Classroom Strategies
Part 1 of Student Poetry Project

Hosting a Schoolwide Poetry Project

Honoring student experience through poetry

The stars aligned in April 2021 at Greene Hills School. My position as a Literacy Instructional Support Teacher allowed me to be a part of this spectacular event.

April is National Poetry Month, and I felt it was important to recognize this literary form in our middle school. Luckily, administration, classroom teachers, and students were all in support of taking on this task.

We needed a focus for the project. In my search, I came across the “Where I’m From” theme. One of the focal points at our school for the past few years has been the social-emotional well-being of our community. The theme of the project provided a platform from which we could address these social-emotional needs and strengthen their writing skills at the same time. Students were offered the opportunity to look within, reflect on their personal experiences, and share their ideas if they chose to do so. They also learned about a type of writing that is often not included in the mainstream curriculum. The adults were excited and looking forward to allowing the students to write in a creative vein.

The lesson offered the kids some background on the project, and they were given several samples of “Where I’m From” poems written by students throughout the country. The intent was to give students creative freedom to express themselves. We created a pre-writing organizer so students could choose from a variety of perspectives. The organizer prompts included items such as: places in your home and neighborhood, where you keep your memories, and tastes from your childhood. The organizer gave the students time to reflect on their own lives and provided them with a starting point for their writing.

A common question from students was, “Does my poem have to rhyme?” This question (and our ability to free students from the stereotypical poetic structure through our response) illustrated the power of allowing students to explore their creative intellect. Our habits and ‘go to’ actions are often dictated by what our programs have ‘taught’ us, so, from my perspective, this project empowered students and permitted them to have their voices heard in a more authentic way. The focus wasn’t on following rules or mirroring models, but on conveying unique ideas.

The students were then given as much time as they needed to create their poem. There were many questions, some trepidation, a little pushback from a few students, but we had close to 100% participation. Many students needed support in getting a jump start with their ideas. We would look at the organizer and ask questions about the responses they included in the brainstorming, which gave students a place to begin. There was some discomfort for a few students in writing about themselves. One student stated that she didn’t want to do the project because she is not a good writer. After a conversation with her, it became clear that she really did not want to write about herself. Her body language suggested that it was a sensitive topic so we did not push her to complete the project. 

Words used to describe these poems included: poignant, impressive, emotional, stimulating, touching, gripping. The poems blew us away!!!!! We knew that we couldn’t just let these pieces of writing lie dormant. At that point, Poetry Night was born. We sent a survey to all middle schoolers asking who would like to be a part of this event. The student could choose to read their own poem, to have an adult read it (with their name shared or not shared), or to not participate at all. We ended up with about 40 entries. While several students chose to read their own poem, most preferred to have an adult read their entry. Families and staff were invited. A sixth- grade-student designed the slideshow from which we worked. Several teachers volunteered to read poems, and it was a magical evening. It was most definitely the highlight of my school year!!

I invite you to enjoy a sampling of the student poems in the post connected to this series and to host your own poetry project at your school.

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About the Author: My name is Kate Scanlon. I have been an educator in Bristol, CT for 28 years. Most of my tenure has been as a Special Educator at the middle school and high school levels. I am presently a Literacy Support Instructor at a Greene Hills School which is a K-8 school. I work with the middle school students and teachers in supporting the literacy needs of the population. My priority is making literacy accessible to all students. When I am not teaching, I love to be outdoors and spend time with my family.