Teaching poetry. Book page
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Teaching poetry to teenagers

By Joyanne James. Fifteen minutes have passed and these young men are still arguing over who is the best footballer in the world. For every positive point that Lionel Messi gets, Christiano Renaldo gets two. The atmosphere is heated with debate as these passionate students show enthusiasm to convince their opponents and probably me how capable they are at arguing a point very successfully. Little do they know that I am setting the pace for a subject that would make them stay away from class if I had told them before that I would be teaching poetry today. – Teaching poetry

Eight pumped up teenagers around a table all excited and ready for the next topic. I present them each with a copy of the poem “Flowers” by Dennis Craig. They are already in a competitive mode so I tell them to grab their pencils and find as many literary devices as they can on their own before we read the poem aloud.

Oh my, look at those sad lost faces! It seems as though some of these guys forgot what are literary devices. I will allow the strong ones to finish the first stanza so the “forgetful” students can feel a little pressure.

Okay, that’s enough torture for them. Once again, I will use half of the lesson planned for today to do revision. I will recap the same lesson on literary devices that I created for students who do not revise the work that was done before. It helps them to successfully complete the topic planned for the day. Plus, they just love the “bowl game”.

The Bowl Game for teaching poetry

I printed about 100 examples of literary devices on sheets of paper, cut each one into a square, and folded and mixed them up into a bowl. The students form teams when there is an even number of classmates or play as singles if the total of students is odd. The first player pulls from the bowl, reads the example out loud, and must name and spell the literary device for 20 points, half for naming and half for spelling.

For two-player teams, a player may consult his partner but the points are deducted by half automatically. The examples in the bowl are either a simile, metaphor, allusion, analogy, personification, anthropomorphism, irony, sarcasm, oxymoron, paradox, pun, onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, hyperbole, rhyme, imagery, satire, or rhetorical question.

The game is played for 10 rounds. The atmosphere is louder than the football debate as members contemplate risking the chance of gaining zero points for answering the question wrongly on their own, or settling for half the points by consulting their partners.

At the end, they are excited to identify the literary devices in the poem and I get my lesson back on track. When I read the poem out loud, everybody wants to shout out the literary devices they found in each stanza, now that they know.

What is the significance of the literary devices?

And what is the significance of this literary device? I ask. Oh my, look at those sad faces again! Well I see the stronger students are explaining themselves properly and finally getting the chance to show off. Plus, they have the full attention of the weaker students seeing that they had so much fun working together just a few minutes ago.

Now everyone has an input as they interpret the poem. They are talking about the “green thing” that grew out of the “city slums” and the “perfume and bright petals” in the park being a symbol of hope for the people living in the poor community.

Look at my students going on about the first half of the poem being dark and gloomy with disgusting terms which they see as a contrast to the second half of the poem that portrays beauty with the flowers in the park growing in the midst of all the ugly. Since these teenagers are actually discussing an entire poem, I think my work here is done!

February 2016 – Issue 20    www.sweettntmagazine.com

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