On World Poetry Day, We're All Poets

Put away the books and the printouts, and break out the paper and pens to honor World Poetry Day.

By Stef Durr

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World Poetry Day; did you know such a day existed? I must admit, I never realized there was an actual day dedicated to poetry until I began working in the classroom. Even when I was a student, I don't remember ever having a day dedicated to honoring poetry. That might be because it wasn’t until 1999 that UNESCO officially deemed March 21st as World Poetry Day.

Instant Gratification and Writing Generally Can't Coexist

Personally, I love writing. Even with a busy schedule, I still make time for personal writing each week. Unfortunately, writing usually requires time. Generally, a writer creates several drafts and revisions before coming up with a finished work. This makes writing a little unpopular for middle and high school learners, who are very much into instant gratification. In fact, it is pretty rare to see a classroom full of teenagers grow excited when you tell them they’re about to begin a poetry writing unit. But some assignments (like the one I’m going to detail for you here), are popular with everyone, even teenagers.

A Poetry Assignment that Actually Appeals to Teenagers

Specific poetry structures, like acrostic poems, haikus, and free verse, inspire some learners. However, the discovery poem, which I outline below, appeals to kids of all ages because everyone’s finished product sounds awesome. The idea is to select words and images from a newspaper article and then use them to construct a poem. With this type of poetry, kids aren’t racking their brains for strong images and details; they pull them straight from the text. We often skim the newspaper to get an update on local, national, or world issues, but we forget that the journalists are talented writers. The words they choose are strong, direct, and powerful. Let your pupils discover these potent words and then use them to create a poem fraught with descriptive phrases. This project is also a hit with students because it doesn’t take long to complete. They can start the poem in class, and can easily finish it at home that night. It's a fun assignment, so they'll actually look forward to their homework.

Perusing the Newspaper to Create a Discovery Poem 

Either try this project at home (so you have something to show your class to better explain the assignment), or select a newspaper article and model the process for your students during class. Either way works, but I prefer modeling because it builds confidence in your writers. Whether you model or show an example, be sure to take the time to ask your pupils to look at the finished poem to identify the whowhatwhenwherewhy, and how. The first time I used this idea in my classroom, I chose to use a sports update article from the newspaper. The resulting poem inspired some of my most reluctant poets. 

Here are the materials you will need: 

  • Newspapers and magazines (local, national, international).
  • Graphic organizer - On the left side of this T-chart, write “Words you chose,” and on the right side, writers can draft their poems.
  • An article to use for modeling the process, or a finished example to show your class.

Keep in mind that in addition to inspiring poetry, this assignment brings the added benefit of acquainting pupils with current events. Kids need to know what is going on in our world, and not many go home and flip through a newspaper. They are also building their reading skills, as well as practicing skimming, as they check the text for their desired information. Once they’ve skimmed the text, they’ll go back to read it again, ensuring they have pulled important information from the article in order to provide a brief summary of sorts. It's a great way to sneak extra learning into your poetry lesson. 

Step-By-Step Guidelines for the Assignment

  1. Step One: Your poets begin the process by sifting through the newspapers or magazines. (If you keep the selection current, they might even learn something new and relevant!)
  2. Step Two: They choose an article. Then they read the article, highlighting words that describe the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the article’s story.
  3. Step Three: Using the graphic organizer, they record the words they highlighted, reading through the list to ensure that the five W’s (and the how) are covered.
  4. Step Four: Once they have a list, they blend the words and phrases together, using enjambment  if necessary. Encourage your poets to use repetition to create a mood. Also remind them that while the phrases they pulled don’t have to be written in the order in which they appeared in the article, it might help the poem make sense.
  5. Step Five: When final drafts are written or typed, break the class into groups to share. I’ve learned that sharing in a small group is a lot less nerve-racking than sharing in a large group. Additionally, small groups ensure that everyone gets a chance to participate in reading their poem.
  6. Step Six: Have each group choose one poem to share with the large group. If you have shy writers, consider collecting the poems yourself, shuffling them around, and randomly picking a few to read aloud. This way, the class still gets the benefit of hearing other people’s interpretations, but no one has to grow flustered.

Orchestrate a Live Poetry Reading 

You can use the class poems to segue into a poetry reading. Or, if you are looking for an activity to briefly celebrate World Poetry Day, you could stage a mini poetry reading. Print off one (or some) of these poems to respectfully tip your hat to the art of poetry without dedicating entire class periods to it. I’ve included some of my favorite poems here, but you could also ask your pupils to bring in a poem to share. That way, they’re exploring poetry outside of class, and you’re sure to get a good mix of poems when it’s time to share.