Writing this week’s article was surprisingly hard…not because I didn’t have much to say, but because I had a really tough time picking which poems I wanted to talk about! After much thought and internal debate, I settled on these four as some of my favorites.
Being allowed to choose the poems you teach can be both a blessing and a curse. You only have a few weeks (as we discussed last week) to cover them, and there are so many great poems to pick from. Which should you use? What will your students like? What will you love teaching?
There is no one right answer to any of these questions, but here are four poems I suggest from my own experience. I love teaching them, my students have always liked them a lot, and I would love it if you used them too. That being said, I firmly believe that one of the most important things when choosing materials for classroom use is that your selections be something that speak to you (students have an uncanny ability to tell when teachers are faking it!) and to you students as well. So if these poems are not for you, find what is!
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
“The Road Not Taken” is almost always the first poem I teach. It is a beautiful poem with an important message that is not too hard to interpret and is relatable to people diverse ages and backgrounds. This accessibility helps students find success and connection to poetry right away and can help set up a positive poetry unit. It is also a great poem to use to talk about extended metaphor and symbolism. For homework and/or journaling I have the students write about what message Frost is conveying to his audience. My students usually have a lot to say. I also love this poem because there is a great parody of it from the Get Fuzzy comic strip by Darby Conley that begins “Two slugs slithered on a yellow wood” that is fun to include in your unit too!
“Identity” by Julio Noboa Polanco
“Identity” is another of my favorite poems to teach. In addition to it having some lovely imagery, “Identity” has a powerful message. It is so important to emphasis to students in as many ways as possible and as frequently as possible that physical beauty and assimilation are not where happiness comes from, but that strength, freedom, and authenticity are what we all should be striving for. Our students (and everyone in our society) are conditioned to want to look like the models and professional sports players and musicians they see in the media, and to “fit in,” but all that brings is unhappiness. The more we can tell our students, and ourselves too, that the “tall, ugly weed” has more freedom and strength than the “sweet, fragrant lilac,” the more they will start to believe it and the better they will be for it.
“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
Angelou is a widely read and widely celebrated poet for good reason, and (in my humble opinion) “Still I Rise” is one of her best poems. It talks of strength and rising above our past and past hurt. It talks about pride in heritage and history, even when society devalues that heritage and history. “Still I Rise” also has a very confrontational tone which is something that many students who have little experience with poetry are surprised by. So often people think of poetry as being soft, and the direct, almost fighting words of Angelou are a great eye-opener. While “Still I Rise” is about the African American experience, I find that many students not of African American decent can relate to parts or the whole of this poem too. As a fair warning, this poem does have some direct sexual references, so it may not be appropriate for all audiences.
“A Nauseous Nocturne” by Bill Watterson
“A Nauseous Nocturne” is an unexpected and enjoyable poem for your students and maybe for you too. For those of you who don’t know or maybe just can’t place the name, Bill Watterson is the author of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. “A Nauseous Nocturne” is from his book The Essential Calvin and Hobbes and is patterned after Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” It is fun for the students to read, has some wonderful examples of different poetry vocabulary (onomatopoeia, alliteration, imagery, rhyme scheme, etc.), and is great to teach right after “The Raven” if you want to talk about parody or allusion. Additionally, my students like (and sometime find a bit shocking) that I like and read Calvin and Hobbes, and that is always fun too.
There are so many really wonderful poems out there. Pick ones you like; pick ones your students like; be adventurous; put together a compelling unit!
What poems do you love? What are your favorite poems to teach? Please share in the comments section below!
Have a great day, and…
P.S. Don’t miss the continuing posts of poetry by myself and other educators this month. For more information, click here.
This Week’s Featured Product
A fun and unique way to teach poetry! Daily Poetry is designed to bring poetry to the daily life of your middle school or high school classroom. Using short lessons (mostly 5-10 minutes each, with the occasional longer one thrown in), Daily Poetry fits in alongside anything and everything else you are teaching much like DOLs. For more details or to download this product, click here!
This Week’s Journal Questions
For the teacher: Do you remember studying poetry in school? What poems stick out in your memory? Do you teach these poems? Why or why not?
For the student: Is poetry awesome or awful? Why do you think this? What pointers do you have for your teacher if he/she is going to teach a poetry unit?
A Recipe from My Kitchen
Julie D’s Irish Soda Bread
- 4 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup sugar
- Julie says the secret is to be generous with the sugar!
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- a pinch of cream of tarter
- 1 ½ cup raisins
- 2 cups buttermilk OR a scant 2 cups milk plus 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 Tablespoons oil
- 1 egg
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- If you are using milk and lemon juice instead of buttermilk, mix the two together and let them sit for at the very least 5 minutes. The mixture will get quite chunky.
- Grease two full-sized loaf pans and set aside.
- In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients.
- Stir in raisins.
- In a separate bowl, stir together the buttermilk, oil, and egg until well-combined.
- Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until everything is moistened. The batter will be both sticky and slightly lumpy.
- Divide batter evenly between the pans and bake for 50-55 minutes or until the loaves are a beautiful golden brown.
- Remove the bread from the pans immediately. Let cool completely on wire racks before slicing.
- Serve with butter. This bread is delicious cold, warm, or toasted and even makes some really tasty French toast!