And You’ve Only Got Three Weeks: A Practical Poetry Activity

And You've Only Got Three WeeksOne of the problems with saying one is going to teach a unit on poetry is that it is such a broad topic.  It might be similar to a shop teacher saying they were going to teach a unit on cars, if cars had a couple thousand year history and ranged in size from matchbox to semi tractor.  And oh yeah, the unit needs to be done to in a matter of a few weeks.

Needless to say, planning a poetry unit can be a bit overwhelming.  You need to cover different types of poetry, a number of important poets, teach analysis and vocabulary, look at form as well as artistry, etc.  Ideally, you even need to encourage appreciation and enjoyment of this literary genre.  Not a tall order at all.

Take a deep breath.  You’ve got this–you’re a teacher!  Let’s look at one part of this massive task.  One the best ways to encourage appreciation and enjoyment is to expose students to as wide as range and as vast a number of poems as possible.  Often it can be hard to predict what will peak a student’s interest or speak to them until it does, so as teachers we must provide the depth and breadth of material to foster the necessary opportunity.  How though can one do this in the short two (or three or even four) weeks one has for a poetry unit?

One of the answers to this challenge is that not every poem you study must be an in-depth analysis.  To help I offer a practical suggestion for your classroom.  In addition to the in-depth analysis, consider adding briefer studies of additional poems each day.  Below is one way of doing this.  I particularly like using this activity as a daily independent response, a poetry “journal” of sorts, but it also lends itself well to bell work, exit tickets, an ice breaker before class discussion, or even as a guide for independent poetry reading.

The How-To:

  1. On any given day, provide students with a poem that they have not read before.
    • I like to give them some choice.  Here are a couple of ways to do this:
      • Poet Cluster:  If we read Emily Dickinson’s “A Bird came down the Walk” that day, I might provide two or three other pieces by Dickinson for the students to individually choose from.
      • Era Cluster:  If we looked at a poem from the Harlem Renaissance, I might provide a couple others from this same period or ones from eras that have similar themes: the Civil Rights era in the United States or Apartheid in South Africa for example.
      • Theme or Structure Clusters:  I might give students a couple of poems that all have a similar theme (maybe love or sorrow) or structure (all might be haikus or sonnets or short free verse) to choose from.
    • However I group them, giving students choice allows them to be more invested in what they are reading and responding to.
  2. Students read and briefly respond to the poem by answering four basic questions:
    • What are three things you liked about this poem?
    • Was there anything you didn’t like about this poem?
    • What does this poem make you think?
    • What does this poem make you feel?

And that is it.  The whole thing should take five to ten minutes from beginning to end.  It can be done very informally with a list of questions on the board, poems from your textbook, and student responses on notebook paper.  You can also make it a bit more formal by doing something as simple as making a list of questions on one side of a printed handout and the poem(s) of the day on the other.  I prefer this second method, but to each his or her own.  (Don’t recreate the wheel.  You can download my handout and some additional ideas for free here!)

Of course you will still do in-depth analysis of some poems–this is an important skill–but in a three week unit you will be able to cover maybe fifteen poems (and that is a rather optimistic number) with any sort of depth.  This activity is a way to double or even triple the number of poems that your students have interacted with in a meaningful manner by the time you reach the end of your unit.

And remember, brief doesn’t mean bad or copping out.  Sometimes brief is all it takes to ignite that spark.  And in the end, that in and of itself is a victory.

Have a great day, and…

Teach On!


P.S.  Don’t miss the continuing posts of poetry by myself and other educators this month.  For more information, click here.

Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Homeschooler, Staff, Not Grade Specific -


This Week’s Featured Product

Two Figurative Language Crosswords Puzzles

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These two crossword puzzles help your students learn about figurative language.  One puzzle has the definitions of twelve types of figurative language and the other has examples of each type.  For more details or to download this product, click here!


This Week’s Journal Questions

For the teacher and student:  What is your favorite season?  Does your work/school life affect this?  Does anything else?  What is your least favorite season?  Explain.


A Recipe from My Kitchen

Italian Oat Bread

Italian Oat Bread
A great multipurpose bread, this recipe is delicious as everything from toast to sandwiches to a side with soup or pasta.


  • 4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons shortening or lard
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 Tablespoons gluten
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 4 cups white flour (plus more for flouring your counter when kneading)


  1. In a large bowl, mix the yeast and 1/2 cup water.  Let stand until the yeast is dissolved and the water slightly bubbly.
  2. Add the remaining water, sugar, and shortening.  Stir until the shortening is dissolved.
  3. Beat in the egg.
  4. Add the whole wheat flour, gluten, and salt.  Stir until combined.
  5. Add the oats.  Stir until combined.
  6. Add the white flour.  Stir until combined.  The dough should form a soft ball at this point.
  7. Turn out the dough onto a floured counter, and knead for 6-8 minutes.  The dough will become smooth and elastic.
  8. Place kneaded dough in a large greased bowl, turn the dough once to oil the top, and cover.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour).
  9. Return the dough to your floured surface, punch down, and divide in half.
  10. Grease two large loaf pans.  Shape each portion into a loaf, and place one in each pan.  Make 3-4 shallow diagonal cuts in the top of each loaf.  Cover and let rise until doubled in size (again, about an hour).
  11. About 10-15 minutes before the second rise is done preheat your oven to 350º.
  12. Bake for about 40 minutes (until the bread is a beautiful golden brown).
  13. Remove from pans to wire racks, brush the top with butter, and let cool completely before slicing.
  14. Enjoy!

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