8 Outstanding Poetry Activities For High School

8 Outstanding Poetry Activities For High School homeschool
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Teaching poetry is a highlight of my homeschool. We enjoy poetry as a family each day during our Morning Time. Over the years, we’ve learned serious poems, fun poems, and even some Psalms. Poetry has enhanced our family culture, given us a shared language, and even sparked inside jokes. Poetry expands our world and promotes a sense of wonder, and is an essential part of a classical education. The homeschooling high school years are a great time to deepen your teens’ love for and understanding of poetry.

8 Outstanding Poetry Activities For High School homeschool

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The Value of High School Poetry Study

Poetry is a critical component of any high school English course. Poems teach beautiful vocabulary, elegant rhetorical devices, and deep reminders of truth. Charlotte Mason wrote in her fifth volume that, “Poetry takes first rank as a means of intellectual culture.”

Poetry takes a big idea that could be the subject of an entire essay, and distills it down to its most essential and most beautiful words. John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” addresses the limited power of death in a hundred and twenty-three words. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost touches on how the changing of the seasons points to the fall of man in the garden of Eden, and does this in a mere forty words. 

Robert Frost poetry quote from 8 Outstanding Poetry Activities For High School homeschool

Poetry also trains our high schoolers in metaphorical thinking. Understanding the subtleties of language and symbolism is imperative for thinking critically, examining a wide range of ideas, and making connections. The way a poem teaches us to think impacts teen’s overall academic, spiritual, and emotional maturity.

The essential first step is to love poetry. Learning to love poetry is a process. Mom’s enthusiasm plays a key role here. You can’t expect your teens to joyfully embrace poetry if you’re mumbling, droning on, or not even participating at all. Unapologetically displaying your own enthusiasm sets the foundation for a successful poetry study. Choose poetry that you love, and then share that love with your students. Have fun with it! 

teens and mom homeschooling in 8 Outstanding Poetry Activities For High School homeschool

Fight the urge to dissect and analyze every poem to death. If you wanted your child to love birds, you wouldn’t simply dissect birds over and over. Instead, you would look at pictures of birds, read about birds, and go birdwatching in real life. The delight is in the whole, not in the dissected bits. 

Knowing the mechanics of poetry is a valuable skill, even if it is not the primary purpose of poetry. Even so, learning the mechanics and learning to delight are not mutually exclusive. Both can go beautifully together. In fact, teens often will appreciate poems more deeply as they begin to learn the nuances of poetic construction.

Resist analysis paralysis. It’s more important to begin than to worry about selecting the best or most perfect poems! If you already have a favorite poet, begin there. If not, visit your local library and pick up an anthology. You just might discover a new literary favorite. 

Jennifer Dow classical education poetry

Don’t get bogged down with a poet you don’t enjoy. It’s ok to occasionally move on from a particular poem to another poet’s writings instead. You want poetry to be a delight, rather than a drudgery, after all. But don’t be afraid to persevere even when it’s hard. Some of the most beautiful things we learn come in the midst of the struggle.

The high school years are a time to remind our teens that they are the ones being judged by great works of literature, not the other way around. Cultivating a humble approach towards classic poetry is part of growing in wisdom.

8 Poetry Activities for High School: Everything You Need to Capture Their Attention

classical education poetry invitation to explore Jennifer Dow quote in 8 Outstanding Poetry Activities For High School homeschool

Choose Some Poems to Memorize 

My list of 100 of the Best Poems to Memorize in Morning Time can help you get started. You can even download a free printable checklist of the 100 Best Poems to help you track your progress. 

Set a reasonable goal for your semester or year. I usually select 4-6 poems for us to memorize each semester. Don’t try to memorize a dozen poems all at once – that’s a recipe for burnout! 

We use a loop schedule. On the first day, we read Poem #1. On the second day, we read Poem #2, and so forth. Once you’ve read each poem, you loop back to Poem #1. You can never fall behind with this method. You simply pick up where you had left off during the previous session. 

Knowing a poem by heart helps it to sink into your soul. The process of slowing down and repeating it builds a deeper understanding. 

homeschool conversations podcast memory work poetry memorization andrew pudewa IEW

If selecting a few poems out of a hundred feels overwhelming, take a look at the 12 Poems Every Child and Adult Should Memorize and Know by Heart instead. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to have a fruitful poetry study. 

An imperfect thing you actually do is better than the perfect thing you never start!

Remember that poetry memorization is not about drill and dull repetition. Repeating only tiny phrases at a time results in losing the elegant flow of the language, and the flow is half the point of poetry. It does not need to be word perfect either. 

The best way to memorize your selected poem is by simply reading it with your teen. Read it together once per day, and you’ll be astounded by how quickly they commit it to memory. Some teens may also enjoy copying poetry in their reading journals or illustrating poems in their art notebook. 

literary devices poetry Megan Andrews

Learn More About the Mechanics of Poetry

Learn the building blocks of poetry, literature, and metaphorical language with an introductory high school poetry curriculum like The Grammar of Poetry or The Art of Poetry. It’s not as complicated as you might think to learn key terms like meter, rhyme scheme, scansion, and more. And as your high school student develops familiarity with the art of poetry, they will further appreciate each poet’s unique skill and style.

Grammar of Poetry – Introduction from Compass Cinema & Classroom on Vimeo.

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If you prefer to study poetry mechanics on your own, start with a list of key poetry terms high schoolers should know. Work through a list of important poems from a variety of eras and styles. And include the habit of scansion for at least a few of those poems. Whether you create your own unit study or use a textbook, poetry can be a great high school elective.

megan andrews center for lit hop skip and a rhyme literary devices how to teach literature how to teach poetry to kids

Integrate Poetry with Other Subjects

I like to integrate poetry study with our current history study whenever possible. For example, if you are studying ancient civilizations, you might consider learning about the opening lines of The Iliad by Homer, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” or an excerpt from Virgil’s Aeneid. I have a resource pack with poems to go alongside a study of the Middle Ages here. And “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a perfect complement to early American history.

When poetry is integrated with history, your students are able to easily make their own connections. Knowing the broader context enriches your poetry study, and knowing beautiful words about a historical event cements the true story in your student’s mind. 

teens high school students discussing poetry 8 Outstanding Poetry Activities For High School homeschool

It’s also important to include poetry in your high school English literature class. Compare and contrast the ideas found in contemporary fiction, essays, and poems. Writing a literary analysis essay on a poem is slightly different than writing one on a novel or short story, and is an important skill to develop. My teens have enjoyed Great Books classes from Kristen Rudd and CenterforLit, all of which have incorporated poetry in the course plan and reading list.

You can even combine subjects like science and art with poetry. Blackout poetry, Ekphrastic poems, and concrete poems are just a few ways to join poetry and your fine arts lessons.

homeschool art made simple 10 tips for all ages

Poetry Free Writing 

Poetry free writing is simply allowing your student to play with words. For the purposes of the free writing exercise, mechanics are not important. It does not have to be in complete sentences or proper poetic form. The structures do not need to be perfect. Free writing is low stress. 

I have a whole video on poetry free writing available here. This can be an activity the whole family enjoys together, but it can also be a low-stress way for a reluctant teen writer to explore poetry without anxiety.

Shakespeare Monologues 

Learning about Shakespeare is a classic amongst possible poetry activities for high school students. There are three steps to a painless Shakespeare study. First, begin with reading a retelling of your chosen Shakespeare play. Our family, including the high schoolers, enjoys Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. While retellings may be written for children, you are never too old for them! Next, watch some curated clips or full theatrical versions of the play. Shakespeare designed his works to be viewed by audiences, not read in isolation. To conclude your study, memorize a few well-chosen passages or quotes from your chosen play. 

I explain this process in much more depth in my free workshop, Getting Started with Shakespeare. You can also check out my blog post, 6 Shakespeare Monologues Everyone Should Know.

Shakespeare plays in 8 Outstanding Poetry Activities For High School homeschool

But be sure to have your student read a summary of the play before he or she begins to memorize a monologue. Shakespeare monologues lose their meaning when they’re devoid of context. Understanding the broader plot line aids us in getting caught up in the story.

Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” monologue transforms an overused phrase into a piece of a deep and emotional speech. You must understand the seriousness of Henry V’s situation to fully grasp his call to arms monologue. 

Check out all my curated Shakespeare playlists on my YouTube channel!

Write a Haiku 

A haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry. When written in English, a haiku typically consists of 3 lines that follow a 5-7-5 syllable pattern. Writing a haiku is an excellent choice of activity for a reluctant writer. Haikus can be less intimidating to write due to their inherent brevity. 

Traditionally, a haiku is written about nature. However, your student could use the format to write about a topic of his or her choice.

For more information on writing a haiku, visit my blog post, Can You Haiku?

high school teens great conversation books poems in 8 Outstanding Poetry Activities For High School homeschool

Explore the Great Conversation 

As you read literature, you will discover that many authors reference one another’s work. Conversation Pieces: Poems that Talk to Other Poems walks you through several sets of poems which were written in response to each other. 

Nothing is written in a vacuum. Poets are shaped by culture, by their personal experiences, and by literature they’ve read. Conversation Pieces gives us a glimpse into that process, but the more poems you read with your teens the more connections you will find on your own! Take turns reading a poem aloud and having the listener find another poem that connects thematically.

Conversation PIeces poems that talk to other poems

Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day in Late April

Poem in Your Pocket Day will be observed next on April 29, 2024. Poem in Your Pocket Day is an initiative put on by the Academy of American Poets. Here are 30 ideas for celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day with your high school students. These could be fun homeschool high school co-op activities as well.

Be sure to check out my free Poem in Your Pocket Day printables as well!

poetry art words meaning megan andrews quote in 8 Outstanding Poetry Activities For High School homeschool

Additional Resources for Poetry Study

As you plan poetry activities for high school students, you may find the following resources helpful: 

Thank you to Laura Adams for her help in writing this post.

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