High School Students + Fun Poetry Activities
If you’re an English teacher, looking for fun poetry activities for high school or middle school students, I’ve got you covered. I’m opening up my poetry toolbox and sharing some of my favorite (and most successful) poetry games and activities! Whether you’re looking for a stand-alone lesson or something more, there’s something here for everyone.
The creation of pop sonnets is one of my favorite poetry activities to use in conjunction with the reading of a Shakespearean play, but it can be used as a stand-alone lesson. The hook is that modern-day songs have been turned into Shakespearean sonnets. You can study one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and ask students to modernize it. Then, work in reverse by re-working a modern-day song as a sonnet. Or, just use this as a “hook” to help students feel more comfortable with Shakespearean language. Take a look and thank me later.
Songs as Poetry
Studying modern-day songs is a great way to teach about figurative language and poetic devices while studying poetry. Try reading the lyrics, but omitting or re-writing the metaphors and talking about the change in message/meaning. Look for examples of imperfect rhyme in one of Eminem’s cleaner songs. Study poems as paired texts. Analyze lines from a famous soundtrack. Ask students to bring in their favorite songs and discuss. So. Many. Options!
Here are 12 great songs to analyze if you aren’t sure where to start:
- “Across the Universe” by the Beatles
- “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan
- “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift
- “Chasing Pavements” by Adele
- “Infinity” by Mariah Carey
- “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes
- “Counting Stars” by One Republic
- “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons
- “Imagine” by John Lennon
- “Mad World” by Gary Jules
- “Zombie” by The Cranberries
- “Letter to Me” by Brad Paisley
Students need to know that poetry is not dead. It’s living. It’s breathing. It’s storytelling. It’s cool. In April, my classes come alive with the magic of slam poetry as students become authors and performers. They re-discover wonder and learn to let down their guard. They learn that there is intersectionality between their story and the stories of others. They are appreciated. They appreciate others. When I use this fun poetry activity for high school students, my classroom really becomes a true community.
Grab my slam poetry “mini” unit to get your students started with slam poetry!
Not sure which slam poems are school-appropriate and engaging? Here are 40 of my favorite slam poems!
Paint Chip Poetry
This poetry writing activity is FREE if you’re willing to grab some paint chips from your local hardware store, preferably ones with multiple colors in one. Or, Amazon sells an awesome paint chip poetry “game.”
- Have students use one of the color names as the title for a poem.
- Have students write poems in stanzas, using each of the color names as inspiration.
- Have students use all of the color names somewhere in a poem.
- Have students choose two contrasting colors and make a poem of contrasts.
- Have students choose two complimentary colors and make a poem.
- Have students choose a color and write an identity poem.
This is an oldie, but goodie poetry writing exercise for high school students. Copy a page or two from a whole class novel. Or better yet, choose a completely divergent text, maybe a science textbook or page from a dictionary. Students string together words on the page to form a poem, and black-out the rest of the words. If they want to go above and beyond, they can create an original illustration to accompany their blackout poem.
Book Spine Poetry
Take your students to the library (or have them browse a site like Goodreads) and challenge them to create poems from book titles. Each title becomes a line in the poem. An optional challenge: have students choose (or randomly draw) a theme, and their poem has to relate to their chosen theme. If you’re looking for some FREE templates, I’ve got you covered: Click Here! I created these templates as a quick fun poetry activity for high school sophomores after my librarian told me that having my classes pull so many books would be a pain to re-shelve.
A lot of teachers are loving my reading progressive dinner stations. Poems are short and accessible texts that always rock when used with this activity.
Here are some options for poetry stations, a fun group poetry activity:
- Choose a certain kind of poem or a certain poetic movement to explore at ALL the stations, i.e. the ghazal or Imagist poetry.
- Choose different kinds of poems or movements to explore at each station.
- Choose poems related to ONE thematic idea.
- Choose poems written by teenagers.
- Choose “famous” poems.
- Choose slam poems.
If you’re studying word choice and tone in poetry, why not have students transform a poem, switching from one tone to another? Then, have students write a reflection analyzing why they made 4-5 important changes.
This poetry activity is exactly what it sounds like. Have students choose / cut-out words from magazines to form “found” poems. Or, have students listen to a TED talk or story, writing down a certain # of words they hear. Then, ask them to use these words + ones of their own to write an original poem.
Easter Egg Poems
If ’tis the season, you might as well use those plastic easter eggs you may have lying around. Put “poetry inspiration” in each egg. At the very least, I suggest a word or phrase. If you want to go “all-in,” create a combination of the items below:
- Random household objects, i.e. a piece of string, a bead
- Newspaper/magazine clippings
- Famous first lines
- A “mentor” poem, copied and folded up
Tell students that their challenge is to write a poem inspired by these objects. Or, if you prefer, have students incorporate words / ideas from each object in their poem.
Favorite Poem Project
If you’ve never seen the site “Favorite Poem Project,” I suggest checking it out as a poetry unit resource. The site’s goal is to interview a variety of different people about their “favorite poems.” In each short video, an individual shares a personal connection to his/her poem and reads the poem out loud.
After being a fan of this site for some time, I decided to have my students make their own “favorite poem” videos. They explored, chose a poem that they liked “best,” and created videos on Flipgrid discussing their thoughts about the poem and reading it aloud. These videos were then viewed by classmates. Everyone enjoyed this a lot!
Taylor Mali, the very first slam poet I ever listened to (and still one of my favorites), has a ton of great poetry writing exercises for high school students on his site HERE. His best-selling metaphor dice are a great way to get students to think “outside the box” when it comes to poetry writing. This is a really fun poetry activity for high school students! Each new metaphor is a different poem!
Poems as Mentor Texts
Using mentor texts for writing is a powerful strategy for poetry instruction, yet one that I find myself “skipping” because there isn’t time. I have to remind myself to “make” the time because it’s important. If we’re going to spend time analyzing texts, it only makes sense to have students try to use those writing moves in their own writing. After all, students should be writing frequently, and not always for an assessment grade.
Here are 12 great mentor poems if you’re not sure where to start:
- “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks
- “Montauk” by Sarah Kay
- “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams
- “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes
- “My Father’s Hats” by Mark Irwin
- “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg
- “Entrance” by Dana Gioia
- “My Father is an Oyster” by Clint Smith
- “If” by Rudyard Kipling
- “Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market” by Pablo Neruda
- “The Bean Eaters” by Gwendolyn Brooks
- “The Summer I Was Sixteen” by Geraldine Connolly
- “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon (As a bonus, students can submit their poems to the “I am From” project.) p.s. If you’re looking for ready-to-use templates, here you go!
A fun activity to fill extra class time, or just for fun: magnetic poetry. Give each student (or pairs of students) a handful of magnetic poetry pieces. See what they come up with. Take pictures and display around the room.
Interactive Poetry Bulletin Board
Sort of like magnetic poetry, but with a twist, it’s fun to set-up an interactive bulletin board as a fun poetry activity for high school students to try before or after class. You can do this in several different ways.
- Poem of the day + a “feel-o-meter” for students to rate the poem on a scale from “mild sauce” to “hot sauce.” You can have students use push pins to vote.
- Large scale magnetic poetry + a bulletin board becomes “push pin poetry.” You choose the words. Students move them around to form poems.
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