Lesson Plans for Introducing Poetry

Bring poems into the classroom with these lesson plans, which are especially suited to introducing students to poetry and helping them become engaged and thoughtful readers.

lesson plan

Word Karaoke

The following lesson plan was written by Matthue Roth for Don't Forget to Write: for the Secondary Grades (Jossey-Bass, 2011), a collection of lesson plans compiled by 826 National, a network of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping students, ages six through eighteen, with expository and creative writing, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. This lesson plan is intended for one session of two hours.


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Poems About Poetry

These lessons focus on poems about poetry itself:

Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish
so you want to be a writer by Charles Bukowski
Poetry by Marianne Moore

What is poetry? Why is it important? The poets included in these lessons address these questions, as only they can, from their experience as poets. As you might suspect, Archibald MacLeish, Charles Bukowski, and Marianne Moore have different takes on the subject. We ask your students to learn from what these poets have written, debate the various perspectives, and create their own personal definitions. As a possible culminating activity, we ask students to write an Op Ed piece defending why they think poetry is important—whether they "dislike it," like Marianne Moore, or not!

Aligned with the Common Core Standards, these lessons address the three Literacy areas—Reading, Writing, and Speaking and Listening. They can be used at the beginning of a poetry unit, in a unit on persuasive writing, or in any other way conjured by your own imagination. To make sure you reach diverse learners, feel free to adapt any or all parts of these lessons to your students’ learning styles.

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Songs My Teacher Taught Me

Songs My Teacher Taught Me, created by teaching fellow Anthony Consiglio, is a series of three lesson plans intended to guide students through approximately one month of poetry study. This unit involves minimal technology requirements but extends across a wide range of poetry. Of the eighteen poets included; eight are women, six are African American; two are nineteenth-century poets and the three lesson plans are thematically broken into "What Is Poetry?" "Poems of Childhood," and "Self and Society." Each of the three lesson plans includes a short reading list, a brief introduction setting tone and theme, a series of analytical questions, two creative activities, and at least one writing assignment. As Consiglio notes in his Teaching Guide, the lessons can be presented in many different ways and are applicable to a wide variety of classrooms and students.

Unit Length: 20 Class Periods


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Noticing Poetry

This unit begins with an activity to model the “I notice” method with Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”. For the second activity, teachers should select contemporary poems that allow for a variety of the four levels of Poetry to be thoroughly noticed. Attached is a student sample Poem Level Meter for “Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon, and three other poems from the Academy of American Poets are suggested. However, any poem from the Academy of American Poets website could be used effectively to teach this reading method.


Praise Song for the Day

A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues. 

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum, 
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, 

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, 
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.


Elizabeth Alexander
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Incredible Bridges: “Praise Song for the Day” by Elizabeth Alexander

National Endowment for the Humanities Logo
This lesson plan is part of the series "Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community," a project developed by the Academy of American Poets in partnership with EDSITEment, the educational website of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), during the NEH’s 50th anniversary year-long celebration.

Funded by the NEH, “Incredible Bridges” responds to the NEH's initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role of the humanities in public life.

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Smell This Story, Taste This Poem

The following lesson plan was written by Gabriela Pereira for Don't Forget to Write: for the Elementary Grades (Jossey-Bass, 2011), a collection of lesson plans compiled by 826 National, a network of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping students, ages six through eighteen, with expository and creative writing, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. This lesson plan is intended for five sessions of ninety minutes.


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Committed to Memory

In 1995, the Academy commissioned poet John Hollander to assemble a poetry anthology that emphasized the pleasure of memorization and recitation. The result was Committed to Memory, published by Books & Co./Turtle Point, in conjunction with the Academy of American Poets. Edited by poet John Hollander with an advisory committee including Eavan Boland, Thom Gunn, Rachel Hadas, Michael Harper, Anthony Hecht, Maxine Kumin, J. D. McClatchy, Robert Pinsky, Mona Van Duyn, Rosanna Warren, and Richard Wilbur, this group of classic, celebrated poems serve to emphasize the pleasure of memorization and recitation.