#TeachLivingPoets Favorites for National Poetry Month

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I want to share some of my favorite #TeachLivingPoets lessons, prompts, resources, and poems. And, as I always say, I encourage you to find your own favorites — who jives the best with your community of students and with you as an educator and reader.

Favorite lessons

I love doing this lesson created by Jessica Salfia on “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye every January to kick off the year with a fresh start.

An incredibly effective poetry analysis strategy is Donna Vorreyer’s tri-color annotations. This lesson is a staple in my classroom and listening to students’ conversations always amazes me.

An oldie but a goodie — simple poster annotations — quickly tape a poem on a huge sticky sheet of paper and you have yourself a lesson for the day. Make it a friendly coemption for the best poster with some candy awards or an extra credit point to get them super motivated!

Another lesson I do every year that allows students to experience poetry analysis in a whole new way is Valerie Person’s tone bottles lesson. Some materials required, but guaranteed to be one of the best lessons you do all year.

Favorite Writing Prompts

We read a lot of poetry in my class, but we write it, too! Here are a few of my favorite prompts that are a hit year after year.

Shades of Green – this prompt helps to create a community of writers through a class-built word bank and sharing creative word pairs.

Name Poem – this prompt sneaks in research skills and uses one of my favorite poems by Idris Goodwin as a mentor text poem. Shout out to José Olivarez and YCA The Lesson for inspiring this prompt and the pre-write.

Braggadocio and Voice – this prompt created by Grover Cleveland Winfield III encourages students to brag on themselves using mentor texts of classic hip-hop songs

Favorite Resources

Co-created with Scott Bayer – the #TeachLivingPoets Living Poet Digital Library, of course! All of my favorites all in one place! Share with your students to allow them to discover their favorites on their own. Student choice for the win!

Created by Brian Hannon, the LMS Voice Curriculum Database  is a searchable collection of writing and analytical workshops that focus on poems by a diverse array of socially-engaged artists. It is searchable by four distinct categories: poet, theme, lesson focus, and “literary” tags. There are SO MANY great lessons here – analytical and creative. If you haven’t checked this fountain of poetry awesomeness out yet, you really need to.

W.W. Norton Poets on Poetry Series – Join these celebrated poets pictured below for conversations on the art and craft of poetry and its intersection with today’s world. Each event consists of a talk between the poet and Melissa Alter Smith, teacher and creator of teachlivingpoets.com, followed by a Q&A session.

I love this curation by The New York Times, especially because #TeachLivingPoets makes the list as their second resource! Ways to Read, Write, and Learn Poetry With The New York Times – 30 ideas for helping your students appreciate poetry and experiment with it themselves.

I have to start by saying that I have new favorites every year. Or even every day. And I always feel badly because I know I can’t share everyone who deserves to be on this list, which is every living poet ever. Nevertheless, these are some of the poems that I’ve had the most success with and that I continue to return to year after year.

Ode to Cheese Fries by José Olivarez (mini lesson here)

No More Elegies Today by Clint Smith

Hammond B3 Organ Cistern by Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Dear P by Victoria Chang

Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limón

Sorrow is Not My Name by Ross Gay

On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem by Matthew Olzmann

Good Bones by Maggie Smith (and I love its motion poem)

Looking for the Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco

If They Should Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

The First Time I Wore Hearing Aids by Raymond Antrobus

My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work by Tiana Clark

In the Dead of Winter We by R. A. Villanueva

Rat Ode by Elizabeth Acevedo

Portrait of the Alcoholic Floating in Space with Severed Umbilicus by Kaveh Akbar

Happy National Poetry Month! Thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, thank you for being a teacher, and thank you for all you do every day in the classroom. Please share your favorites on social media using the #TeachLivingPoets hashtag. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @melaltersmith.

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