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Volume VI: Reading and Teaching Poetry


Flows and Poems Walkin’ Hand in Hand
James R. Addlespurger

Students often groan at the thought of facing another poetry unit. “This is stupid.” “It doesn’t make sense.” “Just tell us what it means.” These are common remarks often spilling out of the students at the thought of dealing with poetry. In an attempt to get the students to grasp some of the canonized poetry that they will face throughout their education, this curriculum attempts to use music and song lyrics as a way of hooking the students. Working with the blues as well as rap songs, this unit will break down some of the barriers that often exist with poetry. Students will be able to make connections with their music (rap music), the roots of their music (the blues), and the canonized poetry that they must face in the classroom.  The unit hopes to make enough thematic connections to allow the students the opportunity to more closely examine and explicate song lyrics and poetry. In addition to the thematic connections, this unit will also reveal common elements of poetry in a non-threatening environment. Students will learn about concepts like metaphors, allusions and other elements of poetry by first discovering them in the song lyrics. Music is a powerful medium, and the hope is that music can be used along with song lyrics in an effort to hook the students and bring them closer to the enjoyment of poetry.


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A Constructivist Approach to Analyzing Figurative Language in Poetry by Drawing and Mapping
Angela Allie

In the matters of poetry, students often shy away from analyzing and, thereby, hinder themselves from comprehension. Most times, they fear such an open-ended concept where there are no guaranteed approaches to bring about the “right” answer. There is no systematic equation to yield a definite solution.  Moreover, no pattern can be attributed to poetry comprehension. That is, there is no one approach that can be successfully applied to all poems. Many suggestions about understanding poetry have been offered in effort to provide students and teachers with a wide array to choose from.

This unit provides an alternative to the prevailing approach to teach poetry. In it, 10th and 11th grade students engage in drawing and mapping as a means to comprehend figurative language. Instead of teaching poetry, this unit teaches skills by means of poetry. This way, students use familiar skills to construct new knowledge, which is paramount to the Constructvist view of learning—a strategy employed by this unit design. This outlook makes way for Problem Based, Inquiry Based, Discovery, and Visual Learning, as well as Metacognition, Drawing, and Mapping. They all contribute to increasing reading comprehension. Poetry is an ideal venue to teach students how to recognize the implied meaning of aesthetic language. Students will benefit from this unit because it provides such enduring skills as critical thinking and problem solving that can be applied to other academic disciplines and real-life experiences. Furthermore, analyzing poetry teaches students to think abstractly.

This unit will comprise of ten 45-minute class periods. Procedurally, the students will embark on a journey of poetry and identity. They will demonstrate that they have constructed their own meaning of each poem by producing a drawing of the major elements, a word web that represents their thought processes, and a souvenir for each. The culminating activity is to produce an identity map, which is a result of a longitudinal process. The identity map will chart their journey through the poems.  Each poem is symbolic of a destination on their identity map. Reading each poem is comparable to visiting or revisiting a new place. Students will be exposed to various mind states (no pun intended), feelings, cultures, and perspectives.  Students will obtain a souvenir, which will actually be a lesson learned from each poem. They can interpret and portray the souvenir as literal or figurative. Students will be graded using the Pittsburgh Public School grading scale. They will earn points for the unit activities, the culminating activity, and the presentation. These points will be converted to a percentage and then a letter grade. If desired, teachers can administer a formal assessment at the close of the unit.


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Speaking Through and About Poems
J. Gary Dropcho

“What is this poem really all about?” is a question that students will often want the teacher to answer so that they can finish the distasteful business of “doing poetry.” After years of trying unsuccessfully to not answer the question, and abusing reams of paper with “drill and kill” lessons, one teacher of a twelfth grade public school English class for gifted students decides to teach poetry from the inside. He accepts that the best way for students to grasp the emotional curve of the poem is by reading the lyric as if they are the speaker; as if the reader of the poem was the first person to utter the words of the verse. Working with the concise, intimate and universal genre of the lyric poem, the teacher plans to help students first feel the emotional tone of the verse, then understand the thematic meaning before ever trying to identify the methods that the poet uses to convey that meaning. What would help them to find the voice, the emotion and the meaning in the lyric? Students and teacher coaching each other to read poems as if they are the speaker, hearing and seeing expert poets read and represent their speakers, making masks and costumes to represent the speaker of lyric poems, learning the games poets play and stances poets take, and, finally, arguing for the validity of one interpretation of a poem within a group of peers and in an on-demand writing task.  The teacher hopes students will start answering their own question.


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Fun With Poetry In the French Classroom
A Basic Introduction to Poetry Analysis for Levels Four and Five French
By David C. Ghogomu
Taylor Allderdice High School

Dealing with poetry is dealing with language at a higher level than usual. For students and teachers alike, reading, teaching and appreciating poetry is a direct means of the mastery of the language involved. It is plausible to surmise that thee is nowhere else in the use of language where words, forms, images, sounds, meaning, music, etc., are so carefully intertwined.

The French program at Taylor Allderdice High School is considered one of the best, if not the best, in the city schools, and standardized tests results including those of the AP and SAT prove that. The tests, however, have been limited to the language version since the late 1980’s, a deviation from  1970’s and 1980’s, when students took only the literature version of the AP test. A well-rounded program in place would offer students the choice of taking either the literature or language version of the AP.

This curriculum unit provides the opportunity for students to read, learn about, and appreciate, French poetry in the manner that is required in the literature version of the AP and other standardized tests. A combination of methods, including the normal “explication de texte” brings out the excitement that students can find in poetry reading and analysis, and help them in the discovery of literary terms and ideas which are not only instructional but also interesting and funny. The goal is to gradually build a pool of students who are interested in taking either the literature version of the AP or both the literature and language versions.


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Making Sense of Poetry
Renee C. Tolliver
David B. Oliver High School

This five-week poetry unit is designed for a ninth grade gifted class, but it may be adapted for any English class. It will introduce students to the key elements of understanding poetry. Students will use the inquiry approach and practice three primary skills: aesthetic reading, reflection and problem finding. They will also study poetry terms, write imitations of published poems and write original poems. This unit emphasizes reading and responding to poetry rather than writing a collection of poems. Reading poems well requires a different set of skills and practice than writing poetry requires. Therefore, the purpose of poetry writing that takes place during this unit will be to better understand and make critical judgments about the reading. The poems that students write will become tools for understanding the poet’s craft. The skills that students acquire to make sense of poetry will help them to understand other types of literature as well. At the end of this unit students will have a portfolio of writings that include reflections, essays and original poetry.


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Urban American Poetry
Emily P. Wilson

This curriculum unit is designed to appeal to students in all high school grade levels, but most specifically for those students in the ninth grade. It is a unit that takes into careful consideration the urban student population in the city of Pittsburgh. As poetry is often seen as the most or at least a difficult form of literature, the unit has been planned in a way that invites students to participate in reading poems whose subjects are familiar to them.

The goal of my unit is to get students interested in reading poetry by exposing students to poems whose themes revolve around the idea of “city” and elements within the city. Additionally, these poems will illustrate the importance of the poetic genre both socially and historically.


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Writing Poetry in Chemistry Class
Raymond Zanetti

This unit is designed for high school students taking introductory level chemistry. It will foster their understanding of chemistry by having them use a chemical concept to create a poem about this idea. Furthermore, students will examine the relationships among science, society, and literature, as well as an inner connective association that exists between man and nature. It is made up of a selection of ten poems written by various poets, which will be read by students over three different class sessions. During the initial session the students will read four short poems. For the other two sessions they will read three poems. After each session they will participate in a discussion of what they find interesting about any of the poems read. The content of these poems is not intended to be a sequential unit of study addressing one major concept, but a collection of readings to stimulate the imagination of the students toward creating a poem of their own that is both reflective and in some way related to a concept studied during the first year of chemistry.

To allow students an adequate depth of content exposure, the readings and poem creation will take place during the final grade report period of the year. In writing a poem concerning a chemical concept this exercise will serve to enhance the core curriculum.


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Chatham University
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Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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