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Using Poetry to Teach Across Subject Areas

written by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/5/2012

Teaching poetry can enhance learning in many subject areas. For instance, from a science lesson on marine life the teacher could scaffold to poetry written about the ocean. Students develop writing skills, as well as enhance subject matter knowledge.

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    Keep It Simple

    For some teachers, one of the least liked writing genres to teach is poetry. Yet, teaching poetry to kids enhances, reinforces and develops learning not only in creative writing, but also across the curriculum.

    The key is to begin simply, without being afraid to experiment. Allow for poetic license, and reinforce subject matter vocabulary by giving the students a word list to use while creating their poems. In addition to other outcomes, one goal should be offering students the opportunity to have fun while learning.

    Teachers from K through 12th grade will most likely find that they can utilize poetry without having to recreate their curriculum. For educators in middle and high school, on the other hand, may use poetry across subject areas as an opportunity to teach in collaboration with colleagues.

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    Finding Poetry in Math and Science

    Teaching poetry to kids lends itself nicely to units incorporating math and/or science. Teachers will need to find poems that fit the age group and the unit taught.

    For example, a science class studying the growth cycles of trees might first read Wendell Berry's "Woods" or "City Trees" by Edna St. Vincent Millay; a math class working on a unit in geometry could create poems in the shape of diamonds (diamante), or triangles. Students in math class can use poetry to learn about patterns through the meter of poetry as well as rhyming patterns.

    Various types of poems, such as cinquains, lantern poems, or haiku challenge young writers while fostering a joy of learning. In addition, creating poems with the language of math and science reinforces the vocabulary.

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    Poetry and Social Studies

    Creative writing is the cornerstone of culture. Whether studying a unit on Ancient History or discovering the intricacies of modern cultures, poetry is an essential link.

    Cultures around the world have epic poems that give amazingly detailed descriptions of their history through the adventures of the epic hero. In addition, historic story poems were recited by traveling bards to instruct others, give the news of the day and entertain the royals. The details found within epic and story poems often give students a first-hand look at history, as people who lived during the times described wrote many of the stories.

    Teachers, after having the class read and analyze an epic/story poem, can have students work in groups to create their own poem related to the unit studied. Analysis of the poem leads the way to critical thinking, a tool necessary for students in studying social sciences and the humanities.

    For example: The classic poem, "Old Ironsides" by Oliver Wendell Holmes can be used to discuss the role of patriotism in the early history of the United States, as well as, how ships were constructed during the 1800s, and the significance of the name, "Old Ironsides."

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    End Results

    Regardless of the subject area taught, educators can enhance the experience by teaching poetry to kids. Poetry is one form of creative writing that not only gets the thought processes churning, it is also a great way to increase vocabulary and reinforce previously taught subject matter. Teaching poetry across subject areas can be fun, enlightening and rewarding for all.