1. Show students they are surrounded by poetic language
Showing students that poetry surrounds them will peak their interest, and “we can help students connect with poetry by reminding them that the songs they listen to are poetry, but set to music.” For instance, Ms. Mansori had her eighth-grade class read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, then compare and contrast its construction with Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.”
2. Encourage students to use their own words
Having students use their own words (and their first language) can help student express themselves through poetry. Ms. Mansori suggests that “poetry’s formal aspects [provide] them with the structure they need to create highly expressive poems that are infused with their own personal voices and varied cultural experiences,” with Biopoems and Diamante poems working most effectively in elementary and middle-school classrooms.
3. Use personalization strategies to stay relevant
Ms. Mansori references using particular poetic strategies to maintain a culturally relevant classroom: “My English language arts co-teacher used the book ‘If You’re Not from the Prairie’ to inspire students to create a variation of a bio-poem in which students began their poem, ‘If You’re Not…’” in which students would fill in the blanks with information about their heritage, culture, or language.
4. Use blended poetry to connect better with students
Using poetry to open a discussion about sensitive matters may be delicate, but it helps students connect with the lesson. For instance, Ms. Mansori’s classroom lesson about human rights in poetry struck a chord with her students, many of whom are immigrants. They connected with a particular poet whose “tale of loss and survival and of separation from family and country,” helped the students to craft their own poems about their feelings toward immigration and family. In Ms. Mansori’s classroom, “this activity resulted in a global lesson in which students revealed their feelings of empathy toward someone from a different time and culture, and saw their own lives reflected in her experiences.”
5. Publish your students’ poetry.
And lastly, publishing the students’ poetry will “instilled them with a sense of purpose, pride and ownership,” having even the most reticent or reluctant writers, “want to make finishing touches on their work.”
Poetry may seem complicated, even to seasoned English speakers, but its flexibility allows for students to use their own voices in writing. Poetry also allows ELLs to practice reading skills, comprehension, and speaking (if they present their poems aloud), all while connecting their learning to their heritage language and culture.
-Melissa Hoppie, Graduate Research Assistant