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Creative Poetry: Ideas, Activities, and Prompts for High School ELA

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poetry ideas for ELA

Are you always wondering how to squeeze more poetry ideas into your curriculum? I hear you! A dedicated poetry unit is lovely, but poetry is also a wonderful option to pair with other texts, use in between units, or simply sprinkle into moments when you have some time and would like to do something creative to help kids develop their writing and thinking in a fresh way.

Today we’re exploring nine options for the next time you’re thinking poetic thoughts – and did I mention April, National Poetry month, is write (ha ha) around the corner?

Classroom Poetry Idea: Write Lipograms

This month I’ve been collaborating with the amazing Melissa Alter Smith over at Teach Living Poets to work on contemporary poetry activities for The Lighthouse. I love her post, “Letter Play,” sharing ways to get students thinking about how to use different letter structures in their poems.

For example, notice anything strange about this quick poem I wrote?

“She entered. The empty felt endless. The end.”

If you noticed it only uses a single vowel, you nailed it! Despite my forty years of devotion to English, I had never heard of a lipogram until Melissa introduced me to them this month, but now I think they’re such a cool form!

Check out this great mentor text Mel shared with me, Cathy Park Hong reading her poem, “Ballad in O.” You can use it with your students as a model before diving into a pop-up writing workshop with them.

Before diving into lipogram creation, you’ll want to do some activities to help students start thinking about letters and brainstorming word options. I always think of Eileen Landay from Brown University, who spoke on the podcast about helping students create “thick air” with activities that would help them come to any creative activity with lots of ideas.

For lipograms, you can let students brainstorm words with a single vowel of their choice inspired by images, specific words, videos, colors – anything you want! You can use the prompts pictured below (make your copy here).

Once they’ve got lists of word ideas, you can let them create their poem on any theme they wish, or ask them to write based on whatever you’re doing in class. Maybe their poem will be from the perspective of a character in your current book or explore a moment in their choice reading book. Or maybe they’ll search through a book with powerful images or online photo gallery and pair their poem with an image that inspires them.

Classroom Poetry Idea: Try Digital Poetry Tiles

You know I love drag-and-drop poetry tiles to help take the fear out of writing a poem. There’s nothing like having all the words down on the page already to help eliminate writers’ block.

Students simply drag the titles around, add words they want using blank tiles, and eliminate the rest. It’s easy and fun, and students can share their final products in a class slideshow at the end of the workshop. I just made some new tiles you can use in April as Ramadan ends, for the holiday of Eid (click to make a copy), or you can explore all my poetry tiles on TPT here, like the examples from the spring set below.

Classroom Poetry Idea: Enjoy Blackout Poetry on Paper or Online

Poetry Idea: Blackout poetry

Blackout poetry is such a powerful (and EASY) form! I just wrote a fun step-by-step for We are Teachers you can read here, and I created a full kit to help you try it out digitally or on paper. You can sign up for all the free materials pictured below (and more) here.

Don’t worry if you don’t have spare books to rip up, the activity is really wonderful online too, or you can simply print the book pages from classic texts freely available to the public that I’ve added to the kit.

Classroom Poetry Idea: Write I am From Poems

I love the “I am from” poem. At some point fifteen years ago I stumbled across the idea of having students write these poems, inspired by George Ella Lyon’s poem, “Where I’m from” (listen to the audio) or (read the text). Lyon weaves together vivid images from her life as a girl, drawing on little things like art projects she did, products she used, things her parents said, as well as sensory details from her life experience, to create a window into her past. It’s a striking poem, and also an easy one to understand and to emulate (perfect for class!).

If you’re intrigued, check out this post for a full walkthrough how to use this beautiful form in class.

Classroom Poetry Idea: Stack Book Spine Poetry

Book spine poems are such fun! If your librarian is feeling flexible, you can take your students on a field trip to the library at your school and let them create using actual books. They simply stack the books to create a poem out of the titles, then snap a photo and put all the books back exactly where they found them!

You can also do this activity digitally. I’ve created slides full of books for you (click here for your copy). All you need to do is make copies for your students and let them drag, drop, and delete.

Fun, right? Not intimidating at all! Letting students explore many forms of creative poetry workshops can help poems feel friendly to them instead of terrifying.

Classroom Poetry Idea: Share More of Amanda Gorman

OK, you’ve likely heard of and probably taught New Day’s Lyric and/or The Hill We Climb. (But if you haven’t, check out this podcast!) But there is so much more Amanda Gorman out there to explore.

Maybe your students could create short videos to go with a performance piece as the audio, using Gorman’s “Earthrise” as a mentor text. Or maybe it could inspire a project about using multiple modes to share a message.

Maybe they could write poems about a leader/hero.athlete they admire in the style of this poem Gorman created for Simone Biles.

Did you know Amanda Gorman has also written a children’s book? I loved hearing from Pernille Ripp last year about all the ways children’s books can be folded into our curriculum for older kids. Change Sings could be a great text to use within one of your other units.

First Chapter Friday Features: Novels-in-Verse

Have you explored novels-in-verse with your students? They can be a wonderful on-ramp into books. Check out this opinion piece from Jason Reynolds below.

One way to introduce verse novels to your students is by featuring them in your First Chapter Friday program. Long Way Down and The Crossover could be good places to start, though there are many more out there to choose from.

Never heard of First Chapter Friday? Start here.

Feature Poetry Themes in your Book Displays

Last but not least, if you’re looking to get students excited about poetry, feature it in your book displays and on your walls. Hang favorite poems on your Cordel, feature poetry collections covers out on your shelves, create a display featuring novels-in-verse, poetry collections, and even related children’s books.

OK, that’s all for today! I hope you’ve found some creative poetry ideas you’re excited to get started with.

Looking for more creative teaching inspiration? Subscribe to The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast on Apple Podcasts here, and find 150+ workshops and interviews to bring you creative options you can use immediately.

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!

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