National Poetry Month: Useful Resources for Teachers and Students



‘Tis National Poetry Month! In April, classrooms around the country will dive into the expressive art of poetry — Shakespeare, Neruda, Angelou, Hughes, Dickinson, the list goes on and on.

There are many great ways to bring poetry into the classroom, and whether it’s through reading, writing, or performing, poetry can be a great way to engage students. To help you bring poetry into your classrooms, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best open resources.

  • National Poetry Month, What can I say? This is a one-stop-shop for all things National Poetry Month.’s resources include an insightful page for educators, as well as links to events going on around the country, a list of 30 ideas for celebrating, and information about Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 30. There’s plenty of useful stuff here to keep your classroom busy throughout the month.
  • ReadWriteThink Poetry Lesson Plans: There are a number of relevant lesson plans here for students of every grade level and reading ability. There are also some great interactive media for classrooms, as well as links to outside websites focused on teaching poetry.
  • The Poetry Learning Lab, Poetry Foundation: For students, the Poetry Learning Lab is a great source of knowledge, including a glossary of poetry terms, links to public domain poems, and inspiring essays on poetry from writers and educators. The Lab also features a useful page of teacher resources, with outside links and original content. Another cool feature, the Poetry Foundation features interactive virtual poetry tours of three U.S. cities.
  • Reading Rockets Literacy Resources for National Poetry Month: Helping students improve as readers is the focus of Reading Rockets, and they’ve developed this resource to help teachers use poetry to accomplish this goal. There are interviews with poets, teaching resources and many other useful tidbits. For teachers of English-language learners, Reading Rockets’ sister site, Colorin Colorado, offers some great poetry links, as well.
  • EDSITEment National Poetry Month Exemplars: The National Endowment produced these standalone lessons for select poems by well-known poets like Emily Dickinson, Rita Dove, and Lewis Carroll. The poem-specific resources include a lesson plan, related resources, a link to the work, and information about the author. The lessons were designed for English language arts, align to the Common Core, and are meant for elementary, middle school, and high school students.
  • Selected Works, Public Domain Poems: This is a great place for students to explore the works of favorite poets, from Oscar Wilde to Percy Shelley. All of the poems are in the public domain and are open and accessible for classrooms. The Poetry Foundation also features an immense collection of more than 12,000 poems that are searchable by topic, occasion, author, and more.

More Quick Poetry Teaching Resources and Collections

There are so many great poetry resources for teachers, and it’s always a challenge to round them all up. Here are a few more useful links from around the web, including inspirational articles, more lesson plan collections, and tips for teaching poetry.

From the Edutopia Vault:

Each year, Edutopia releases a number of extremely useful and insightful blog posts about teaching poetry. These are a few of the most popular from the last few years:

3 Strategies to Improve Student Writing Instantly


Ali Parrish

Educator, Educational Consultant


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Editor’s Note: A version of this post first appeared on Techie Teacher and Character Coach.

“But Miss Parrish, I can’t think of anything to write!”

Haven’t we all heard similar lines in our classrooms? We see hesitant writers sit with a pencil in their hands and a paper on their desks, almost as if they have been handicapped by the task we asked them to do.

How is it that some students have so much to say when talking out loud, but when a pencil is put into their hand they suddenly hesitate, struggle and have nothing to say? How can you help those hesitant writers eliminate the “handicap” or barrier that suddenly appears when asked to write?

The answer is to simply have them produce “writing” without technically “writing” at all. That’s right, the way to get hesitant writers to produce as much “writing” as they do “talking” is to have them do exactly that — talk.

Strategies That Work

1. Student Talks, Teacher Writes

  • Have your student stand up while you sit in his or her seat.
  • Pick up the student’s pencil and simply state, “You talk, I’ll write.”
  • This usually catches students off guard and takes them a minute to realize that it’s a real option for them.

2. Audio Record It

  • Identify a way that your students can audio record themselves “speaking” their essay rather than “writing” it. This could be a tape recorder, digital audio recorder, student computer with a microphone or even an audio recording feature on your phone.
  • Hand that recording device to your student and say, “Step out in the hall and ‘write’ your essay using this.”
  • See confusion, sheer awe, and then signs of relief come over the face of your student.

3. Audio Transcribe It

  • Identify an app or tool that will transcribe speaking into text. Some options for this include PaperPortNotes, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Dictation Pro, VoiceTranslator, or a text-to-speech tool that is built into many smartphones. Try one of these to your phone, tablet, or computer.
  • Before I had an iPad in my class, I usually opened a blank email on my iPhone, touched the text-to-speech button, handed my phone to my student and said, “Go ahead — ‘speak’ your paper.”
  • Next, see confusion, sheer awe and then signs of complete relief come over your student’s face.
  • After speaking/typing it, the student can simply email him- or herself the text and work on the draft from there.

Inspire Thoughtful Creative Writing Through Art


Image Credit: “The Volunteers” ©2012 Denise M. Cassano

A few years ago, I showed my sixth graders The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer. It’s an epic painting of a young black sailor in a small broken boat, surrounded by flailing sharks, huge swells, and a massive storm in the distance. I asked my students the simple question, “What’s happening?” The responses ranged from “He’s a slave trying to escape” to “He’s a fisherman lost at sea.” The common theme with the responses, though, was the tone — most students were very concerned for his welfare. “That boat looks rickety. I think he’s going to get eaten by the sharks,” was a common refrain. Then a very quiet, shy girl raised her hand. “It’s OK, he’ll be fine,” she said. “The ship will save him.”

The room got quiet as everyone stared intently at the painting. I looked closely at it. “What ship?” I responded. The young girl walked up to the image and pointed to the top left corner. Sure enough, faded in the smoky distance was a ship.

This revelation changed the tone and content of the conversation that followed. Some thought it was the ship that would save him. Others thought it was the ship that cast him off to his death. Would the storm, sharks, or ship get him? The best part of this intense debate was hearing the divergent, creative responses. Some students even argued. The written story produced as a result of analyzing this image was powerful.

Since this experience, I have developed strategies that harness the power of observation, analysis, and writing through my art lessons.

Children naturally connect thoughts, words, and images long before they master the skill of writing. This act of capturing meaning in multiple symbol systems and then vacillating from one medium to another is calledtransmediation. While using art in the classroom, students transfer this visual content, and then add new ideas and information from their personal experiences to create newly invented narratives. Using this three-step process of observe, interpret, and create helps kids generate ideas, organize thoughts, and communicate effectively.

Step 1: Observe

Asking students to look carefully and observe the image is fundamental to deep, thoughtful writing. Keep this in mind when choosing art to use in class. Look for images with:

  • Many details: If it is a simple image, there’s not much to analyze.
  • Characters: There should be people or animals in the image to write about.
  • Colors: Find colors that convey a mood.
  • Spatial relationships: How do the background and foreground relate?

Lead your students through the image. “I like it” is not the answer we are looking for. Ask questions that guide the conversation. Encourage divergent answers and challenge them. Try these questions:

  • What shapes do you see? Do they remind you of anything?
  • What colors do you see? How do those colors make you feel?
  • What patterns do you see? How are they made?
  • Do you see any unusual textures? What do they represent?
  • What is the focal point of the image? How did the artist bring your attention to the focal point?
  • How did the artist create the illusion of space in the image?
  • If you were living in the picture and could look all around you, what would you see?
  • If you were living in the picture, what would you smell? What would you hear?

Keep your questions open-ended, and record what students say so that they’ll have a reference for later. Identify and challenge assumptions. At this point, we are not looking for inferences or judgments, just observations.

Step 2: Make Inferences by Analyzing Art

Once they have discussed what they see, students then answer the question, “What is happening?” They must infer their answers from the image and give specific reasons for their interpretations.

For example, while looking at The Gulf Stream, one student said, “The storm already passed and is on its way out. You can tell because the small boat the man is on has been ripped apart and the mast is broken.” That is what we are looking for in their answers: rational thoughts based on inferences from data in the picture. No two responses will be exactly the same, but they can all be correct as long as the student can coherently defend his or her answer with details from the image. When children express their opinions based on logic and these details, they are analyzing art and using critical thinking skills.

Here are some tips to model a mature conversation about art:

  • Give adequate wait time. We are often so rushed that we don’t give children time to think and reflect.
  • Ask students to listen to, think about, and react to the ideas of others.
  • Your questions should be short and to the point.
  • Highlight specific details to look at while analyzing art (characters, facial expressions, objects, time of day, weather, colors, etc.).
  • Explain literal vs. symbolic meaning (a spider’s web can be just that, or it can symbolize a trap).

Step 3: Create

After thoughtful observation and discussion, students are abuzz with ideas. For all of the following writing activities, they must use details from the image to support their ideas. Here are just a few of the many ways we can react to art:

For Younger Students:

  • Locate and describe shapes and patterns.
  • Describe time of day and mood of scene.
  • Describe a character in detail with a character sketch. Characters may be people, animals, or inanimate objects.
  • Write a story based on this image including a brand new character.
  • Give students specific vocabulary that they must incorporate into their story.

For Older Students:

  • Write down the possible meaning of the image, trade with a partner, and persuade your partner to believe that your story is the correct one based on details in the image.
  • Identify characters and their motives. Who are they and what do they want? Explain how you know based on details.
  • Pretend that you are in the image, and describe what you see, smell, feel, and hear.
  • Describe the details that are just outside of the image, the ones we can’t see.
  • Introduce dialogue into your story. What are they saying?
  • Sequence the events of the story. What happened five minutes before this scene, what is happening now, and what happens five minutes later? How do you know?
  • Write from the perspective of one of the characters in the image.
  • Explain who is the protagonist and antagonist. What is their conflict?

Thinking and Communicating

We don’t know what the future holds for our students, but we do know that they will have to think critically, make connections, and communicate clearly. Art can help students do that. During this year’s commencement speech at Sarah Lawrence College, Fareed Zakaria said, “It is the act of writing that forces me to think through them [ideas] and sort them out.” Art can be that link to helping students organize their ideas and produce coherent, thoughtful writing.

As you consider teaching writing through art, I recommend reading In Pictures and in Words by Kate Wood Ray and Beth Olshansky’ website.

How have you used the arts to inspire creative thinking in your students? Please tell us about it in the comments.

Twitter For Writers

The Twitter Story, by George Couros

In less than 140 characters, there is a funny little story that is topical and pointing out some of the funny characteristics of Canadians (very polite and that we are big fans of rapper Jay-Zed).

So why are we so hard on kids that they “overshare” on social networks?  Much of what they do would be considered a short “story” that they are often telling in 140 characters or less to an audience.  Stories have been, and always will be, an important part of our world.

There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. —Ursula K. LeGuin

The mediums to tell these stories have not changed; they have expanded.

In the recent article, “Twitter is the New Haiku”, the author shares Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s belief in the artistry that can come from a simple tweet:

“Sometimes I get asked, ‘Don’t you feel that the 140 characters has meant that people don’t think about things deeply anymore?’ The reality is that you don’t look at haiku and say, ‘You know, aren’t you worried that this format is going to prevent people from thinking deeply when you can only use this many words and it has to be set this way?’ I think that people develop language for creatively communicating within whichever constraints you set for people.” Dick Costolo

The author then continues to discuss that with this type of communication, less can often mean more:

“The power of communicating in fewer words is that those words mean more, and in their best forms, those words can inspire thousands more in discussion and speculation.” Emma Green

So are all tweets powerful stories?  Absolutely not.  A lot of what is shared is absolutely terrible, and many would say that Twitter is really harming our use of language.  Yet more people are moving to Twitter to share short stories that often turn into something more:

More recently, Twitter, too, has been coopted as a tool for fiction. Last year, Jennifer Egan wrote a short story in 140-character nuggets, which were posted on Twitter before they were published in The New Yorker as “Black Box.” A few months later, novelist Elliott Holt wrote her own Slate opined. “With its simultaneous narrators and fractured storyline, this is not the kind of tale that could march steadily across a continuous expanse of white space. It’s actually made for the medium.”

The major difference with something like Twitter is that it immediately can give our students an audience.  Looking at the traditional time it takes to publish a book, it can almost take a year from the moment it is finished until it is ready for an audience.  I am not saying that it is not a worthy endeavour to try writing a book, but we live in a world with multiple opportunities to try different mediums.  We do not have to focus on one.

Almost 700 posts into this blog, I first found my voice through Twitter, which expanded into a blog, and may now expand into a book next year.  By learning to use the first medium. it helped build my confidence in expanding to the next.  The ability to share short little messages and stories, has helped me to move to actually expanding my thoughts.  Wouldn’t starting with the 140 character story be a good start for our students?