5 tips for teaching poetry 

Advice and resources for teaching poetry to your students

17 March 2022

To celebrate world poetry day, we asked some poets who work with schools and young people for their tips when studying or teaching poetry, and collated some of our favourite poetry resources.

1. Tips from poets…

Dan Simpson

Start with the spoken word. Long before literacy became commonplace and we started reading poems on a page in our heads, we listened to them. Perform poems to your class, or find videos on YouTube of poets - Loud Poets, Process Productions, and Button Poetry are good places to start!

Before asking what pupils think is happening in the poem, or what it's about, or what the author meant, ask: ‘how does this poem make you feel?’ And ‘why do you feel like that when hearing or reading this poem?’

Create a whole-class poem! Ask everyone to write a line of poetry, and stitch them together in whatever way feels good. Poetry is often seen as difficult or hard to write, and this can demonstrate that we can all be poets.

Thembe Mvula

Encourage pupils to have the understanding that the impression a poem makes on them is valuable and there is no 'right' or 'wrong' when it comes to this. But rather each varying impression made on different people can potentially offer pathways or key questions which helps us to understand and interpret the poem's meaning.

Some questions that could be useful when considering a poem are:

If this poem was a room, what kind room would it look like (e.g. messy, neat, modern or old furnishings) and why?

  • What questions does the poem leave you?
  • What does the poem ask you as a reader?
  • What role does the language used serve?

When engaging a class in some creative writing, it's good to start with a few minutes of free-writing. This involves allowing the students time to write non-stop for a few minutes and get anything in their head onto a page. You might give them a prompt, such as describe your day so far from when you woke up, and encourage them not be critical or overthink what they write about as the purpose is to just write. (Check out our Taster Cards for a step-by-step).

Poetry can seem quite daunting sometimes, but it can be helpful to remember that poetry techniques such as metaphor, rhyme and alliteration are often used in our everyday thoughts and speech. For example:

  • Lovely jubbly - rhyme
  • Curiosity killed the cat - alliteration
  • As blind as a bat - simile
  • Raining cats and dogs - metaphor

This awareness can help encourage an appreciation of how much language and verse is a natural part of how we communicate, which means we can feel a sense ownership of, and the freedom to experiment and play with how we use it.

Adisa the Verbalizer

Write poetry that doesn’t rhyme.

Try new forms of poety that involve counting syllables (e.g. cinquains, haikus).

A form of poetry I love playing with is called Etheree. It is 10 lines of unmetered and unrhymed verse. The first line is made up of one syllable, the second line two syllables, the third three and so on. For example:

sun’s tender
first rays squeeze through
old rusty railings
onto a cement wall.
City buildings covered with
notes left by graffiti prophets,
blazing shards of light sweep across their
late night artistry, scars of troubled minds.

Get students to write about things they know – for example:

  • Write poetry inspired by your favourite song
  • Write poetry in response to a smell 
  • Write poetry out of made-up words that just sound good!

2. Teaching for Creativity resources

Our Teaching for Creativity Taster Cards also have some quick and easy poetry activities that can be done as a starter or to fill 10 minutes. In the Primary set check out the cards: ‘Five Line Poem’, ‘Figurative Finders Keepers’ and ‘Behind the Door’. In the Secondary set there is a teacher CPD activity using poetry, ‘Music is My Muse’ which can be adapted for students, too.

Our Recovery Curriculum resource includes a poetry writing activity around community and what children want in the future for their communities, although designed for KS2 pupils returning to school post-lockdown, it can still be adapted to be relevant now and for other ages.

3. The Poetry Society

The Poetry Society wrote a blog for us with Five easy ways into poetry – designed to be activities students can do at home or on their own, the ideas can easily be turned into a quick class session, taking inspiration from different poems.

The Poetry Society have other free poetry lesson plans on their site, like this set for their About Us project, a lesson linking poetry to cells, and even poems set to Disney animations for under 7s.

4. Exploring poetry through Zines

Zines can be a great way to start to explore poetry, because their informal collage style takes a bit of the pressure off in terms of style and structure and the images can support students who feel less confident in just using language. Students can start to compile snippets of poetry that they like to create something new!

This resource from artist Kirsty, made for our We Belong programme, is aimed at young people themselves and includes video guides on how to make a zine focusing on wellbeing and self-expression, without much materials. You can look at the steps and borrow them to adapt it for any topic for the classroom, such as poetry, and the videos are especially useful for how to fold paper into a booklet or make a digital zine.

Another of our Teaching for Creativity lessons uses poetry by Black authors to explore Culture, Community and Activism in London, with a creative outcome of making a zine filled with their reactions to the poetry with the suggestion of performing and recording them as a sound archive.

5. Check out LookUp

You can find poetry resources on our LookUp directory, either by using the artform filter or using a key word, such as this blog from Artis on re-visioning the world, and for younger children this set of sound-scape / audio book poems with accompanying activities from musician and arts practitioner Lucy Claire.