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Let’s be honest. None of us are Amanda Gorman. But your students should be.

Let’s be honest.

Very few of us are poets. Very few of us probably even read a lot of poetry.

That might change after this morning’s recitation by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. Her poem titled “The Hill We Climb” resonated with a variety of themes from American history.

And hope.

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

As America’s youngest inaugural poet, she provides for us a way to begin thinking about the use of poetry as a teaching strategy. I don’t think we intentionally use the power and emotion and historical connections and engagement of poetry enough as part of our instructional designs. And we should.

So . . . start with Ms. Gorman’s work and move on to some of the tools listed below:

I Am Poetry
A great way to get kids to emotionally connect with your content is by using something called an “I am” poem.

The strategy allows students to think a bit more about how a particular person might be thinking in very specific ways. So have kids explore images of immigrants on Ellis Island, read letters from Civil War soldiers, or analyze newspaper accounts of Native American water rights protectors. I was reminded of the power of the strategy several weeks ago when about 20 of us dug into images in Toni Morrison’s Remember book. There are lots of I Am poem templates online which can help you and your kids organize their thoughts. Simply Google the phrase “I am poem.” Or browse through some ideas from the Association of Middle Level Education.

Blackout Poetry
In the movie, Dead Poets Society, actor Robin Williams told his students that “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we’re members of the human race . . . what will be your verse?” Apple later used this great speech to sell iPads:

Poetry incorporates much of what we know encourages high levels of learning – emotion, stories, word pictures, connection to content. And it hits tons of our state and C3 history and literacy standards. So Williams’ Dead Poets speech resonates (even when being used to sell iPads). One idea that I’ve been sharing with teachers but never really written about before is the concept of Blackout Poetry.

Blackout Poetry is a bit hard to describe. Basically you provide students with a page of text. Kids then “blackout” – using a marker or Sharpie – all the words on the page except those words that tell the story they want to tell. It makes more sense when you see it . . . so a few examples.

Get more details about the process and suggestions for its use.

Found Poetry
One of the best ways to teach students about historical events is get them emotionally involved in the content is by stealing a strategy called Found Poetry from our language arts colleagues.

As Stephen Dunning and William Stafford explain in their book Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises, the advantage of found poems is that

you don’t start from scratch. All you have to do is find some good language and “improve” it.

These two teachers note that

poems hide in things you and others say and write. They lie buried in places where language isn’t so self-conscious as ‘real poetry’ often is. Writing found poems is about keeping your ears and eyes alert to the possibilities in ordinary language.

So what we want to do is get kids to dig into documents or textbooks or historical novels and find those things that “hide in what others say and write.” Explore more what this can look like by using an example from the Library of Congress, this one from Read Write Think, and one highlighting the book Night.

Historical novels
And don’t forget books and historical novels like Out of the Dust and May B that utilize poetry rather than prose as their story telling device.

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Speaking and Consulting page.

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