Cross-Curriculum Poetry Writing Ideas for Your Classroom
Say the word "poetry" and people think rhyming words and sappy declarations of love. Poetry can mean so much more when used as a mnemonic tool or as a means of expressing information. It’s just a matter of helping you learn how to use poetry across the curriculum.
Poetry offers so many varieties for expressing information and emotions. There are forms and types for every classroom setting, and none have to concern love. Poetry doesn’t even have to rhyme if you choose. Just because poems are not essays, does not mean students don’t have to think when they write. Poems are concise through the best words available for an explanation, they are vivid with imagery, and they challenge the writer to think, plan, create, and analyze. Place poems in a classroom setting every day and you develop student minds so that they become intellectual, descriptive scholars. There are worlds of possibilities for engaging students when you learn how to use poetry across the curriculum.
Students need to recall many important people, events, dates, and locations in one class. Make history class fascinating and fun for all students by assigning poetry lessons and challenges to see who can create useful poems to use as mnemonic devices. One popular type of poem to help students understand their history better would be a biography poem. After studying a particular person in history, students follow the formula for completing this short but informative poem.
Biography Poem Format:
(Line 1) Name of famous person
(Line 2) Born in ________________________
(Line 3) Child of ________________________
(Line 4) Lived in ________________________
(Line 5) Studied __________________________
(Line 6) Overcame ________________________
(Line 7) Worked as ________________________
(Line 8) Challenged by _____________________
(Line 9) Personal traits _____________________
(Line 10) Always __________________________
(Line 11) Never ___________________________
(Line 12) Best known for ___________________
Imagine students building a booklet of biography poems for a semester project or displaying a biography wall in a hallway for the entire school to admire. Association builds familiarity. Give history students an opportunity to study great minds by strengthening their own creative thoughts.
Poetry in a science class? Yes, even in science. Here’s how: use list poems to describe the characteristics of science topics. List poems are fairly easy to write, especially if the content has been researched. Pick a topic which could include a list of items. Then, depending on your age group or the topics, designate a line length for your poems. Generally, between ten to sixteen lines is a good length. Then, just as you would create a grocery list, students will create a list of facts or thoughts about their topic. Here are a few ideas.
Topics for List Poems
- Planets or the solar system
- Individual elements from the Periodic Table
- Characteristics of the planet
- Systems of the body
Science List Poem Example:
A funnel cloud until it touches the ground
In Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas…anywhere
Cyclonic, churning twister
Vortex air expands and cools
Dropping temperature in the center
Not for an eternity, but for five to ten minutes
Sucking up everything in its path
From broken signs and torn leaves
To home foundations wiped clean
The Fujita Scale, F1-2-3-4-5
A tornado’s strength is your loss
Teachers can assess a students' comprehension by providing a creative outlet for student-centered learning with this type of activity. After students write their poems, ask them to provide illustrations with artwork or create a collage of images to illustrate the poem. Poetry writing across the curriculum won’t seem like such a daunting task when students use poetry to create interesting and intellectual products for your class.
A great idea for reviewing a unit in math class would be to take the information students have learned from the unit and ask them to work it into a poem. By correctly explaining concepts and procedures, students have an opportunity to review what they’ve learned. They are also forced to use the creative half of their brains, which can sometimes be a challenge for mathematical minds, but will give creative thinkers an opportunity to understand a lesson in a whole new way. One suggestion for a type of poetry to write in math class is a couplet. A couplet is a stanza consisting of only two lines. Usually the last word in the first line rhymes with the last word in the second line. You might ask students to write a number of couplets, such as five stanzas of couplets, to allow them ten total lines for an explanation.
To find the perimeter of a 2-D shape
Measure the total distance and calculate.
Add up all the lengths, far and wide.
Perimeter—the total distance of all sides.
Advice for the English Teacher
Before you can demonstrate how to use poetry across the curriculum, you must create a foundation for poetry writing across the disciplines. Encourage your colleagues to integrate poetry writing across the curriculum by offering your literary skills in the classroom. Develop exercises to help students strengthen their poetry writing muscles in your own classroom. Teach your students sound devices like alliteration, assonance and consonance. Demonstrate how to identify and write figurative language such as similes, metaphors, and personification. Teach rhythm and rhyme, how to write free verse poems, and writing with description.
Also, take time to read poetry a few days a week, if not every day. Use poetry reading as a bell-ringer activity. Choose poems to emphasize grammar skills like sentence structure, punctuation, practicing writing phrases, and identifying parts of speech. On a different day use the same poem to work on enhancing reading comprehension. Have students analyze the poem for a particular element like tone, mood, audience, and imagery, or use acronym analytical tools such as SOAPStone to analyze the poem in its entirety. If you feel you don’t have time to teach poetry then consider teaching poetry skills through a series of mini-lessons. By doing so, you prepare their creative minds for the big marathon of using poetry writing across the curriculum.
One suggestion to practice writing poetry in class would be to use a poem the students enjoyed as a model for their own work. A great source for this activity would be Sharon Creech’s book, Love That Dog. Students read and analyzed poems in class and later wrote their own poem modeled after the original work. Another suggestion is for students to use poetry to practice character or literary analysis. In this activity, students will brainstorm a list of ten actions or items they associate with a character. Use the name of the character or title of the work as the title of the poem and proceed to assemble the list of information into a free verse poem. Each line could begin with an appropriate pronoun as a starting point, but the writer may choose to remove them and rely only on the description.
He is the new Receiver of Memory
He is apprehensive and careful with language
He is considerate of others and compassionate with those he loves
He is a core of pale-eyed mystery
He is an isolated keeper of secrets
He is a red apple changing as it flies through the air
He is snow, sunshine, and exhilaration
He is broken bones, war, and misery
He is aware of what is wrong and he does what he knows is right
He is a challenger of the Community
He is changes and choices
He is free
Poetry is but one of many forms of expression in an English class, but it is in English class where teachers have the greatest opportunity for instilling in students an appreciation for this creative form of thought and for the power of words. With practice and consistency, you can reap the benefits.
Using these examples for how to use poetry across the curriculum, you can now take charge of constructing descriptive scholars from a classroom of students tired of the same old products. Using poetry writing across the curriculum is not about creating a school full of poets. It is a suggestion for inspiring students, an opportunity to remove a stigma about one of the oldest forms of personal expression, and a chance to make learning fun.
Creech, Sharon. Love That Dog. Scholastic: New York, 2001.
ETTC: Educational Technology Training Center: http://ettcweb.lr.k12.nj.us/forms/newpoem.htm
Kennedy, X.J. and Dana Gioia. An Introduction to Poetry, 8th Ed. Harper Collins: New York, 1994.
Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Delacorte Books for Young Readers: New York, 1993.
Types of Poetry: http://www.types-of-poetry.org.uk/
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