Ways to Use Poetry Outside of the ELA Classroom

Ways to Use Poetry Outside of the ELA Classroom
Whether it’s reading poems written by some of the greatest poets of all time or writing poems of their own, students spend a fair amount of time studying poetry in the ELA classroom. While the figurative language and eloquent verses found in poems may seem best-suited for ELA, their relevance extends across the curriculum. From science and math to social studies and foreign language courses, poetry can become an integral part of student learning outside of the ELA classroom.

Reading Poetry

Believe it or not, not all poetry centers around love and deep philosophical concepts. A lot of poetry has been written to explain the world around us, including mathematical and scientific concepts. Consider these lines by a famous poet:

This is now–this was erst,
Proposition the first–and Problem the first.
On a given finite Line
Which must no way incline;
To describe an equi–
–lateral Tri–
–A, N, G, L, E.

– From “A Mathematical Problem” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Throughout history, well-known poets have shared their thoughts about the world. Poetry has also been used to chronicle and commemorate many historic events. For example, many students can recite lines from “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow when asked to recall that infamous night during the American Revolution. Other references are more subtle. For example, these lines from the poem “O Captain! My Captain” by Walt Whitman were written about the death of Abraham Lincoln:

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck the Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

To find poetry to fit a specific time in history or concept in math or science, simply perform a quick internet search for poems in your subject area and you’ll come up with numerous examples. You may also check out books of poetry created to help students learn about science, math, and social studies.

Some of our favorite resources include:

Math

  1. Mathapalooza: A Collection of Poetry for Primary and Intermediate Students by Franny Vergo, a collection of poems related to basic math.
  2. Math Poetry: Linking Language and Math in a Fresh Way by Betsy Franco, a book of lesson ideas, sample poems, and math-related poetry activities for kids.
  3. Marvelous Math: A Book of Poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins, designed for students in grades 3-5.
  4. Math Talk: Mathematical Ideas in Poems for Two Voices by Theoni Pappas, a collection of poems on middle and high school math topics designed to be read by two students at once.

Science

  1. Science Verse by popular children’s author Jon Scieszka, a wealth of silly and informational poems on popular science topics.
  2. Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman, a collection of poems about insects and nature designed to be read by two people at once.
  3. Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins, questions related to science answered in poetic verse.
  4. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science by Sylvia Vardell, helps K-5 teachers incorporate Common Core science into their curriculum through the use of poetry.

Social Studies

  1. The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolff tells the story of the Titanic in verse.
  2. Harlem by Walter Dean Myers celebrates the people of Harlem in a book written in poem form.
  3. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of a girl growing up in the South, and later Brooklyn, during the Civil Rights Movement.
  4. May B by Caroline Starr Rose tells the story of a young girl living on the Kansas Frontier and the struggles she faces.
  5. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai tells the story of a girl who must flee from her home after the Fall of Saigon and shares what her new life is like in Alabama.

Writing Poetry

Writing poetry can be a way to assess students’ understanding of particular concepts, It also helps teachers  incorporate creative thinking skills into the math, science, and social studies classrooms. Students may write poems about particular concepts, people, or events related to the subject area.

Three forms of poetry that work particularly well outside of the ELA classroom are:

  1. Found poetry
  2. Concrete poetry
  3. List poetry

Found Poetry
Found Poetry involves taking lines from other sources and turning them into poetry. For example, students may turn words from the Declaration of Independence into a poem:

Life
Liberty
The Pursuit of Happiness
Truth.
All men are created equal
Truth.
Evils are sufferable.
Dissolve them.
Abolish them.
United.

Or students may take information from an article about space exploration and turn them into a poem:

What’s next?
Stepped on the moon.
Sent rover to Mars.
What’s next?
Retrieved pictures from Hubble Space Telescope.
Spent a year on the International Space Station.
What’s next?
We have laid the foundation for success.
Going farther into the solar system than ever before.
What’s next?

Concrete Poetry
Concrete poetry, also known as shape poetry, involves taking a poem and placing it into the shape of an object. Students may create poems to represent mathematical equations, specific shapes, or different areas of science. For example, a poem about photosynthesis may be written in the shape of the sun. The shape of the poem helps add additional meaning and ensure the content sticks in a student’s memory.

Consider this poem about a triangle:

3
sides
three angles
sometimes equilateral
sometimes isosceles or right

List Poetry
List poetry is simply poetry created out of a list. The list doesn’t just list items randomly. Instead, it’s a carefully thought out poem, often containing repetition, to cover a topic. A student may write a list poem about a particular concept, a person, or even an event in science or history.
For example, the following list poem might have been written during a unit on the Civil Rights Movement:

Martyrs for the Cause
George Lee
Emmett Till
Medgar Evers
Addie Mae Collins
Denise McNair
Carole Robertson
Cynthia Wesley
Jimmie Lee Jackson
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Paying Attention to the Words

Poetry is about more than rhyming a few words on the page. As you read poetry with students or have students write poems of their own, encourage them to pay attention to the words on the page. The figurative language, diction (word choice), and even the placement of the words on the page can help add deeper meaning to poems and encourage students to think critically and creatively about the content being taught.

Posted By StacyZeiger

Stacy Zeiger is a high school English teacher who also works as the manager of ELA content for HelpTeaching.com and serves as curriculum developer for My Sisters' Kids, an organization that provides peer support for grieving kids and teens. Stacy has her own line of character education curriculum which can be found at BuildingKidsCharacter.org. She lives in South Jersey with her husband, two children, and eight cats. Her oldest son has autism.

2 Responses to “Ways to Use Poetry Outside of the ELA Classroom”

  1. Caren Garrity says:

    I like this idea and will use poems in my physical science college and universty classes.

  2. Tatiana Turansky says:

    I’m afraid, one should see the drastic difference between poetry proper and just rhyming or nursery rhyming.They do stay wide apart, don’t they?

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