Studying poetry with high schoolers can be really fun. There are so many different forms of poetry — yes, including pop songs! — and writing poems is an incredible creative outlet for teenagers.
Here’s a rundown of fun poetry games and activities, which can work for standalone high school lessons or as warm-ups to a writing assignment.
If you’re teaching a unit on Shakespeare, this activity will be an absolute hit with your students.
Assign them a sonnet written by the Bard, and ask them to transform it into a modern pop song. It’ll get them thinking hard about the language and writing style he uses. Once they’re comfortable with it, they could even Shakespear-ize their favorite pop hits.
There’s a blog with loads of examples if you want to go through the process with your students. Remember, much of Shakespeare’s work is written in iambic pentameter — perhaps use these worksheets to introduce your students to this concept, before moving onto the pop sonnets.
Freewriting is a fantastic way to free up headspace and get the creative juices flowing. Give high schoolers a small notebook to serve as their poetry journal — a book that’s only for them, which you will never look at.
Without fear of criticism or judgment, they’ll be much more likely to find their voice. You can give them poetry journal prompts and let their imagination run wild. Allocate a 15-minute ‘free writing’ block before or after your lesson, and see how they develop!
Sometimes kids might see poetry as lame or outdated, so it’s up to you to show them all the exciting modern forms that poetry can take.
Slam poetry might be one of the best for self-expression: there are no rules or formats for slam poets to follow. It has an element of performance and theatrics and is a way to share a personal story they might otherwise be uncomfortable talking about.
Watch some slam performances on YouTube, then ask students to write their own. Some of the best examples use language techniques like alliteration, rhyme, repetition, anaphora, or similes to help give the story depth. Check out our library of worksheets on various literary devices if you or your students need a refresher.
This activity is a classic and a great way to get creativity flowing before a class.
Give your students photocopied pages of a book or textbook, and ask them to find a poem within the words already printed on the page. They blackout the rest of the words with markers, leaving only their “poem” visible. Get students to first read the page, making note of any words that stand out or speak to a theme they’re interested in. Then they can start blacking out words.
And, FYI, the New York Times has an online blackout poetry tool if you can’t access old books or a photocopier.
Literary analysis can be much more enjoyable if the student actually likes the text to begin with. So don’t forget that most modern songs are a form of poetry.
Songs by artists like Adele, Taylor Swift, and Eminem (he has a few clean, age-appropriate songs!) are full of metaphors and clever writing. Ask them to read through the lyrics and identify language techniques and poetic devices. It’s a great way for students to see these techniques in practice, before writing their own. This figurative language worksheet bundle has an extensive list of literary devices to keep an eye out for.
Once again, this activity takes something teenagers are comfortable with and turns it into a poetry medium. Instead of taking out their notebooks, ask students to get into pairs and use their phones to make a poem together. (If you’re homeschooling, you can do it one-on-one with your student.)
Ask them to send poetic couplets back and forth, and to make it sound like a conversation. Before they start, choose a specific technique you’d like them to highlight in their work — a theme, a grammar concept like alliteration, or Shakespearean metaphors.
Some days, it might be hard for students to get motivated or inspired. But creative springboards are a good way to get around writers’ block.
Gather a collection of pictures — from magazines, old photo archives, or famous paintings — and ask them to select one and write a poem about it. Take it a step further and find a kids’ picture book. Cover up the words and photocopy the pages, then ask your students to write a long poem or multiple couplets to tell the story they see in front of them.
Some rhyming games may feel a little childish for high school students, but it’s a good way to get their minds sharp and switched-on before a lesson. We’ve got rhyming worksheets for younger students, with games you can adapt to a high school class. Sit in a circle and choose a word — everyone must take turns coming up with a rhyme but if they repeat a word or take too long, the game is over. It’s just a fun little way to start off the class.
Your students probably know that tweets are limited to 240 characters — which is not a lot! But why not impose this limit on their poems, and get them to create some micro-poetry.
They’ll have to get really creative with their language in order to convey the right tone in less than 240 characters. They can check out the hashtags #micropoetry and #poetweet for inspiration.
Remember that poetry isn’t something that comes easy to everyone. You may encounter some stumbling blocks when teaching it to high school students, but hopefully these poetry activities will make it seem less like a chore and more like a fun way to express themselves.
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