When I was first told that I’d be teaching a creative writing class, I immediately wanted to find fun activities to teach poetry. But, as I began to dig a little deeper, I realized that “teaching poetry” was a wide umbrella underneath which are many topics. There’s teaching poetry terms, teaching poetry analysis, and, of course, teaching poetry writing.
Over time, I’ve built up a small arsenal of fun activities to teach poetry in all of its aspects. In this post, I’ll share my favorites with you!
Fun Activities to Teach Poetry Terms
Before you can really get too deep into teaching poetry writing or analysis, students need to become familiar with poetry and literary terms.
There are a few levels to completely teaching vocabulary: teaching students the basic definitions, teaching students how to identify the terms in poetry, and then teaching students how to craft these terms themselves.
Figurative Language Scavenger Hunt
The first thing I do in my creative writing classes is to teach basic figurative language terms. This way, we all have a working definition from which to talk about our creative writing pursuits throughout the quarter.
I do this first with a simple presentation and a handout.
Then the fun enters: a figurative language scavenger hunt. I hang posters around the room with poems on them. Every student gets a handout with a figurative language term, a place to write an example, and a place to craft an original example.
Students must then walk around the room, reading the various poems to find an example of each type of figurative language. This gets kids up and moving (and often working together!) in a class that can very easily involve sitting the whole time.
To make the scavenger hunt even more fun, offer a small prize like candy for the first few to complete the hunt, or even divide the class into teams!
After students have found examples of each literary term, I go over them and give students a few minutes to create their own examples.
(You can get this whole activity, including the poetry posters, right here!)
Figurative Language Tasting Activity
Once students have a basic understanding of the figurative language terms, I host a figurative language tasting.
I go into way more detail about a figurative language tasting in this post, but basically, I bring in small treats and students attempt to write about each using sensory language and literary techniques.
The students have a lot of fun being creative, trying to one-up one another’s similes and metaphors, and, of course, eating the candy!
(You can get a worksheet and lesson plan for this one for FREE right here!)
Figurative Language Setting Activity
To show that students truly have mastered figurative language, I have them use it to describe a setting in this activity.
Two things that always make students more engaged are choice and having something they can actually hold. This activity involves both!
In my figurative language setting activity, I offer students a set of pictures. Each picture has a different landscape on it.
Students each pick a photo. There is sometimes competition over who gets which one and students get pretty attached to “their” photo once they begin the work.
Then, students must choose a writing task–are they writing a vacation brochure? Describing an animal’s habitat? Journaling as an explorer?
Using their chosen writing task and some descriptive figurative language techniques, students then describe their chosen landscape in stunning and sensory detail.
Fun Activities to Teach Poetry Analysis
Once students have a handle on some basic literary terms, you’ll probably want them to put that new language to work analyzing some poetry. Even in my creative writing classes, I include poetry analysis because I believe that using mentor texts for writing can be so powerful.
The easiest way I have found to include regular poetry analysis without becoming too boring is to use poetry analysis warm-ups. I go into more detail in this post, but every week in my creative writing class, we look at a different mentor poem.
Each day that week, we analyze a very small chunk of that poem. For example, maybe on Monday we’ll break down the rhyme scheme, but on Tuesday we’ll find all the similes in the poem.
This only takes about five minutes a day. I can keep students focused on poetry analysis for five minutes, but after that their attention starts to wane.
Still, those five minutes are gold. It’s enough time for students to apply what they already know, practice essential skills, talk to others at their table, and take pride in sharing their ideas.
The fun really comes in at the end of the week, when we use that poem we’ve studied as a mentor text for writing our own. This really pushes students to their creative edge.
Trying to write like Emily Dickinson is so different than trying to write like E. E. Cummings, who in turn is so different from Paul Laurence Dunbar!
Exposing students to variety–especially poets who break the rules–without overanalyzing or overwhelming them with analysis can really be fun! Especially when students know they’ll be putting that analysis into practice at the end of the week.
(You can get 10 weeks of poetry warm-up plus a BONUS project right here!)
Hands-on Poetry Minilessons
I mentioned earlier that making poetry “hands-on” is always a great technique for adding fun to poetry. I try to do this in my literary minilessons.
One of my favorites is my “Show. Don’t Tell” minilesson. After I explain the basic premise of “Show. Don’t Tell”, I have students randomly select a strip of paper. Each strip has a “telling sentence” on it, like “The teacher was angry” or “She was in love.”
Then, students have to rewrite that sentence into a passage that shows that information, rather than simply state it.
The fun is in the challenge–students are randomly assigned a sentence to fix–and in the creativity of showing the detail.
Another one of my favorite poetry minilessons is my Voice Workshop. After I explain what literary voice is to my students, I break them up into groups. Then, I give each group an envelope filled with seemingly random lines of poetry.
The random lines of poetry actually come from three different poems–each with a distinct literary voice–and the student groups must work to unscramble them. In order to do so, they’ll have to combine like voices with like.
This becomes a fun group brain teaser as students try to group like voice with like.
All of my minilessons come with a slideshow presentation and some kind of follow-up activity. You can get the “Show. Don’t Tell” minilesson here or the Literary Voice Minilesson here if you’d like to save yourself some prep time.
Fun Activities to Teach Poetry Writing
Finally! This is probably what you actually came here for, right? Fun activities to teach poetry that gets students writing and creating their own.
Black Out and Found Poetry
Black out and found poetry have become staple activities for any English class. This is a great way to introduce students to creating their own poetry because it’s low-risk and not very intimidating for students.
There’s no blank page or starting from scratch for students here. Because everything they’ll need has already been created for them, students that believe the lie that they’re “not good writers” or “can’t be creative” can bypass those limiting beliefs entirely and still create great poetry.
With black out poetry, students take an article from the newspaper. Then they “black out” the words and phrases they don’t want, hopefully leaving behind a message or short poem.
For found poetry, students can create a poem from scratch, but they can only use the words that they can find in magazines. Their final poems end up these beautiful collages of words.
To do both successfully, students have to be careful and creative in their word choice–essential skills for creative writers–but they get to do so without the burden of having to create everything from scratch.
Black out and found poetry are some of the least intimidating poetry writing you can do with students. (If you’d like some printable instructions for students and s slideshow of examples, you can get them here.)
“I Am” Poem
Another non-intimidating starter activity is to write an “I Am” poem. The topic–yourself–is easy and so is the structure. Students basically just have to fill-in-the-blanks mad-lib style and they’ll end up with a wonderful poem.
Even though the poem seems overly simplistic at first, at the end of the quarter, many of my students list their “I Am” poems as their favorite creations from class.
Grab everything you need to teach the “I Am” poem for FREE right here.
One final way to add some fun to poetry writing is to give students a choice in they type of poetry students read and write. I love this Author Study Project because it does just that!
Students will choose a poet to study. It’s up to you whether you want to give them free rein or provide a list.
Then, they’ll spend some time analyzing their chosen author’s style before trying to replicate it themselves. Just imagine a class of modern-day Edgar Allan Poes mixed with Elizabeth Acevedos and Maya Angelous!
This is a fantastic culminating project for any creative writing class.
(Eliminate the prep time on this one–it can be a lot–by grabbing everything you need right here!)
Conclusion: Fun Activities to Teach Poetry
Whenever you need fun activities to teach poetry, first, make sure you know what you want to teach. “Poetry” is a big term. Do you want students to know the jargon? The techniques? Or do you just want to get them writing?
Then, know that there are some tried and true methods to making any poetry activity fun:
- Get students up and moving
- Make the task hands-on
- Give students choice
- When in doubt, add candy
If you’d like to save yourself time, I have a lot of creative writing activities for sale in my TPT shop and I’m always adding more. Remember my Figurative Language Tasting Activity and “I Am” Poem Activity are free, so these are great places to start!