Modifications in Teaching Poetry to Special Needs Students

Modifications of a Poetry Lesson

Teachers can use poetry as a means of having students use real life experiences or feelings that they want to share in creating meaningful written language containing vivid imagery. Poems can be about anything, any place, any thought or reflection or any event in time. Special needs students can become poets in an instant given the right teacher direction, encouragement and understanding of the poetry format.

Creating a Poem: Ask students the following questions to stimulate the writing process-

  • What would you like to write about? Answers could include: summer vacation, my best friend, getting into college, people not understanding me, sadness, visiting the aquarium or a host of ideas. Students can brainstorm in groups or individually in reflection journals.
  • What is the main theme in your topic area? If students want to write about summer vacation, what was it about their summer vacation that they want to write about. Answers could include writing about my first trip to Disneyland and riding the roller coaster or building houses for Habitat for Humanity.
  • What would be the title of your poem? Titles can come first or last once the poem is written. Titles can bring clues to the contents of the poem or become abstract symbols of the poem’s meaning.
  • What are the details of the poem? Students can include specific details such as locations or names of places in the poem or create a broad artistic sweep of what happened and why it was meaningful as they flush out the poem.
  • What is the poem’s format? A poem can be formatted in stanzas or have a string of lines that are interconnected by transitions in meanings or words. Poems can tell a story that flows from one line to another and include dialogue that connects the story line.A poem can be one line to hundreds of lines.
  • What is the personal format used in telling the poem? Poems can be first person, third person or include a combination of characters telling a story from 1st-3rd person voice.

Modification Tips

  • Teachers can use pair-share whenever students are brainstorming poetry ideas. Students with special needs may prefer a one-one collaboration for an assignment that is new to them or for one that requires a personal connection.
  • Allow students to create their own poem as a freestyle exercise (i.e. as a less structured learning experience) and use it as a starting point to have them respond to the "Create a Poem" questions in expanding or revising the poem.
  • Provide students with a poem that they can break down into the various components (i.e.creating a poem) so that they can have a template to use in constructing their own poem.
  • Have high expectations of students with special needs in creating a poem. Don’t let them off the hook; if they need writing software, make sure they have that software; if they they need extra attention in understanding the lesson objectives, spend the time with them or email their Special Education case manager teacher to ask for additional support in follow through of the poetry assignment. Build in tenacity and a never give up attitude in your expectations and student outcomes for assignment completions.
  • Create an assessment rubric that is inclusive of the student’s IEP expectations for modifications in reading and writing levels of the student. Don’t give a pass/fail grade; give an actual grade that is reflective of the student’s ability level and creativity in the actual poem.