending time on the more difficult minutia such as the different structures of stanzas and meter. 

But I mostly teach junior high school, so it’s not essential at those ages. And to be honest, I would probably be lost trying to teach those topics. However, if you’re teaching senior high school, those topics may be necessary for you to cover standards.

By teaching (or re-teaching) major poetic devices such as simile, repetition, metaphor, assonance, and alliteration, you will be helping students to have a general understanding of techniques used in both poetry and prose. 

And luckily, when we use poetry we can help students learn to identify them quickly because we can do a lot more repetition and practice. 

Fun Poetry Activities #1

One of my favorite ways to start a poetry unit is to look at the poem “I Hate Poetry” by Joshua Seigal. I like this poem because it cleverly articulates all the ways that teachers and students are guilty of torturing poetry.

I internally chuckle at the irony of using this poem to start a poetry unit and then introducing students to the language they need to analyze poetry. But I also enjoy the message, which is that poetry is created to be enjoyed, to open minds, to challenge ideas, and to express emotions. Not just to analyze for school.

I like to start my poetry units with this poem because I think it is a playful way of addressing one of the dissatisfactions that students can often have with poetry. They’re expected to read it, analyze it, pick it apart, and explain the meaning. 

They’re not encouraged to have any kind of emotional or affective response to it. This goes against what poetry is all about, stirring the emotions of the reader and exploring the feelings of the author. 

This poem helps spur class discussion about the purpose of poetry. It gently leads students to the understanding that while we may analyze poetry in class, that’s not why we should read it or create it. 

Fun Poetry Activities #2

The second activity I love to do to use poetry in the classroom is to introduce students to blackout poetry.  Blackout poetry is so much fun in the classroom because it helps teach students a poetic form that is visually engaging. It also enables students to easily create their own powerful poems. 

Because of the freedom within the structure of blackout poems, you can get students to do their blackout poems at different points throughout your entire year-long curriculum. 

One of the teachers that I teach with got students to do a blackout poem of a page of The Outsiders while reading the novel. Some of those turned out so beautiful and poignant. I plan on doing the same this year.

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Easy ways to use blackout poetry in the classroom include 
  • Reading blackout poems when learning about social justice issues. For example, there is a series of blackout poetry about the #metoo movement. It was created using the transcripts of perpetrators testifying about or apologizing for their actions. (See here for information about that style of poetry and here for images of some of the texts by poet Isobel O’Hare)
  • Getting students to create blackout poems from pages of novels studied in class, newspaper articles, or transcripts of speeches etc
  • Discussing how visuals in blackout poetry can be used to heighten the effect of the words in the poem

Blackout poetry can be a very powerful way of showing students the power of words and meaning. 

They can be used to show students how words shape social discourse and cultural norms about a range of justice issues. There is blackout poetry on topics such as race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, religion, and age. It can be used to show the ‘hidden meanings’ of the language those in power use to control or denigrate those they hold power over.

Blackout poetry is also easy to run as a fun poetry activity. You just need to print out or photocopy appropriate source material (which would depend on what you were studying at the time). Then students can use black markers, colored markers, illustrations, or collage materials to create their poems.

Blackout poetry is flexible too – it can be an activity you do in just a single lesson. Or it can be stretched over several lessons if you then get students to explain their poems in some kind of written response. 

Plus, students get to enjoy using their artistic ability without necessarily having to be talented artists. Students also love coming to class and seeing their creations on the walls.

Fun Poetry Activities #3

The third fun poetry activity is to get students to write their own poems. Fun poems that students often like to write include:

  • Haikus
  • Alphabet poems
  • I am poems (which pair particularly well with biography units)
  • Limericks
  • Or, writing poetry that emulates authors such as Dr Suess

There are heaps of scaffolded worksheets and PowerPoints online that step students through creating their own poetry.

Fun Poetry Activity #4

The fourth fun poetry activity you can use in your classroom is to transform poetry from one text type (poem) into another. For example, changing a poem into a graphic novel or comic strip page. 

Examples of how you could do this in your classroom include getting students to

  • Take a narrative poem and turn it into a graphic novel page
  • Change a poem into a blackout poem about a teacher-specified idea
  • Take a newspaper article and turn it into a haiku or limerick
  • Change a poem into an interview transcript
  • Get students to write a ‘reply’ to a poem as either a poem, a letter, or a diary entry
  • Have students create the ‘before’ or ‘after’ of a poem, the poem’s ‘origin story’ or sequel 

Having activities where students get to play with meaning is a fun way to explore language. Transforming or building on texts is a fun way to play with what is said (and not said) Both get students to engage with poetry in the classroom in a low-pressure way.

Fun Poetry Activity #5

The final fun poetry activity is to find some fun poems to read. Much of poetry is penned about intense emotions, such as depression, death, grief, loss, or overpowering love. But these might be difficult to use in class. Especially if you are looking for a quick, fun, light-hearted activity.

Luckily, there are lots of funny poems too. These funny poems can bring some levity to your classroom and often pair well with other texts that you might be reading or learning about.

Slam poetry is fun to use in class because the performance is audio-visual instead of words on paper. Often the performer adds a great deal to the understanding of the poem through their actions, body language, and voice.

Slam poems are also great because they often connect with so many ideas. For example, this funny poetry slam called Egg by Ashley McGregor could be used to pair with a huge range of texts on topics. These could include topics such as love, idolatry, Romeo and Juliet, hip-hop, puns, sexual innuendo, fate, tragedy, and free will.   

We hope we have helped…

You figure out how to teach poetry in the classroom, or at least helped you come up with some fun poetry lessons and activities. 

Have some funny poetry for teachers? Head over to our Facebook or Instagram page and comment to let other people know about it.

Want more fun ELA activities and ideas?

Check out these blog posts and links

  • Want a graphic novel, blank comic strip template, or one-pager template to use in your poetry lesson? Click here to download my comic strip blank template freebie on TPT.
  • Teaching Shakespeare’s sonnets? Check out this worksheet to accompany the Crash Course Literature episode about Shakespeare’s sonnets.

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