Student poetry blogs

Today’s #TeachLivingPoets post comes from Adrian Nester, educator extraordinaire with 17 years’ experience in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. She is passionate about equity in rural education and the power of Twitter. She currently teaches AP Literature, English 11, and Journalism. She is also a T-ball coach, Interact sponsor, and Sunday school teacher in her spare time. She enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, reading, and playing sports. Read more about Adrian’s journey on her blog The Learning Curve.

logoThe summer is an excellent time to start thinking about changes and additions to the current curriculum. Having students blog about living poets is a year-long activity that is student driven, while also providing choice and an authentic audience.

Getting Started

Choose a platform to host the student blogs. Here is a post about getting started on Edublogs. There are also great video tutorials that can help with details with set-up..

The Assignment

This original assignment was inspired by Mrs. Effie and adapted by Melissa Smith into the current Pick-a-Poet blog assignment. This model allows for student exploration into the work of  the poet of their choice, while giving them enough structure to move beyond basic summary and toward analysis. Continue reading

Tone Bottles: explore tone in poetry with this engaging hands-on activity for all grade levels!

Today’s post is by guest author Valerie A. Person. In her 25th year at Currituck County High School, Valerie teaches honors and academic English II as well as AP Literature and Composition.  She agrees passionately with Virginia Woolf’s “teaching without zest is a crime,” striving to find engaging and meaningful ways for her students to learn.

One of the tenets of AP Literature and Composition is helping students recognize, understand and explain complexity in literature.  Students often hear me instruct them to “peel that onion, baby. Peel it.” With poetry playing a prominent role on the AP exam, I’ve found myself revising my lessons for sophomores, scaffolding for them to do more work with abstraction, particularly as it features in poetry.  Get comfortable in the gray, folks. In this journey to guide students to move from the unknown to the known, I find using concrete, hands-on lessons to illustrate that gray provides tremendous benefits for students.

Exploring complexity, students track tone shifts in poetry and pull from their tone vocabulary to name the tones and justify them with textual evidence.  


Finished products. Keep reading for more info!

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Shared Success: Video Conference with a Poet

Today’s post is a collaboration by two guest authors: teacher Kelly Herrera and poet Nicole Tong. 

Kelly teaches English at Buena High School in Ventura, California and has been an English instructor for 20 years. She has a passion for helping students of all levels find their voice through writing. Outside of school, she enjoys cooking, gardening, and spending time with her family. You can follow her on Twitter at @HerreraKM1

Nicole Tong is the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Sundress Academy at Firefly Farms, and George Mason University where she received her MFA. In 2016, she served as an inaugural Writer-in-Residence at Pope-Leighey House. She is a recipient of the President’s Sabbatical from Northern Virginia Community College where she is a Professor of English. Her writing has appeared in American Book Review, CALYX, Cortland Review, Yalobusha Review, and Still: the Journal among others. Washington Writers’ Publishing House announced Nicole Tong’s debut collection How to Prove a Theory as the 2017 Jean Feldman Poetry Prize Winner. How to Prove a Theory is currently available at Politics and Prose, Scrawl Books, and on Indiebound. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @NFTong and visit her website

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Kelly’s story

When I first learned about #TeachLivingPoets, I wanted to immerse myself and my classroom in poetry. Through a grant from the Ventura Education Partnership, we purchased poetry collections from many of the authors featured on this site. I also wanted to provide a video conferencing experience with a living poet for my students, but I wasn’t sure how to make it happen.

I had many questions and apprehensions. Continue reading

Why teach living poets?

Today’s post is by guest author Angelina Murphy who teaches high school English in Los Angeles. She has her Masters in Education from University of California, Los Angeles where she focused her research on trauma-informed teaching and community of care. When she is not teaching, she also manages her blog about engaging teaching, technology, social justice, and teaching strategies at Magical Ms. Murphy.

logoWhen I was in high school, I distinctly remember reading and learning poetry–and I hated it. This may surprise my students today because I talk about poetry with such love and passion, but it wasn’t always like that. It was evident that my students typically felt similarly about poetry: it was old, it was boring, it was confusing, not relatable. And when we look at the poets that mainstream curriculum or the canon really values, it’s not surprising why. The famous Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, W.B. Yeats, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley and the other poets that dominate our textbooks are overwhelmingly white, male, straight, and for lack of a more graceful word, dead. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we shouldn’t teach these poets, I personally love teaching transcendentalism and Edgar Allan Poe, but these poets limit how we define poetry. Continue reading

Introduction to Spoken Word & Slam Poetry

Today’s post is a collaboration brought to you by guest author, Joe Paris, and me, Melissa Smith. You can follow us on Twitter @ParisBMS and @MelAlterSmith.

Joe has curated this amazing list of spoken word and slam poems to get your class started! He also wrote a post about organizing a slam at your school here.

1) What is Spoken Word?

Spoken Word is poetry intended for onstage performance, rather than exclusively designed for the page. While often associated with hip-hop culture, it also has strong ties to storytelling, modern poetry, post-modern performance, and monologue theater, as well as jazz, blues, and folk music. Continue reading

April 2019 #NCTEchat: The Power of Poetry

Happy National Poetry Month! This post was originally featrured on’s blog on April 12, 2019 and can be found here

Join us Sunday, April 21, at 8:00 p.m. ET for our April #NCTEchat on The Power of Poetry with guest host Melissa Smith (@MelAlterSmith).


Poetry is powerful. More so than all other written forms, I would argue. Poet Jericho Brown, in his Lambda Literary essay, “A New Way of Living,” explores the question, “What can a poem do?” Brown says, “A poem causes in readers an emotional reaction. It begins to work on the reader’s mind.” And he doesn’t mean counting syllables and finding metaphors; he means that poems make us think. Poems can make us look at something we see on a daily basis in a new way. He continues, “The poem is a poem because it asks us to reconsider ourselves. This change of mind leads to a change in action (or to changing inaction).”

When students first enter my class, poetry is not something they get excited about. They actually dread it. To them, it is all old, dead white guys writing about nothing that is of any relevance to them. The language is hard to understand, and the topics are distant to them.

I am not encouraging a complete omission of canonical poetry. There is a place for those poems, too, but they can’t be the ONLY poems we teach.

Let’s not close the door on the canon, but open it wider to allow the voices of today’s poets into your classroom.

Teaching living poets allows for many advantages:

  • Language that is more accessible and current
  • Subject matter that is more relevant and timely
  • Incorporation of other voices in addition to those of the canon
  • Bridges to understanding paired canonical poems
  • More potential for identification and connection
  • Ability to contact the poet and ask questions, to have personal interaction with authors
  • Video and audio recordings of poets reading their own work

Teaching modern poetry can be intimidating for even the most experienced teachers. I’ve been an English teacher for over fifteen years, and up until just a couple of years ago, I admit I was intimidated by contemporary poetry. I can’t Google analysis for poems that just came out; there are no answer keys for the poems of today. The thought of being exposed or vulnerable in front of my students initially struck fear into my teacher heart. I thought I was the one who always had to have the answer, to be the gatekeeper to the secret meaning behind the poem. It was a mental paradigm shift for me to let this type of mindset go.

Embracing the idea of discovering and exploring poems alongside my students has revolutionized my teaching.

I am no longer the dispenser of knowledge, but simply a facilitator of learning. This mentality has allowed so much more freedom to explore poetry with my students. Leaning into this new teaching style has also allowed my students to feel a sense of empowerment. Time and time again, they teach me new ways to look at a poem. It’s a collaborative effort, allowing students to feel more engaged and to have a sense of ownership of their learning.

The #TeachLivingPoets hashtag was created with the intention of building a community of educators dedicated to complicating the canon and empowering students through poetry. It provides a space to share ideas about teaching contemporary poetry—to share poets we love, poems we find impactful, and best practices to engage our students. With projects like NCTE Verse and, teachers have the ability to change our students’ perception of poetry.


The following questions will be shared during our Twitter chat, after introductions:

Q1. Why is teaching poetry important? What obstacles or fears do some teachers have when it comes to teaching poetry? #NCTEchat  

Q2. How do you use poetry in your classroom to facilitate building community? #NCTEchat

Q3. In what ways might we be able to incorporate more poetry into our weekly or monthly routines? What advice would you offer to a teacher who doesn’t teach much poetry at all? Where do they start? #NCTEchat

Q4. Share a successful strategy you’ve used for teaching the reading and understanding of poetry. Include grade level (early, middle, secondary, post-sec). #NCTEchat

Q5. Share a favorite poem (with link if possible) that has been successful in your classroom and briefly explain what you do with it and/or why your students enjoy it. #NCTEchat

Q6. What is one takeaway from tonight’s chat that you want to incorporate into your classroom? #NCTEchat


We hope to see you there! Be sure to join us by using #NCTEchat.

Never participated in a Twitter chat before? Check out this guide to help you get started.


About the host:

Melissa Smith teaches AP literature, 11th-grade American literature, and creative writing at Lake Norman Charter High School in Huntersville, NC. She is 2017 District Teacher of the Year, an NCETA Executive Board member, and a National Board Certified Teacher. She has presented at NCTIES, WVELA, NCETA, NCTE, and the AP Annual Conference, and is currently coauthoring a book on teaching poetry. Melissa is a contributing author for, the creator of the #TeachLivingPoets hashtag, and the manager and editor of She was the keynote speaker at NCETA’s 2019 spring symposium, where she shared her passions for complicating the canon, supporting teachers, and empowering students through poetry. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MelAlterSmith.

Thank you, NCTE for the opportunity to host the April chat! I am proud to be a member of NCTE and can’t wait to talk about poetry with educators from all over the world! This is going to be an awesome chat!

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Free online resource: #TeachLivingPoets virtual library

Looking to bring in more contemporary poetry into your classroom but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you have a couple favorite poems and poets, but you’re looking to add some new artists? 

Thanks to my friend and rock star educator Scott Bayer, a resource now exists that you can use both as an individual teacher to explore living poets and to share with your students to allow them the freedom to inquire on their own. 

This is what you’ll find once you’re in: 

  • 20 amazing poets (we’ll be adding more eventually)
  • Links to author websites and where to buy their books
  • Social media links to follow the artists and/or learn more about them as individuals
  • Links to poem published online that are appropriate for grades 6-12
  • Audio links to the artists reading their works
  • Personalized video messages from poets about teaching living poets

Click HERE to access the interactive library. 



Thank you for reading! Do you have a story, lesson, activity, or something else to share with Be a guest author! Email me at 

You can follow me on Twitter at @MelAlterSmith and please tweet all the awesome things you are doing in your class with the #TeachLivingPoets hashtag! 

Student Podcasts Using The Slowdown as a Mentor Text

I love The Slowdown Podcast with US Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith. Listening to it has become part of my morning rounding. If you’ve never listened before, it’s a five-minute long podcast in which Smith introduces a poem with an anecdote, personal story, historical or current event, or some explanation that eventually leads in to what the poem she is reading on that particular episode is about. Then, she reads the poem. It’s a relaxing, thought-provoking, poetic five minutes very well spent. I recommend subscribing if you haven’t already. Continue reading