What Is Poetry?

Lesson Introduction

An excellent way to gauge student attitudes towards and experiences with poetry is to begin your poetry unit by asking students to define what poetry is to them in their own words. Invite students to express their own views on poetry by asking them to complete the sentence: “Poetry is …” or “Poetry is like…” Not only does this get students thinking about their relationship with poetry, it also gives them an unintimidating opportunity to create metaphors and similes.

For example:

Poetry is like putting an IKEA bed together. (Carl Leggo)

Poetry is my grandmother’s collection of recipes stained with the ingredients that smudge her handwritten notes.

Poetry is a DJ spinning, grooving, and synchronizing beats on his turntables.

Poetry is like riding horseback in the rain, without reins, for the first time.

Display their lines on the classroom walls for the duration of the unit, surrounding the class with poetic statements written by students in their own voices. These statements will form the basis for an initial classroom discussion on how students feel about poetry as readers, writers, and reciters. Students may also use this pool of statements as writing prompts or reference points when discussing other poems.

Learning Objectives

In this lesson, students will have opportunities to:

  • Write, read, and speak to make personal connections to the writing prompts “Poetry is…” and “Poetry is like ....”
  • View, listen to, and respond to classmates’ experiences and attitudes towards poetry by posting their statements gallery-style in the classroom and leading them through a discussion of the range of poetry definitions on display.
  • Work in pairs and small groups to broaden individual and collective perspectives on what poetry is through oral discussion.
  • Understand poetic devices including similes and metaphors and how poets may use concrete description to represent abstract ideas or feelings.

Materials and Resources

  • Poetry In Voice online anthology
  • Coloured strips of paper (one or two per student) measuring 4x11 inches
  • Sticky notes (three per student)
  • Definitions of metaphor and simile 

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