Writing Out Loud: Poems for Two Voices

Helpful ways for poetry to reinforce your lesson - for any subject.

By Jennifer Gunner

Girl writing in book

There are few moments in teaching that are as rewarding as hearing a proud student read his or her work out loud. Imagine hearing their voices ring out in harmony, reflecting the concepts you have been addressing throughout your unit. From literature and self-reflection, to science and math, poems for two voices are a great way to engage young poets.

Set it Up

Click here for a thorough explanation and example of the poem’s setup. One side of the poem, about ten lines long, expresses one side of an argument or conflict, while the other side expresses the opposing attitude. The lines can be interspersed to allow one line to be read at a time. At least two lines are meant to be read together, and fall on the same line, reflecting at least one point of agreement between each side.

The final product of the activity calls for two people to read the poem, each person reading one side, with the similar lines read in unison. You can watch examples of people reading poems for two voices, one about immigration and another about The Odyssey.

A Joyful Noise

Paul Fleishman’s entertaining collection of poems about the voices in the insect world (which follows his bird-themed poems in I Am Phoenix: Poems for Two Voices) is a great way to start this lesson in any grade level. From “Honeybees,“ to “A Moth’s Serenade,” the whispered chorus of nature will get your class buzzing. The format of the poems is easy to follow, and poems that contrast two types of insects would be the most helpful for mimicking in their own writing.

Language Arts: Character Comparison, Internal vs. External Conflict

Internal and external conflict can be a difficult concept to grasp, which is where the poem for two voices comes in handy. Whether you are teaching Charlotte’s Web or Hamlet, the poem form lends well to expressing each form of conflict. Express Avery’s concern over Wilbur’s future versus her father’s attitude, taking care to point out at least one point of agreement between the two. In stories like Hamlet, aspiring poets can line up one side of Hamlet’s internal conflict against his (progressively unstable) inner voice. Applying the activity to literature is an enriching way to address and assess literary analysis within a piece of literature.

Reflective Poems: Me Then, Me Now

Take “me poems” to the next level with this poetic format. Have your class brainstorm about their lives and opinions from years ago with their mindset now. For instance, one side of the poem could reflect their kindergarten personality, while their current tenth-grade voice could make up the other side. How are their ideas about the world different – and, most importantly, how are they still the same?

Another variation of this activity could take place over the entire year. Have your young poets write the first half of the poem in the first week of school, and save their work until the last week, where they can write the other side in response. Is life different at the end of seventh grade versus the beginning? What have they learned in a year?

Writing Across the Curriculum: Science, Math, and History

Poetry isn't just for language arts anymore. The compare/contrast nature of this format can translate to any class – science, history, math, or an elective. On one side, pupils personify a concept, such as electrons or a human stomach in science, the American revolutionaries in history, or radical expressions in math. What concept can they contrast? How is the human stomach similar or different from the pancreas? What do the American Colonies and the British monarchy have in common? If a radical expression could talk, would it have conflict with other integers?

Not only will you get some great creative writing, they will be addressing vital topics from your class. They’ll get a kick out of finding voices in the pages of their textbooks.

Additional Activities:

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Explore the drastically different worlds of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with this activity. The lesson guides learners through a Six Trait Writing process that addresses idea development and voice. Additionally, it provides graphic organizers and handouts to facilitate your lesson.

Poetry as Oral Performance

A thorough lesson on how to use Paul Fleishman’s A Joyful Noise, this format provides ways to address and extend the activity for younger learners.

Civil War

Bring poems for two voices to your history class with this lesson, which uses an example from Rogers’ and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma to illustrate opposing viewpoints. Pupils then discuss the dynamics of the Civil War and write a poem to show both sides.

Trait Variations for Survival

How are various organisms different – and similar? Using this science activity, learners discover how the variations in different species allow them to survive in many environments. They can compare and contrast different plants, animals, and other forms of life to illustrate their understanding of biology.