Lesson Overview
This lesson focuses on poetry appreciation, rather than the specifics of literary terms or forms. Students will explore what it means for a work to be considered “poetry.” They will read several examples of modern poetry and write their own poems. They will also evaluate each other’s work and their own. As a class, they will create a poetry anthology, and each student will receive a copy.

Lesson Objectives
  • Students will discuss what it means to be a “poem.”
  • Students will read several examples of modern poetry.
  • Students will write three original poems.
    • “kaleidoscope” poem
    • “hometown” poem
    • “I want” poem
  • Students will provide feedback on each other’s original work.

Possible Adaptions
  1. To add a study of literary terms, use “Poetry Handbook Guided Notes,” coupled with “Poetry Posters.”
  2. To add further study of poetry, arrange to spend some class periods in the school library media center. Work with the school media specialist to pull several popular volumes of modern poetry and suggest several popular poetry websites. Allow students to read various poems. Each student should select a poem to present to the class. Students should also write a journal entry regarding what impressed them about this poem.

Procedures and Materials
Part 1: Introduction to Poetry Appreciation
What is poetry? Have students brainstorm a list of characteristics. Write the characteristics on the board as students suggest them. Allow students to challenge each other’s suggestions. Then specify that in the next few days, we are going to challenge “traditional” concepts of poetry and explore and experiment with it.
Divide the class into 4-5 groups. Let them pick their own groups, but try to keep them equal in size. Give each group an envelope filled with strips of paper. Each strip has a “line of poetry” printed on it. Using just the papers in their envelopes, have each group write a poem. Once all the lines are arranged as the students want, have them copy their complete poem onto an overhead projection sheet.

When all the groups have finished, have groups present their poems one by one. Ask the class to discuss. Does the poem make sense? Would there be a way to make it better? What does it mean? Does anyone recognize this poem? Then reveal that each “poem” is actually a popular song. Play the song while looking at the “poem” lyrics created by the group. How close did they get? Did they improve on it? Then look at the lyrics of the original song (another overhead provided by teacher). Analyze the song: what literary elements does it contain? What is its meaning? Wrap up by discussing that both the “poems” and the songs are poetry. Then go back to the original list of “characteristics of poetry” and see what changes need to be made based on what we have discussed.

Songs used: (lesson developed 2002)
“The Space Between” by Dave Matthews Band
“No Such Thing” by John Mayer
“Drops of Jupiter” by Train
“The Story of the Ghost” by Phish
“My Sacrifice” by Creed

Part 2: kaleidoscope poems
Begin by reading “Kaleidoscope” by Sonia Sanchez.

tumbling blue and brown
tulips that leap
into frogs
women dancing in metal
blue raindrops sliding
into green diamonds
turtles crawling outward
into stars
electric w’s
spreading beyond words
papooses turning
into hearts
and butterflies stretching
into court jesters
who jump
amid red splinters
just like you

Discuss as a class. Does this poem make sense? Possible points for discussion:
  • It’s more about images than a story.
  • It is the rhythm, not the words or the form, that indicates poetry.
  • Each line is like its own image.
  • The last word of each line creates a free verse poem of its own.
  • Are the women dancing in metal? Or are the raindrops metal blue?
  • “Papooses turning into hearts”—is this like a child growing to adulthood? Or is the mother holding the baby close to her heart?
  • What is “just like you?” The court jesters? Or the red splinters? Or the fact that they are jumping? Or all of the above? It creates a totally different meaning each way.
  • Why is this poem called “Kaliedoscope”? How is it like a physical kaleidoscope? Have one present for students to take turns looking into.

Next, give students the opportunity to write their own “kaleidoscope” poem, using the following formula:
  • 17 lines long
  • Line 1 = verb ending in –ing + your two favorite colors
  • Line 2 = noun + verb
  • Line 3 = prepositional phrase
  • Line 4 = noun + action verb + prepositional phrase
  • Line 5 = adjective + noun + action verb
  • Lines 6-16 = whatever you want to tell your story or image
  • Line 17 = closing thought

drowning yellow and blue
children pirouette
in the pasture
playgrounds dance with the sound
radiant shouts resound
Indian women in blue jeans
slam the door
on the quiet library
taxi drivers hum tunelessly
as the popcorn vendors
wink and grin
tempting mothers to forget themselves
sunshine and blue sky
yellow, red, and green flashes
horn honks and radio jams
skyscrapers with open arms
as the yellow lines run on and on

On a following day, put a copy of each poem (with poet’s name removed) on the class bulletin board. Ask the students to read all the poems and submit ballots for our “poetry contest.” The categories are:
  • best image (choose one specific image from one specific poem)
  • funniest poem (choose one poem overall)
  • best line other than closing (choose one specific line)
  • best closing line (choose one specific line)
  • best poem overall
Teacher will tabulate votes and distribute prizes.

Part 3: hometown poems
Begin by reading “Getting Out of Where We Came From” by Donna Masini. Discuss.

“Getting Out of Where We Came From”
I was born in Brooklyn.
Even the birds were dingy
and the dark courtyard between
buildings filled with grimy light
like the lit up inside of a pumpkin.
There we could be frantic.
There we could stamp and spin
or fall down pretending to be dead.
It is still the place my father loves.
I see him: slicing meats,
stampeding streets in wild teenage goodboy crowds,
so near to me, on the lip of my dream
green workclothes still oil the air
of my bedroopm, saturate the walls.
He works hard for you seven days a week.
In 1963 grease-soaked, shadowed, we ferried the harbor
to a new duplex. The model home.
Barbecues, mortgages. Where will we get the money?
The bridge went up. The basement flooded.
Up to our knees in water we bailed and bailed.
In their yards the neighbors laughed
and drank and shoot their heads, Too bad
they didn’t know the house was built on swamp.

Ideas for discussion:
  • How did the writer see Brooklyn?
  • Did she want to leave Brooklyn?
  • Did her perspective of Brooklyn change after the move?
  • Why are some lines italicized?
  • What is the author’s perspective on her father?
  • What made Brooklyn unique in her eyes?
  • What made her new town unique in her eyes?

Next, transition into writing our own poems. Begin by having each student brainstorm on their own. Make a list of 8-10 characteristics that set their own town apart from others. Then have students share items on their lists; create a master list on the chalkboard.

  1. Our school parking lot backs up to a farmer’s field. One day, the fence breaks, and cows wander among the students’ cars.
  2. There are two churches in town. Our services always end at 10:55, because the Methodists want to beat the Baptists to lunch.
  3. The streets are named after the people who first lived there. Their descendants often still live in these crumbling houses.
  4. A large, green, weathered sign proclaims that we were the Class A football champs in 1976. It does NOT mention that we’ve rarely won a single game since then.
  5. Every day after school, our track team engages in a “town run”—four laps around the town.
  6. Our “downtown” area consists of a bank, a post office, and a perpetually out-of-business general store.
  7. Everyone has at least one cousin in town. Family reunions become complicated affairs.
  8. Late at night, a group of National Honor Society students likes to slip into the football stadium by way of a gap in the gate. They spend their nights playing Truth or Dare on the dewy grass.

Then each student should write a poem, a minimum of 10 lines long, using one of the ideas off the list as a starter.

Brian Pauli lives on Pauli Road,
and he drives his tractor to school.
His nearest neighbors are the Campbells,
longtime residents of Campbell Farm.
Their trailer has been the family home for generations.
The intersections in town have names like “First and Elm,”
and teenagers go cow-tipping at night
under endless starlit skies.
The wind through the corn
sings an ageless melody
as we drift off to sleep,
with all our doors unlocked.

The next day, students can volunteer to share their poems. Students will then perform at least two peer edits with students of their choice before editing their work for final submission.

Part 4: “I want” poems
Begin by reading “What Do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio.

“What Do Women Want?”
I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what’s underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I’m the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment
from its hanger like I’m choosing a body
to carry me into this world,
through the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin
it’ll be the
dress they bury me in.

  • The irony of burying her in the dress that is supposed to liberate her.
  • Why does she want to impress these people so much?
  • Why can’t she take her identify from herself instead of the dress?
  • Is this really what women want? Or is this what a man wants?

Then transition into writing our own poems. Begin with each student making a list of at least 10 things they want. Allow students to share if they want to, but don’t push anyone to do so—these lists can be very personal. Students can then create a poem from their lists, either on incorporating many dreams or focusing and elaborating on just one.

Example of incorporating many dreams:
I want . . .
I want to never have to sleep,
to suck out all the vigor of life,
to watch corny old movies late at night,
to work a second job to fulfill my dual personality.
I want to job along back roads
while marveling at the sunrise,
to learn to belt out the lead part on a stage,
to have cats and dogs overrun
my huge house in the country.
I want to adopt twelve children,
all shapes, ages, and races,
and raise them to adulthood with perfection.
I want to travel the world,
to milk a cow,
to shuck some corn,
to write a book.
I want to live ten lifetimes in my one.
I want to fly a plane,
swim with sharks,
knit a blanket,
build a house.
I want to be everything,
every dream,
every moment,

Example of elaborating on one dream:
I want to adopt twelve children,
needy teenagers craving acceptance,
rambunctious ten-year-olds full of life,
kindergarteners with imaginary friends filling the house,
leaning over cribs where babies sleep.
From the villages of Africa,
to crowded Chinese streets,
to the grey wanderings of nameless cities,
disables, unloved, abandoned, perfection,
I will love them all.

The next day, students can volunteer to share their poems. Students will then perform at least two peer edits with classmates of their choice before editing their work for final submission.

Part 5: sharing
After the teacher has reviewed all the poems, students will have a “coffee house” to share their poems. Each student should select their favorite poem that they have written and read it aloud to the class. At the conclusion of the readings, the teacher will compile an “anthology” of all these poems to distribute to the entire class.