Memorizing Poems

This week, Creative Writing class has been hard at work preparing their performances of their chosen poems for Poetry Out Loud’s school competition. This is the first year my school has entered the competition so it has been an exciting learning experience for all of us. Poetry Out Loud is a national organization, and it is certainly serving as an effective way to introduce poetry to my students. Students are memorizing and performing poems by Nikki Giovanni, Rebecca Hazelton, Edgar Allan Poe, Eve Ewing, Paul Dunbar–poets spanning from the 17th century to current day.

We spent the week closely reading the poems, learning them line by line, word by word. We looked at just the vowels. Then just the consonants. We found patterns in the sounds of the poem. We picked out words to emphasize in each line. We navigated the how and why of the poem. We got to know our poem.

For example, here are the directions my colleague Mr. Seneca came up with for focusing on vowels:

  • Read out ONLY the vowels of your poem (might sound like Ah eee oooh uh eh aye…)
  • Look closely at the vowels in your poem. Do you see any patterns? Are there shifts in the pattern?
  • Check out the Scale of Vowels. Find two or three vowels that occur often and are on the LOW end of the spectrum. Underline them. 
  • Say the poem, exaggerating (really exaggerating) those vowels. Which words or ideas seem to be emphasized?
  • Now find two or three vowels that are on the HIGH end of the spectrum. Do the same thing.
  • Now look at the words or ideas that you have found in all previous exercises. Which sounds and words would you choose to emphasize in performance? Choose those and read your poem again naturally, as if you were really speaking in front of an audience.

To allow students to practice the performance aspect, I took the idea from Education Week’s article to have them stand around the room in a big circle, all facing the wall. They read their poems over and over again. To the wall. No eyeballs on them, no pressure. Then, we broke off into small groups and recited them to each other, giving positive feedback and constructive comments.

I’ve realized the value in having students memorize poems.

It’s been a powerful, competitive learning experience, and I am confident in our school’s winner. She’s going to go in blazing and crush her performance of her poems at the upcoming district competition. I’ll keep you posted!

Coming up this week – ink blot haiku and BreatheInk!



One thought on “Memorizing Poems

  1. As a person outside of the education sector I am very often amazed at the process of teaching effectively. This article and the process described has amazed me yet again.! Great job!


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