So you’re teaching odes to high schoolers. Odes are complicated poems and the classical ones can be difficult for struggling readers to understand. This doesn’t mean they’re impossible, however! Regardless of your students’ abilities, you can teach them all about ode poems. In this blog post, I hope to give you several useful tips for teaching odes to your high school students.
Teaching creative writing? Check out How to Teach Creative Writing to High School Students and Teaching Creative Writing: Tips for Your High School Class.
Why Bother Teaching Ode Poems?
There are so many different types of poems out there–why should you cover odes?
Odes, like teaching about other poem types, provide students with an opportunity to learn or review literary terms. Reading odes forces students to utilize all kinds of reading skills like inferencing and introduces them to new vocabulary. And, depending on how you structure your lesson, they can be great for learning more about rhyme scheme, meter, or just provide fun writing practice!
Personally, I like that odes are positive poems. In English, there are so many depressing stories. Odes provide a positive break amongst doom and gloom short stories. Plus, if you have students writing their own, odes naturally limit the topics they choose to upbeat, happy ones.
With odes, you can go as deep or as shallow as your time, interest, and students’ abilities allow, but there’s a myriad of learning opportunities whether you’re reading or writing them.
Tip #1 for Teaching Odes to High Schoolers: Don’t Assume Students Know What an Ode Is
This probably goes without saying, but don’t assume students have heard of an ode. As a person with an interest in creative writing my whole life, I assumed that most people have at least heard the term “ode” and knew that they are praising poems.
When it came time to actually teach my students, however, I realized that my assumption was totally incorrect.
Take time to teach not only the term “ode” but any other literary terms that students may need to know to discuss or analyze odes.
In my Ode Writing Lesson and Activity, I include a slideshow presentation that introduces odes and reviews other literary terms. Throughout the included worksheets and in the ode writing activity, students must understand these literary terms to write an ode poem that fulfills the requirements.
Tip #2 for Teaching Odes to High Schoolers: Only Make It As Difficult As Your Students Can Handle
Now, if you’re teaching honors or AP students, it might be great to dive into classical odes. You can introduce new terms like “strophe,” “antistrophe,” and “epode.” In addition, you may cover the meter and rhyme scheme that classical poets used in their odes.
But I taught students who were years behind being proficient. These students were easily overwhelmed by difficult tasks. Getting them just to see the iambic pentameter in a Shakespeare play was already challenging; asking them to identify the meter or a classic ode or use a formal meter in their own writing was going to be beyond their skill level.
If you have students like I did, it’s ok to just teach the ode as a poem that praises. End of story. They’ll still review essential skills and pick up new words from reading odes or get practice while writing their own.
In my Ode Writing Lesson and Activity, I keep it simple. The included presentation has a basic definition of ode poems that you can expound on or leave be if you’d like.
Tip #3 for Teaching Odes to High Schoolers: Provide Lots of Mentor Texts
This tip goes for teaching any poem type, but you always want to provide lots of examples.
For me, finding examples of odes that wouldn’t be above my students’ reading levels was tricky. The classics are tough for students to work through just to comprehend, let alone trying to map out meter and rhyme scheme too.
But there are some modern odes that are easier to read. I recommend searching for odes on poetry.org for classic or modern odes.
One of my favorite contemporary ode is “Ode to Kool-Aid” by Marcus Jackson and can be found right here. Another one of my favorite contemporary odes is Elizabeth Acevedo’s “A Rat Ode.” It’s a lot of fun!
In my Ode Writing Lesson and Activity, I include an example that included everything I wanted my students to replicate in their own odes: a praising tone and plenty of figurative language.
Tip #4 for Teaching Odes to High Schoolers: Supply Students with Structure and Scaffolds For Producing Their Own Ode
As always, you need to know your students and their ability levels. Honors or AP students may be able to read through several classical poems and then take off writing their own with limited help.
Struggling students, however, will probably need more help to get started and create a piece that they’re proud of.
If you’re having students write odes of their own, give them some concrete guidelines. “Achieve a lofty voice” is more difficult for students to understand and produce than “Choose words that contribute to a formal tone and highlight them.”
In my Ode Writing Lesson and Activity, I first have my students brainstorm topics. What hobbies do they enjoy? What are their favorite food, etc.?
I’m often surprised by how hard it is for my students to simply choose a topic. If you need to further scaffold this, or you want to tie odes into seasonal events or activities, you can be more specific about what students should choose. Here are a few ideas:
- Around Thanksgiving, students can write an ode to something they’re grateful for
- Students can write odes to special days of the school year like an ode to the last day of school/first day of school/first day of summer, etc.
- You can even take inspiration from lesser known holidays like students writing an ode to their favorite teacher or school subject for teacher appreciation week!
Then I have students brainstorm creative descriptions for their chosen topics. Later, when they’re writing, they can refer back to this list if they encounter writer’s block or aren’t sure what to write next.
Add as many or take away as many scaffolds as your students need.
Tip #5 for Teaching Odes to High Schoolers: Give Students Opportunities to Share Their Work
If you’re having students write their own odes, give them a space to share what they create.
My students were often shy and it was difficult to get them to volunteer their work. However, it was easier to anonymously hang up their poems around the room for students to read. Or for me to read their poems aloud for them.
Alternatively, if your school has a newspaper or publication, you can encourage students to submit their poems. You could also have students submit their work to real-world poems or poetry contests.
Give students space to share their work with others–and tell them from the beginning that they will be doing so. This will give students buy-in and just enough pressure to encourage them to take writing their poems seriously.
Teaching odes to high schoolers can be fun for both you and your students. If hunting down mentor poems and putting together slides and worksheets is something you just don’t have time for, I highly recommend checking out my Ode Writing Lesson and Activity here. It includes a lesson plan, slideshow, and digital and printable worksheets!