3 Poetry Activities for Middle School Students

female middle school student giving presentation
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Middle school is the perfect time to introduce students to poetry. By providing students with opportunities to explore a variety of forms, you'll give them the freedom to discover which types of poetry most resonate with them. Engaging, short lessons are an excellent way to hook your students on poetry right away. 

01
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Ekphrastic Poetry

Ekphrastic poetry allows students to use poetry to describe a work of art or landscape in vivid detail. They may be less intimidated by this type of poetry, which encourages them to write about something rather than compose poetry from their imaginations.

OBJECTIVES

  • Introduce the concept of ekphrasis.
  • Write a 10- to 15-line poem based on a work of art. 

MATERIALS

  • Paper and pencils
  • Printouts or projector to display artwork reproductions 

RESOURCES

ACTIVITY 

  1. Introduce students to the term "ekphrasis." Explain that an ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired by a work of art. 
  2. Read an example of an ekphrastic poem and display the accompanying artwork. Briefly discuss how the poem relates to the image.
    1. "" by Edward Hirsch
    2. "" by John Stone 
  3. Guide the students through a visual analysis by projecting an artwork on the board and discussing it as a group. Useful discussion questions may include:
    1. What do you see? What is happening in the artwork? 
    2. What is the setting and time period?
    3. Is there a story being told? What are the subjects in the artwork thinking or saying? What is their relationship? 
    4. What emotions does the artwork make you feel? What are your sensory reactions?
    5. How would you summarize the theme or main idea of the artwork?
  4. As a group, begin the process of turning the observations into an ekphrastic poem by circling words/phrases and using them to compose the first few lines of a poem. Encourage the students to use poetic techniques such as alliteration, metaphor, and personification.
  5. Discuss various strategies for composing an ekphrastic poem, including:
    1. Describing the experience of looking at the artwork
    2. Telling the story of what's happening in the artwork
    3. Writing from the perspective of the artist or subjects 
  6. Share a second artwork with the class and invite the students to spend five to 10 minutes writing down their thoughts about the painting. 
  7. Instruct the students to select words or phrases from their free associations and use them as the starting point for a poem. The poem need not follow any formal structure but should be between 10 and 15 lines. 
  8. Invite the students to share and discuss their poems in small groups. Afterward, reflect on the process and experience as a class. 
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Lyrics as Poetry

Make connections between poetry and songs with which your students are familiar. You may find that your students enjoy examining poetry more readily when it is presented in the form of lyrics.

OBJECTIVES

  • Identify similarities and differences between song lyrics and poetry.
  • Discuss how language can create a tone or mood.

MATERIALS

  • Speakers to play music 
  • Printouts or projector to display song lyrics

RESOURCES

ACTIVITY 

  1. Choose a song that is likely to appeal to your students. Familiar songs (e.g., current hits, famous movie-musical songs) with broad, relatable themes (belonging, change, friendship) will work best.
  2. Introduce the lesson by explaining that you're going to explore the question of whether song lyrics can be considered poetry.
  3. Invite the students to listen closely to the song as you play it for the class.
  4. Next, share the song lyrics, either by passing out a printout or projecting them on the board. Ask the students to read the lyrics aloud.
  5. Invite the students to brainstorm similarities and differences between the song lyrics and poetry.
  6. As key terms emerge (repetition, rhyme, mood, emotions), write them on the board. 
  7. When the conversation turns to theme, discuss how the songwriter conveys that theme. Ask the students to point out particular lines that support their ideas and what emotions those lines evoke. 
  8. Discuss how the emotions evoked by the lyrics connect to the rhythm or tempo of the song. 
  9. At the end of the lesson, ask the students if they believe all songwriters are poets. Encourage them to use background knowledge as well as specific evidence from the class discussion to support their points. 
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Slam Poetry Detectives

Slam poetry blends poetry with performance art. The audience of a slam poet participates in readings by scoring the performance. Encourage your students to explore this form of poetry by allowing them to identify poetic devices by watching videos of slam poetry performances.

OBJECTIVES

  • Introduce slam poetry. 
  • Reinforce knowledge of poetic devices and techniques.

MATERIALS

  • Videos of slam poetry performances (e.g., , , )
  • Projector and speakers to play videos
  • Handout with list of common poetic devices  

RESOURCES

ACTIVITY 

  1. Introduce the lesson by explaining that the activity will focus on slam poetry. Ask the students what they know about slam poetry and if they have ever participated themselves. 
  2. Provide a definition of slam poetry: short, contemporary, spoken-word poems that often describe a personal challenge or discuss an issue. 
  3. Play the first slam poetry video for the students. 
  4. Ask the students to compare the slam poem to written poetry they've read in previous lessons. What is similar? What is different? The conversation may naturally transition into the poetic devices present in the slam poem. 
  5. Pass out a handout with a list of common poetic devices (the class should already be familiar with them).
  6. Tell the students that their job is to be poetic device detectives and listen carefully for any poetic devices employed by the slam poet.
  7. Play the first slam poem video again. Each time the students hear a poetic device, they should write it down on the handout.
  8. Ask the students to share the poetic devices they detected. Discuss the role each device plays in the poem (e.g., repetition emphasizes an important point; imagery creates a certain mood).