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Poetry Critical Thinking Questions For Teens

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Back to lesson plans archiveDecember 31, 2013

Discovering your voice through poetry – Lesson Plan

By Katie Gould, PBS NewsHour Extra Teacher Resource Producer

Introduction

This lesson plan introduces students to the poetry of Rafael Campo and helps students to find their own voice while gaining confidence writing their own original poetry. This lesson plan has been created in partnership with the Poetry Foundation, the Great Books Foundation and the PBS NewsHour.

Subjects

English Language Arts

Estimated Time

One 90 minute class period

Grade Level

Middle and High School

Materials

Pre-Lesson 5 minute activity and homework

  1. For homework ask students to pick their favorite song, print out the lyrics and bring them to class the next day. The song should be one that gives you “shivers down your spine”.
  2. This “shivers down the spine” is a common phenomenon and there have been songs and poetry written about it. One example was a song written about it in the 1970s. “Killing Me Softly with His Song” is a song composed by Charles Fox with lyrics by Norman Gimbel. It was a number-one hit in 1973 for Roberta Flack. The song has been remade by numerous artists including the Fugees.
  3. Play the song and have students follow along with the lyrics (on screen). You may also choose to hand out copies of the lyrics as well.
  4. In addition to picking a song, students should visit and read “How to Read a Poem” from the Great Books foundation, click here to access it.

Warm up activity

An introduction to poetry through music

Great quote from “Introduction to Poetry” poem by Billy Collins for the board.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

  1. Pass out “Introduction” worksheet and have students fold page one so they can’t see the definition that is written half way up the page.
  2. Ask students to answer the following questions and have them write their answers on their “Introduction” worksheet:
    • What words come to mind when they think of poetry?
    • What is the definition of poetry?

    *As an example you can say the word “alliteration” and show them this scene from “V is for Vendetta” as an example of alliteration.

  3. Then play two or three student examples of poetry produced by Ozena Dixon, Antonio Hunter and Ashley Johnson of The Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia, Pa.
  4. After the students have seen the poem(s) ask them:
    • Was this poetry?
    • How do you know that what you saw was poetry?
  5. Then give them a chance to add to their definition and words that come to mind when they hear the word “poetry”. Let them unfold page one and check to see if their definition of poetry was close. Ask to see if anyone was, many will not have been close.
  6. Now give students the short non-fiction article “Poetry is like music to the mind, scientists prove” to read.  Ask students if they can identify with the sensation of having “shivers down the spine” when they listen to a piece of music they really connect with? Reinforce what they read and explain to them that a piece of poetry can have the same effect as a song because poetry and music share so many qualities.
  7. Ask class if they can think of shared characteristics by writing music on one side of the board and poetry on the other side. Write characteristics making a special emphasis on how they often share the same characteristics.
  8. Explain to students that they are going to look at an example that has poetic qualities to it and pass out the lyrics to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel “Iz” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole (this is his version of the song) and give them a little information about his background:
    • Iz is a Hawaiian native who was famous for his ukulele playing and was a strong influence on Hawaiian music. He passed away at age 38 in 1997 and his ashes were scattered back into the ocean.
  9. Play the song letting the students read along and pass out their “Guiding questions” worksheet to them so they can look more deeply into the song. For this song have them use the even questions.
  10. Ask the students to share answers they arrived at with the person sitting next to them. Tell students that they won’t necessarily be able to answer every question and that is okay.
  11. Then give the students time to look at their own song and using the “Guiding questions” handout from the Great Books Foundation and explore their song more closely. For this song they should use the odd questions. They should address the questions from the “Introduction” worksheet and use the “Guiding questions” to help.
  12. Ask students “why do people write songs and poems?” and write answers on the board.
  13. Then pass out the handout “Guide: How to Read a Poem” from the Great Books Foundation and have students read through it. For the full guide please click here.
  14. Then read both poems on page two and three of the “Introduction” worksheet asking students just to listen first.
  15. Ask students which poem they like better and divide class into two groups based on their choices and have them sit in a circle (or in some arrangement so they can see each other.)  Then pass out another “Guiding Questions” handout and have students discuss and answer the questions on their own paper. For this poem students may pick any 8 guiding questions.

Main Activities

The poetry of Rafael Campo

  1. Have students return to their desks and ask them the following questions as a class and also have them write down their own answers on their “Relationships” handout:
    • What kind of relationship do you have with your doctor?
    • How do you talk to them?
    • How do they talk to you?
  2. Tell students that now they are going to read a poem written by a doctor who is also a poet- Rafael Campo. Pass out “Rafael’s Poems” to students and read them aloud one at a time and giving students the opportunity to reflect and discuss the poems. To guide the class discussion refer back to the questions from the “Guiding Questions” worksheet:
    1. Who is the speaker?
    2. What circumstances gave rise to the poem?
    3. What situation is presented?
    4. Who or what is the audience?
    5. What is the tone?
    6. What form, if any, does the poem take?
    7. How is form related to content?
    8. Is sound an important, active element of the poem?
    9. Does the poem spring from an identifiable historical moment?
    10. Does the poem speak from a specific culture?
    11. Does the poem have its own vernacular?
    12. Does the poem use imagery to achieve a particular effect?
    13. What kind of figurative language, if any, does the poem use?
    14. If the poem is a question, what is the answer?
    15. If the poem is an answer, what is the question?
    16. What does the title suggest?
    17. Does the poem use unusual words or use words in an unusual way?
  3. Now ask students to complete question two on their “Relationships” handout.
    Think about a time when you had to hear a difficult message from someone or you had to give someone bad news. How did that conversation go? Was it hard to understand where you or they were coming from? How did you or they make the message they had to deliver clear? Did you or they do anything to make the message “softer” or “easier” to hear? How did you/they do that? Did you appreciate those efforts or do you think the conversation went better because of your efforts?
  4. Now ask students to use the experience they wrote about to create their own original poem. Their assignment is to write their own poem in the spirit of Rafael Campo’s exploration of the difficulty of certain relationships, like his with his patients or about a girl he used to tease growing up. Students should try to emulate Rafael’s poems but the content should be from their own experience or the one they described in their “Relationships” worksheet.
  5. Once students have finished their poem have them compare and contrast their poems to the poetry of Rafael Campo and each others. This should be done in pairs or in small groups.

More Resources:

Special thanks to Great Books Foundation for their contribution to this lesson plan by providing resources on “How to Read a Poem” and Guiding Questions.

  • Tags:

    Arts & CultureEnglish & Language Artspoetry

  • 6 Technology-Based Poetry Ideas For Students That Think They Hate Poetry

    by Brett Vogelsinger, English Teacher

    It’s safe to say that of all the genres of literature we study in school, poetry is the most scary–and not just for the students.

    Sometimes poetry gets a bad rap for being too dense, too pretentious, too much of an acquired taste for mainstream consumption. While it’s true that I could name many a poem that fits those descriptors, it’s also true that working with poetry can be a most whimsical, intriguing, dare I say light-hearted experience for you and your students.

    Try one of these six strategies during to invite your students to explore the jungle of this most-feared genre.

    1. Scrambled Poems

    Give your students a poem in pieces.

    It might be a short poem split up into words. It might be a long poem, split into lines. Put the scrambled poem into an envelope and have your students work together to use every word, discovering or creating organization patterns with the same “ingredients” the poet used.

    Compare what they create to the original poem. What works better in the original? What works better in the student created poems? What clues did the students use to organize the piece?

    I particularly enjoy using Robert Pinsky’s poem “Samurai Song,” split into lines, for this activity. Using laptops or tablets in a 1:1 classroom, the joy of unscrambling can continue on magneticpoetry.com where you can play with virtual kits of magnet poetry for free and unleash your students’ inner poet in a more free reign area.

    2. Copy-Change Poems

    Find a poem with an engaging pattern and share it with your students.  It might be a list poem like “The Magnificent Bull” a traditional African verse, or this one, found on the front of a card my wife gave me, that I recently shared with my students halfway through our study of Romeo and Juliet.

    I asked them two questions: What is the poet doing here? What is the poet saying here?

    Then I challenged them: Create three or four lines that you think we could sneak into this list. They copy the pattern of the poet, but change the wording: a copy-change. What other compound words or famous pairs could we divide and include in a love poem. The results were insightful, bizarre, and sometimes uproariously funny.

    We took our lines and then crafted our own original poem. One such example:

    So find a poem you love, have your students find the pattern, and play with the pattern. Copy-change helps students slip into another writer’s style and try it on for size.

    3. Choral Poems

    Reading poetry, we often find a favorite turn of phrase that outlasts our memory of the rest of the poem. This is why so many of Shakespeare’s words like “good riddance” and “send him packing” have staying power, even though we forget the original contexts. (Troilus and Cressida and Henry IV Part I incidentally). He was a poet, so his words stuck.

    Read a poem out loud with your class. Then ask them to read it silently and pick out their favorite one or two turns of phrase that has staying power. It might not even be as long as an entire line in the poem.

    When you read the poem out loud a second time, they should read just those snippets out loud with you when you get to that part. It makes for fun discussion afterwards: why do some of these lines catch so many people’s attention.

    What makes them jump out? Why do some lines get no one’s attention? Are they weaker? Could they even be removed to strengthen the poem?

    Playing with revision of a published poem on the Smart Board can make poetry seem less intimidating, like a work in progress, still open to changes.

    4. Top-Three Words

    Poll Everywhere is an online tool that allows you to turn students’ cell phones into data collection devices. It’s quick to set up a free account.

    Data collection and poetry seem like strange bedfellows, but in this high-tech various of Choral Poems, students learn the value of individual word choice in poetry.

    After reading a poem out loud, ask students: What are the top three words in the poem, the words that pack the most punch?

    Then switch to an open-response Poll Everywhere question on the screen. Students will be able to send a text to a number which will collect their responses in real time. Their favorite words pop up on the screen in a wordsplash. (And don’t worry, there is a filter you can create for obscenities, lest you have a student or two or twenty you don’t wholeheartedly trust.)

    What patterns do the students see? What makes some of these words chosen so frequently as powerful?  What words could the poet have used instead that might mean almost the same thing, but lack the same impact?

    Using the wordsplash from Poll Everywhere, students can use these words to craft their own poems.

    5. Blackout Poems

    Can you discover a poem inside a passage of prose? This is what blackout poetry encourages.

    When my students are working with independent reading books, I tell my students “Find a page that has a little bit of you in it.” We photocopy a page that they find particularly relatable and resonant. Then they take a look at some sample blackout poems (Google Images will provide ample samples).

    They look at the page through a poet’s eyes and string together keywords to write a short poem about themselves, that may or may not relate to the original text any longer. Here is an example from Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson:

    In a 1:1 classroom, this could be accomplished using an iPad camera and an app such as Brushes and then shared via Instagram or Twitter. Authors find it intriguing when you share these interpretations with them.

    6. Pin A Poem

    Pinterest has produced a new outlet and source of visual inspiration. So much of the content involves the creative pairing of words and images. Pin A Poem brings the thrill of creating such pairings to your students.

    People often use famous quotes as home decor items or t-shirt designs. This activity encourages students to isolate a line from a poem that can carry that weight.

    Students choose a memorable line from a poem or a set of poems. Honor that line by isolating it and adding a visual element to the line. Find an image to layer under the words, and use PowerPoint or Haiku Deck to create a slide that can be saved as a JPG or printed as a small poster.

    And let’s be honest, there’s a citation mini-lesson hiding here: How do we cite a poem? How do we cite a picture? Both could be included at the bottom of the image the students create.

    So poetry need not be seen as an unapproachable artform, fit only for scansion and scholarly analysis. Rather, we could choose to see it as clay, a malleable medium, ready for our students to touch and shape. Now that sounds like something worth celebrating.

    See Also: 25 Of The Best Poetry Books For Teens

    6 Technology-Based Poetry Ideas For Students That Think They Hate Poetry

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