Need a poem to spark your students’ interests? Here are a handful of ideas for all ages from Louise Blake. Try them out and let us know what you think. Better yet, add some other great poem titles to try! ~EMP
Some of the earliest stories I recall learning were in the form of poetry, and to this day I still remember them fondly. Rhythmic stanzas made encountering new words and ideas much more accessible and I loved reading some of my favourite poems aloud. And since the stories we love tend to shape our ideas and tastes, it’s definitely worth introducing quality, entertaining poetry to students early on.
But if you’re looking for ways to get started, here are five classic poems that are guaranteed to inspire your students.
1) Anything by Dr. Seuss
All right, I’m cheating here a bit, I know. But there are so many amazing poems by Dr. Seuss appropriate for different reading levels that it’s actually impossible for me to choose just one. Green Eggs and Ham, famously written by Seuss on a bet with a friend (to write a book with fifty or fewer distinct words,) is wonderful for teaching new readers basic words, as is The Cat In The Hat. Then there’s And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, and How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and Horton Hears A Who, all of which contain delightful uses of language and beautiful accompanying illustrations.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go! is a great graduation gift, and Oh, The Thinks You Can Think! encourages students to use their imaginations. It’s simply not possible to choose just one book by Dr. Seuss that’s great for kids. Why not conduct some sort of Dr. Seuss appreciation month instead?
2) Dirty Beasts – Roald Dahl
I don’t know anyone who didn’t grow up with at least one book by Roald Dahl in their home. Most children (and their parents!) are familiar with Dahl’s slightly macabre and wickedly funny storytelling thanks to his best-known children’s books like Matilda, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, The Witches, James And The Giant Peach – they all certainly counted amongst my favourites.
Equally delightful, however, were his poetry books, and Dirty Beasts is absolutely hilarious. Dahl’s signature style is well and truly evoked by short poems about different gigantic animals and how they strike back at humans who take advantage of them. Perhaps not a book for very small children who might be easily frightened, but definitely one that will delight students who are ten or older.
3) The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe
Dark and not a little creepy, introducing this poem to your students could coincide with Halloween – but really, it could be taught at any time of year because it’s just such a great poem. The rhyme scheme makes recital effortless, and the haunting imagery of the raven and the chamber are simply unforgettable. There’s definitely a reason why The Raven is one of the most famous poems ever written – and if you need proof, look up the different readings by Vincent Price, Christopher Walken, Christopher Lee, and most famously, James Earl Jones.
Studying The Raven is a great way to get your students thinking about structure and imagery in poetry – or to introduce them to Edgar Allan Poe’s wider and incredibly influential body of work.
4) The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner – S. T. Coleridge
Coleridge’s famous poem provides yet more proof that poetry is a great way to tell stories. The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner follows the story of a sailor just returned from a long sea voyage, as told by the sailor to a man on his way to a wedding. The sailor described how he shot an albatross and was forced to live with the consequences, and the subsequent events will keep students on the edge of their seats.
The educational possibilities of Ancient Mariner are pretty much limitless, but off the top of my head you could teach your students about framing devices, Romanticism, and ballads.
5) The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves: or What You Are You Are – Gwendolyn Brooks
This is – arguably – the least well-known poem on this list, but discussing it with your students in class will definitely give them a lesson in critical thinking. The poem’s about a tiger who, despite the usual ferocity associated with tigers, wishes to wear a pair of dainty white gloves. The resulting scorn from the other animals in the jungle leads the tiger to reluctantly accept that tigers simply shouldn’t wear white gloves, and stops doing so.
No doubt any teacher could see how this could be used to discuss tolerance, self-acceptance, and peer pressure – all continually relevant issues in the classroom that could be raised in conjunction with the teaching of this poem. Ask your students what they think of the outcome, and how it can be applied to real life.
Do you know of any more great poems that could be used in the classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments!