This is a ridiculously stressful and exam focused time of year and the pressure to teach nothing but exam technique is high. But what about using poetry as a form of stress relief in celebration of National Poetry Month? I’ve always believed that students should be exposed to a range of poetry and I’m trying to avoid sacrificing the beauty of literature for 100% exam focus. Here are some ideas for using poetry in your lessons. None of them take up much time but I believe that they can help reduce exam stress for the students (and you!) whilst exposing them to the beauty of literature for National Poetry Month.
- Post a fresh poem every day
Put one on your door, on the VLE or display one the board as students enter the room. All they have to do is read it and think about it for a short time. No analysis, no exam preparation and no study of the writers’ methods. There are a range of useful website to make sure this is not an overwhelming task such as https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poems. You could even ask the students to take responsibility for finding the poems.
- Share your favourite poem with the class
Read or recite your favourite poem to your students and tell them the reasons why you love it. You could ask students to do the same, perhaps allowing the final five minutes of the final lesson of the week for this. I would suggest making the emphasis here on the enjoyment of poetry and using it as a mental break from exam preparation. It is a joy to see what they come up with. I’ve seen YouTube videos of incredible talent and had my eyes opened to new poets who are using Instagram as a method of communicating their ideas. This is a two way street and a can be a treat for you too!
- Ask other members of staff to come into your lesson
Again, they could read or recite their poem and discuss why they made the choice. It is a really powerful thing for students to see how poetry has meaning in the lives of staff members. Make sure this reaches beyond the English Department. Although this might be tricky to organise it is well worth it!
- Blackout poetry
I need to stress that this is the only reason I would ever deem acceptable for defacing a book! I would recommend a trip to a charity shop to select a book or two for this. Students can have real fun playing with language with blackout poetry. It allows creativity, taps into the colouring as a means of stress relief phenomenon and focuses them on the power of words. This can work really well as a ten minute “brain break” activity. Get yourself involved, it is very soothing!
- Play a video
This takes up very little time but can help to expose students to a variety of poets and styles. Two of my favourites are Kate Tempest and Akala:
I hope you find some of these ideas useful for celebrating National Poetry Month. Please feel free to add any of your own ideas to the comment box. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite poems about teaching poetry. A reminder to us to continue to strive to allow our students to “waterski” with poetry rather than “torture” it.
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.