One of my favorite teaching units when teaching middle and high school students was The Poetry Unit.
The kids would groan; the poet beaten out of them in elementary school, what with haikus, and tankas, and diamantes forced upon them by well-meaning teachers, year after year.
I allayed their fears, promising them I would take their concerns to heart and maybe teach them something new, something innovative, something that would change their minds about April is Poetry Month that would not be too painful.
I started off by brainstorming on the white board everything everyone knew already about poetry.
“It sometimes doesn’t rhyme.”
“It’s sometimes long.”
“It follows conventions.”
“It sometimes breaks conventions and rules.”
And so it went until we had covered the white board with everything everyone offered. During lulls, I would ask questions to get more ideas.
“Why do some poems rhyme and others don’t?”
“How does a short poem get its message across?”
“What are some poetic conventions?” and if that didn’t work: “What are some rules you have seen a poet break?”
When the white board was covered with all of their ideas, I showed them a quick way to write Poem #1 (and copy notes off the board).
THE FOUND POEM
Take a sheet of paper and number 1-20, skipping lines in between your numbers.
Copy twenty ideas from the white board that stand out to you the most. Maybe they are new ideas or contradicting ideas or ideas that you feel a need to remember most. At this point just copy twenty ideas, one per line. Copy them exactly as written on the board.
Do Not Change or Add Anything.
When you are done, double check that you chose the twenty ideas you want to remember the most about today’s lesson. Scratch out one you do not want to keep and replace it with one you do want to keep.
Read your list of twenty.
Reorder them in any fashion you prefer; renumber the list out in the margin: most important to least, or least important to most, or mix one of each per line, or short line followed by a long one, or the reverse, clump together in stanzas, or clumped together in stanzas but the final line ending each stanza has the most importance.
Remember a poem does NOT have to rhyme, so have fun with this.
This is your rough draft, so when you are ready, rewrite (or if working on a laptop, move) your lines into their new positions, adding spaces between lines or stanzas.
When finished, there should be twenty “lines.”
Some follow up lessons to this were lessons on enjambment, refrain, and punctuation, but one look at their finished products always lend themselves to other ideas.
HAPPY APRIL IS POETRY MONTH.