In a previous post, we shared Kwame’s answers to students’ burning questions. (If you missed it, click here.) In this post, Kwame answers educators’ questions (with support from long-time Writing Workshop colleague Anne Marie Stephens) about using poetry in the classroom to enhance and support instruction.

 

These are just a few of the questions educators wanted to know about. For the rest, you will have to read his latest book The Write Thing: Kwame Alexander Engages Students with Writing Workshop (And You Can Too!).

 

How do I introduce poetry to my students?

You jump right in! Read a poem, write a poem for your students, or have your students create a class list poem together. Make mini-posters or anchor charts of strong adjectives and verbs. Brainstorm topics for poems. Create unlimited access to poetry books.

 

How can I fit poetry into my already packed schedule?

Poetry is words. We use words in all core subjects. Why not allow students to write book reflections, capture moments in history, or show what they know with poetry? Encourage them to write historical haiku or math metaphors. Whether you’re looking for comprehension or application of specific skills, you can find what you need in a poetic response from a student.

 

What do I do with the student who doesn’t feel inspired or poetic?

Help them find inspiration. Survey them for their likes and dislikes. (We can be passionate about both.) Give them the freedom to explore or research their ideas and then assist them in a brainstorming session. Do they love video games? Do they dislike strange foods? Any subject can become the topic for a poem. If your student lacks confidence, start with an easy poem style that is suitable for the grade level you teach.

 

Can students write poems with each other or should they be solo acts?

Your students can definitely work collaboratively to create poems. You can begin The Write Thing as a whole group, in small groups, or pairs. Some students build confidence by working with others in the beginning. Later, they brave the process alone because they feel more capable. If you are apprehensive to begin with your class, buddy up with another class from any grade level for collaborative poems.

 

Do I, the educator, need to write poems, too?

Absolutely! Even though you may never have done it before or you think you can’t write, you must try. Let your students see your struggles, read your first attempts, and celebrate your best work. They will be more willing to try if you do!

 

It’s important to expose students to many types of poetry. What if I can’t afford to buy enough books to stock my classroom?

Visit the library! Check out a variety of books. Find poems online and allow your students to create mini-posters of them. Don’t forget to frequent used bookstores and to ask for donations from parents and the community. As your students begin to write their own poems, make extra copies for a share basket or binder for others to read.

 

How can I incorporate figurative language into the writing process?

Depending on the grade you teach, it’s a good idea to choose specific kinds of figurative language that will be most compatible to age and learning styles. Some students might be ready for hyperbole but struggle with symbolism. Polish weaknesses and introduce new skills with mini-units of study, concrete examples, and anchor charts around your room.

 

How long does each writing session take?

This is flexible. The sessions last as long you’d like. If you want to take a week to introduce a specific type of poem you can. You may only need a few days. Or you may practice one style for a month. Think about how your students work best and what works within your schedule.

 

Is it important to edit the poems?

This is your choice. There may be times you are looking for proper punctuation or hoping to enforce technical writing skills. In contrast, you may have moments where you prefer your students to be a bit freer with the rules. Make your expectations clear with each style you introduce.

 

If I feel like I’m not creative, how am I going to help my kids be creative?

Fortunately, there will always be students in your room who know exactly how you feel. You are not alone. There are many occasions when you are asking your students to open their minds and try new things. You must do the same. Follow the suggestions in the book, read poetry, and if you are brave enough, perform it for your students. Wait for the applause... it will come.

 

Is there a recommendation for the order of poems, or can you start anywhere?

You can start anywhere. Choose a style that feels comfortable for you to introduce first. Watch how your students respond to the lesson and then make your next choice. Pacing can be predicted by student response. Whether they are quick to grasp or slow to respond, have patience and explore a variety of the suggested strategies.

 

How do you encourage ideas without implanting them?

One of the best strategies for encouraging without implanting is to ask questions of the writer. When they get stumped or don’t know where to begin, ask questions such as, “What are you passionate about?”, “How did that sound? feel? taste?”, or “What metaphor might work here?” Reading poems like the poems you want to write is also helpful inspiration. Some students respond well to visualizing. They close their eyes and imagine their setting or their subject, and they then work that into strong sensory writing.

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