5 tips for Secondary English teachers to engage students with reading, analysing and writing poetry


English is a core subject across secondary schools in the UK, and poetry forms a key part of the curriculum, yet teaching it isn’t always easy.

While teaching poetry can be challenging as some secondary students don’t enjoy it, it can also be a great opportunity to showcase analytical and creative thinking.

Many English teachers will want to keep their lessons fun and engaging, while also delivering the best outcomes for their students – fortunately there are a variety of tools, resources, and other options at their disposal to help them achieve this.

Here we have some top tips for English teachers to help engage students with poetry.

1. The power of annotation

Pupils are far more likely to engage with poetry if they understand it, or can break it down into more manageable chunks.

This is where annotation comes into its own – pupils should be encouraged to note down anything they notice as they read through it, as the notes can then be used as a reference point.

From spotting patterns and repetition to other specific elements, grasping these basics then enables pupils to delve into deeper meanings of the poem.

To make things easier, pupils may wish to use multiple colours to pick out key themes or ideas, or have a specific notebook with different pages for writing key lines and ideas.

2. Make it personal

Where possible, relate lines in poetry to real life actions and experiences, as this can help pupils to see it on their terms.

Such an approach can act to trigger their emotions or memories, so pupils could be encouraged to create a poem based on elements of their own lives.

Not only does this inspire creative thinking, but it also helps to embed some of the key learning processes which underpin poetry.

3. Bring the poem to life

Hearing poetry aloud can often have a different impact than when reading it, so English teachers should ask pupils to read it as it is intended to be heard.

From an analytical point of view, this can help to pick out different elements such as the rhyming patterns, as well as many of the finer details which may not be immediately obvious.

Focusing on different parts of a poem can also help with engagement, as it might spark different interests among various pupils, as specific parts may appeal to them.

4. Showcase the range of poetry

With many different forms of poetry and a wide range of poets to study, all with their own unique styles, showcasing the variety can be a key means of engaging pupils.

Encourage pupils to express themselves using different styles of poetry, or mix up what it used to stimulate their thinking, from videos and pictures to the learning space itself.

Writing about nature, for example, could be done away from the classroom, as pupils could then be inspired by what is around them.

5. Make pupils think!

In order to develop understanding and to boost engagement, pupils should actively be encouraged to question everything they read.

One way of doing this is by talking about the main themes before looking at a poem, and then asking pupils to pick out parts which specifically relate to those themes.

Get them to question why certain words might be used or if alternatives could be better – this can then form the basis of classroom discussion and means that every pupil get involved in sharing their thoughts and ideas.

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