The idea of Poetry 180—a poem a day for high school students—appealed to me from the start; however, as a teacher of struggling readers, I saw the original concept as a wasted opportunity. Yes, I wanted my students to come to appreciate poetry (or at least not fear it), but I also saw the potential for improving vocabulary, increasing background knowledge, and practicing reading skills through meaningful conversation about text.
So, I followed Billy Collins’s plan and shared a poem a day with my students. I did more than just share, though. We talked. We questioned. We explored. We learned. We understood. I watched my students open up to poetry, which in turn, gave them added confidence to tackle other challenging texts.
We didn’t limit our discussions to Poetry 180 poems, either. We used the same approach to tackle the classics in our lit book and any other poem I found that connected to other texts we were reading.
Sharing the impact of a poem a day with my colleagues, I found very competent English teachers who felt uncomfortable teaching poetry. Like many students, they were intimidated by hidden meanings and challenging syntax. I tried to explain that it’s OK not to know—and that kids like to see their teachers figure it out, too. Still, the teachers didn’t know where to start. To help them, I started compiling this list of questions and have been adding to it ever since!
This list contains questions from my own experiences in the classroom, culled from trainings, conferences, professional books, conversations with colleagues, and anywhere else I have encountered poetry and teaching in the last 17 years. I hope you will find it helpful as you share the joy, the pain, the wonder, and the dictionary with your students!
If you like these questions, be sure to check out my other poetry lesson inspired by Poetry 180: Stop! In the Name of Poetry