Sunday, April 3, 2011

Writing Poetry From the Inside Out

What month could be more perfect than April for celebrating poetry? There’s something about the warmer weather, emerging new life, and rain-washed world that invites one to wander outside and find a quiet place to write. I can’t remember how or when I first learned to write poetry, but from that moment on, I found it to be a perfect way to express my feelings. I love the way a poem can capture emotions on paper, becoming powerful word-snapshots of everyday life.  Poetry helped me as a teen to deal with my struggles and disappointments, as well as to celebrate my successes and accomplishments. From the trauma of moving to another state in ninth grade to the excitement of my first prom, poetry helped me capture it all on paper.  Later, poetry enabled me to appreciate the beauty and majesty of the Earth, helping to put both my problems and my accomplishments into perspective. 

As a teacher, I quickly discovered how easy it was to teach children and teens to write powerful poetry. Some of my best student poets have been those who previously hated writing! In fact, students with learning disabilities often outshine their peers in this area. They love the freedom to write anything and break all the rules, and after I get them started with a few examples, their words just seem to flow. What they write is almost magical. 

Teaching poetry comes easily to me because I’ve been writing poetry since childhood. But I also realize that others may not be as comfortable with this subject. Last week, in honor of Poetry Month, I decided to write out my strategies for teaching poetry to students. As I worked through the lessons, I created graphic organizers and examples to make the whole process really easy to implement. The result was a 26-page mini pack called Writing Powerful Poetry: Using Imagery to Unlock Creativity. You can find this resource and others on the Poetry Page of my Teaching Resources website. On this page you’ll find links to poetry websites, two multimedia poetry project ideas, and information about great books for teaching poetry. 

If you’ve never taught your students to write free-verse poetry, you’re in for a treat. You’ll be amazed at how powerful their writing can be. Just a few days ago, Merideth Fisher wrote to me that she’s been using similar strategies with her students. In her own words, “By encouraging my students to write from “the inside out" rather from the "outside in," the kids' writing has been AMAZING!!! I'll never go back to teaching formulated poetry again.  I've literally been reduced to tears when hearing some of the children's heart-felt writing.” I agree, Merideth. I couldn’t have said it better myself!


  1. Laura, I too love poetry. My favourite ones to teach are:Cinquain, Haiku and Limericks(usually around St. Pat's Day). I love your 'Colour' Poem idea in the April Activity Pack. I really appreciated the step by step egs. too:)

  2. Thanks! Teaching poetry creates a special bond between teachers and kids.

  3. If you are teaching free verse, check out the poems and photographs that inspired them at Thalia Chaltas's blog:
    Chaltas is a Young Adult author who writes novels in verse.

    Photographs gives the mind a focal point which will trigger thoughts. Often a student's first thought or comment is, "But I don't know what to write about."

    Think of how an image on Facebook reminds you of something totally different than the person who posted it. Today I saw a posting of a large teddy bear dressed in a Red Sox cap and shirt. It immediately called to mind my very first Red Sox game with all the sounds and smells that come a game in a stadium.

    By the way, Thalia Chaltas has been writing poems since she was a child, too! I know, because I am her proud sister.

  4. Laura Candler has indeed been writing poetry since childhood, as have I. We've been best friends since third grade. At times we sat and wrote our own poems sitting together outside in the sun or in her bed. We shared much of my poetry. I still have mine. I'll bet Laura does, too!

  5. I think Poetry is so much fun to teach as well and it really gets them to think out of the box. It also gets them away from testing mode!!

  6. If you have boys who are afraid that poetry is girly and need a gentle push, go to
    another of Epiphany's Voice by Thalia Chaltas. Show the boys (and girls) the poem by a male voice, Daco, "Celebrat'n d New Year" inspired by a photo of paper cups of ketchup! Chaltas has the gift to write in many voices, male and female, young to older--most are teens.

  7. Dear Laura
    I came across your blog - and surprisingly it's similar to my class blog! I have used some of your free material during a workshop at the Writing Invitational Institute In Malta. Thanks so much for sharing - your material was liked a lot and found to be very useful!!