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Priming Poetry

Updated on June 17, 2013

The Teacher's Dream

Acrostic | Source

Priming Poetry

In this time of common core standards with the intent to have No Child Left Behind, I fear we are developing an educational system that encourages teaching to the test and meeting basic requirements rather than developing lifelong learners who learn for both knowledge and pleasure.

Skills are vital to our society; but skills alone will not create a society that remains free to grow and develop all members of that society in their pursuit of happiness. Skills alone will not develop our nation into that more perfect union. We have already lost the front porch; let us not lock the entry hall as well.

Interesting Research about Poetry

A Mini-annotated Bibliography

This following portion of this article reviews works that include teaching with poetry as a central issue of study, research, or writing. Research studies are often not the first choice of reading for most people who desire a better understanding related to any topic; however, research provides the backbone for what most educators do in the classroom. For that reason, some of the most recent research and literature on this topic is identified here with the anticipation that educators will begin to understand the importance of Priming for Poetry within our classrooms.

Cronmiller, S. (2007). Essential poetry: Activating the imagination in the elementary classroom. Journal for Learning through the Arts: A Research Journal on Arts Integration in Schools and Communities, 3(1), Article 7. Retrieved from

Feel free to download some wonderful tips on how to include poetry teaching strategies for the elementary classroom from this website. The link will take you to the specific article in this journal where you can download Cronmiller’s work.

Greenblatt, E. (n.d.). Introduction to teaching poetry: Ideas for the classroom.

Teaching poetry promotes vocabulary, which helps students become more articulate with language. Continued use of those words results in a more natural ability for the student to use those words and principles in their own writing and speaking. Understanding the tone of a poem can assist the writer to understand the tone of their own writing. The goal for using poetry is to make students think; teaching with poetry helps students pose questions, discover meanings, connect to experience, and provides a meaningful experience rather than just learning something to be forgotten later in life. The article further makes recommendations for lessons.

Hubert, L. (n.d.). Poetry: Lesson one.

This article provides a process of introducing a unit on poetry. Hubert identifies the objectives of using poetry in the class as:

  • To stimulate thinking about the comprehensive implications of the word poetry
  • To introduce poetry as a genre
  • To inspire an appreciative response to rich texts, whether prose or poetry
  • To help students begin to shape their own definition(s) of poetry
  • To overcome any residue of poetry anxiety
  • To underscore the important role of poetry and poetics in a risky world (p. 26)

The article further makes recommendations for lessons and assignments based on the process provided by the article (Step One: Attempts at Definitions of Poetry, Step Two: Distinguishing Between Poetry and Prose; Step Three: “Meta-Poetry” – Poems About Reading and Writing Poetry; and Step Four: Writing Poetry to Understand It.).

Jones, D [Ed.]. (2005). Special focus in English literature and composition: Reading poetry. The Teaching Series. Retrieved from The College Board at

The anthology above written for the College Board’s Teaching Series combines several works on poetry for the advanced placement class. The following three works were included in the anthology.

Kong, F. (2010). On the effectiveness of applying English poetry to extensive reading teaching. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 1(6), 918-921.

“Actually, English poetry, with its aesthetic values, is very useful reading material if it is used in an appropriate way” (Kong, 2010, 918). The musical effects of poetry provide an entertainment value on learning vocabulary and develop appreciation for the manipulation of language. Concise expressions promote imagery and word associations to engage the reader’s emotion and imagination. Imagery is powerful when readers are grabbed by the music and expression. Kong further states that properly using poetry in one’s teaching can enhance the learner’s motivation, stimulate the learner’s imagination, broaden the learner’s experience, and improve the learner’s self-cultivation.

National Endowment for the Humanities. (2013). Shakespeare uncovered. Retrieved from

Are you interested in how you can best portray Shakespeare in a high school class? This website is filled with resources the educator can use to develop content to entice student engagement in Shakespeare’s writings. Educators can link to lesson plans, webinars, blogs, other online resources, and an online store where you can purchase materials from as needed.

Shea, R. H. (n.d.). Sound and silence: An interview with Billy Collins.

This interview with Billy Collins identifies his vision in creating a website with the purpose of teaching poetry in high school. The website is still housed on the Library of Congress server at the following address: Billy Collins is a poet and professor by occupation. His website is an attempt to create the student’s love for poetry as he includes both contemporary works and classical works. The interview further depicts his strategy for teaching poetry as an informal writing experience to a formal poetic structure.

Wilson, A. (2012, June 12). A joyous lifeline in a target-driven job: Teachers’ metaphors of teaching poetry writing. Cambridge Journal of Education. [doi: 10.1080/0305764X.2012.749217]. Retrieved online at

Wilson identified the following four findings based on interviews with teachers who claim to use poetry in the classroom for his study:

  1. Exploration of personal creativity.
  2. Teaches ‘integrated thinking’
  3. Teachers reject the notion of ‘formulaic’ poetry writing
  4. Teachers emphasize the freedom which poetry writing allows them from curricular directives

While the first two put a positive slant on the use of poetry, item 3 indicates a negative aspect of using poetry in the class and item 4 places poetry as a low priority for using poetry in the classroom. Wilson has several other articles placed online at

Bob Dylan

“I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.”

Who Should Write Poetry?

Everyone! Not everyone will be recognized as a great poet, but everyone is capable of producing poetry. I would venture to say that every adult has created a poem at some point in his or her life, even if it was only an assignment in a class. Let us look at some of the more well-known poets:

Charles Bauldelaire was an 19th century poet from France who suffered from severe depression, yet wrote classical works of poetry and inspired other great poets such as Verlaine and Rimbaud.


“Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters.”

E. E. Cummings

Born in Boston, he served during WWI as an ambulance driver – in prison camp for 3 months. Experimented with the visual side of poetry. Some criticized his work as he created some words such as onetwothreefourfive within his poetic creations.


T. S. Eliot won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948. The beginnings of modernistic poetry. Born in America, died as a British citizen, wrote the waste land, critic – Faber and Faber.


“The poet is the priest of the invisible.”

Wallace Stevens


Victor Hugo’s most known French literature work was Les Miserables. Although he was a playwright, his plays were even more poetic than filled with plot. He also wrote novels and some poetry.


Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907. Born in Bombay, India, London – buried by Charles Dickens. Wonderful childhood – later transferred to school in England and lived in not so great conditions. Known for children’s works


Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971. Chili, self-published in 1923. Served as the country’s diplomatic official and elected to Senate. Had to flee the country when the communist party (his party) was at odds with the Chilean government.


Arthur Rimbaud was raised in France by his mother, a single parent. His inspiration for poetry came from Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allen Poe. Most of his works were in defiance of the Parnassian movement, which focused on restraint and objectivity. Instead, he wrote in symbolism and used evocative language. Although his poetry-writing days were only 3 years long, he left an impression on others such as Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan.


“Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley


Charles Simic was a Serbian poet with several awards for his poetry. His most recent award came at the age of 72 as the recipient of The Frost Medal in 2011; an award given to a living poet that denotes a lifetime of service to American poetry.


Paul Verlaine was imprisoned for 2 years as a result of shooting Arthur Rimbaud (who some say was his lover) in the wrist. He led a rather tumultuous life and was imprisoned later for attempting to strangle his mother.


W. B. Yeats won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. Dublin Ireland Came from a family of painters. Most poems came from unrequited love early in his career, and political issues later. Died in France. Found the Irish Literary Society and helped set up the Irish National Theater.


Shakespeare has made it into the lives of everyone, whether it was through a high school English class, a mention in a movie, or an accidental meeting within your own readings.

How many of the poets above have you heard of before now? Were there any you may not have heard of until now? Yet, they were all famous, classical poets. Many poets remain unrecognized, but recognition is typically not the primary purpose of those who write poetry.

How many poets?

How many of the poets listed above have you heard of before now?

See results

T. S. Eliot

“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’, in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given the emotion is immediately evoked.”

What should poetry do?

What is the first thing most new parents do when trying to rock a baby to sleep? How do parents first typically play with their child? When we first learned how to jump rope, what typically accompanies that activity? The answers to all these questions involve some type of poetry. Poetry is a powerful tool for communication and interaction whether with another individual or within our own self-dialogue.

For the poet:

Writing poetry encourages critical thinking and word-tinkering. The higher linguistic thinking skills require manipulating words into form a meaningful poem. This does not mean a small child is incapable of creating poetry. In fact, a toddler has already acquired their first major milestone in language acquisition. Rhymes are so enjoyable to the young child, and providing experiences to poetry at this age is crucial for developing poetic skills; as well as developing their linguistic capability. However, older children and adults need to consider rhyming words, synonyms, syllables, antonyms; in essence, writing poetry requires playing with words.

Writing poetry encourages specificity, yet allows for the author to determine the creativity component of interpretation. For example, consider a poem on love. Rather than simply stating “I love you!”, the poet creates a specific notion of love through the words chosen. The goal is that the reader will interpret those chosen words into the emotion of love. This requires thinking in analogies to reach the give-and-take relationship between word and thought.

Writing poetry encourages the poet to figure out thoughts and feelings with the potential of finding resolution or showing expressions. Through the process of working through a poem, the writer’s goal is to describe an experience, relate an emotion, or portray an event. The writer must reflect on the experience, emotion or event from several angles so they portray their thinking to the reader. This type of critical thinking promotes further learning on the topic. The writer may gain in understanding as they continue the journey of writing their poem.

For the reader:

According to John Lundberg (2007), “most Americans have lost touch with the best of what poetry is: a record of some of civilization’s greatest writers - - and wisest people - - taking on the questions and emotions that define us” (para. 2). Think about it; when was the last time you picked up a poem to read just for enjoyment? When was the last time you read a poem to discuss the latent meaning, similar to solving a puzzle?

Poetry makes you think. Some poems are transparent and just plain enjoyable, whereas others have multiple meanings that may take years to understand. Even though you may not appreciate the full depth of a Shakespearean play, it is enjoyable to hear and makes an impact on your being. What do you think of when I say, “Look, a raven!”

Poetry spurs imagination and creativity. Poetry presents life from different angles and perspectives. Poetry creates understanding and heals wounds. Poetry increases vocabulary. In short, poetry reveals life, knowledge, and wisdom.

A poem on poems

You are only as sick as your secrets!

Thanks to you I have none!

You have helped me heal

You have helped me grow

You even taught me how to feel!

Reality really sucks!

Thanks to you I found escape

In you I found hope

In you I found freedom

In you I learned how to cope.

With families like these who needs enemies

Thanks to you I could still smile

I felt there was sunshine after the rain

I felt as I had a friend

No matter how alone I didn’t feel it

As long as I had poetry, paper and my pen.

K. Wick

The author of this poem is a friend of mine that gave me this poem to use with this article.

When should you write poetry?

When you are sad.

When you are happy.

When you are successful.

When you are defeated.

When you are in pain.

When you are ecstatic.

When you are whole.

When you are scared.

When you are encouraged.

When you are courageous.

When you want to fly.

When you want to dream.

When you want to inspire.

When you want to cry out.

When you want to live.

When you want to die.

Write a poem.

by: Dr. Rebecca Sanders

Carl Sandburg

“Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.”

Robert Frost

“I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.”

Why should you write poetry?

Some poets write poetry for an income. Unfortunately, the income is typically not substantial as a main source for living. However, with today’s self-publishing markets, that could change. Some poets will even pay to have their work included. For example, poetry contests typically require an entrance fee for their competition and the author may win a prize or money. The reality is – most poets write for the love of writing, and the monetary issue is an added benefit if you are lucky enough to get published. Life as a poet is typically secondary.

However, regardless of whether you make a living at writing poetry or only for your pleasure, any poet can still enrich the lives of others. The scope of that enrichment depends on what the poet does with their poem. A love poem to your wife can enrich your marriage. A poem placed on the Internet may be read by someone who needed to hear exactly what you have to say. A poem that makes it into a movie or a song may bring a chuckle from the audience. The potential to enrich lives lays in the determination and persistence of the poet.

A second reason to write poetry is to present your own view and create your own meaningful life experience you wish to share. Remember the Joe South in 1970 “Walk a Mile in my Shoes”? That sums it up – writing about your thoughts and experiences allows others to see what you have experienced. This has the potential to develop understanding, compassion, and empathy when it is done well.

A third reason is to please yourself! Writing a poem can take only a few minutes of time; yet the outcome of a successful attempt builds confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Writing poetry allows you to rant – you can rant about an unfair social issue, scream in an area where you feel you were wronged, boast about a major accomplishment, and even cry with words just to release emotion or tensions. Much like psychoanalysts may use bibliotherapy, writing can help the author deal with life.

Writing poetry provides another form of experiencing cherished memories, or different perspectives of the same issue. Poetry possibly enhances your own life experience and cements important issues as you attempt to describe or explain them in a structured fashion known as a poem.

Stephen Spender

“Great poetry is always written by somebody straining to go beyond what he can do.”

Don Marquis

“Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”

Where should you write poetry?

Internet – There are several websites dedicated to posting poetry. People enjoy sharing their creations.

Magazines – Reader’s Digest and other magazines may even pay a small sum for poems.

Contests – Look for poetry-writing contests. Make sure you understand what you are getting into, though; some have entrance fees. Watch the copyright laws as well.

For your own files – Sometimes, writing poetry is sensitive and not meant to be shared. Purchase a blank journal and keep your own creations for enjoyment and reflection.

Self-publishing – Several online sources can provide cost-effective methods of self-publication. You will not have the same marketing as going with a publisher, but self-publishing opportunities are improving daily.

As a gift - Poetry is a wonderful way to encourage students to develop their creative side. Each year, my class would create their own book of poetry. It is a good way to introduce elementary students to the structure of poetry. Books completed around any holiday are great gifts for parents or friends! Although my example is for elementary students, I suspect middle school, high school, and even adults would enjoy creating poems as gifts as well.


Janeczko, P. B. (2011). Reading poetry in the middle grades: 20 poems and activities that meet the common core standards and cultivate a passion for poetry. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Retrieved from

Lundberg, J. (2007, October 20). Why you should read poetry…yes, poetry. Retrieved from


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