Using Pop Music to Teach Classic Poetry

Pop Music Poetry

I spent my first couple of years teaching middle school ELA in downtown Los Angles.  Those years were ripe with the creativity and energy of my own youth.  One of my fondest memories of that time was a hip hop poetry unit from authors Sitomer and Cirelli.  The unit taught poetic devices like imagery, figurative language, and hyperbole with music selections from Tupac, Run DMC, and Eminem along with poems by Frost, Hughes, and Kipling.  My young students identified with the themes and appreciated the cultural relevance of the curriculum.

Fast forward a decade. I left LA and now I am teaching American and British literature to juniors and seniors in college prep and advanced high school levels. I’ve gotten older and decidedly less energetic (gasp!) and I’ve started to lose that age connection enjoyed by many young teachers.  There are some definite advantages to the experience and maturity, but there are also some definite drawbacks in losing the connection with youth culture.

To bring back some of that connection, I recently decided to add music selections to my renaissance poetry unit for my 12th grade British literature students. For each poem, we walked through content, scansion, poetic devices, and historical context.  Then, I played a song with some relationship to the poem. We then had a discussion of the connections between the poem and the song.  I really enjoyed teaching this unit because it motivated critical thought around universal themes and it was fun to experience pop music with my students in a meaningful way.  As an added bonus, students were totally into the lectures because they were trying to guess what song I was going to play at the end.

My unit had several renaissance poems, and I’ve picked out a couple examples to share with you below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ideas and your additions in the comment section!

Poem: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29

Pop Song: Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me”

Connection: Shakespeare begins by describing the pressure he feels to succeed and concludes his sonnet with the couplet, “For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings/ That then I scorn to change my state with kings.” Bieber echoes this sentiment in the pressure of 7 billion people trying to fit in, which leads to the  chorus, “As long as you love me, we could be starving, we could be homeless, we could be broke.”

Using Pop to teach Poetry

Poem: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130

Pop Song: “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars

Connection: Shakespeare uses Sonnet 130 to criticize the cliché, idealized woman other sonnet writers croon over. He describes the real imperfections  of his love and ends by saying, “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare.” Bruno Mars begins his song with the same clichés that Shakespeare criticizes.  Shakespeare says “my mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” while Mars says “her eyes make the stars look like they’re not shining.” This leads us into a discussion about clichés used in love poems and songs.  Then we launch into the discussion of the congruities of the chorus with the main idea of the sonnet.  It is interesting to talk with students about where the feelings of inadequacy come from (partner vs self).

Poem: Sidney’s Sonnet 39

Pop Song: “I need some sleep” by The Eels

Connection: The sonnet and the song focus on the need to get some sleep as a source of peace and solace in heartbreak.

Poem: Spencer’s Sonnet 35

Pop Song: “Anyone Else But You” by The Moldy Peaches

Connection: The Spencerian sonnet claims that his eyes cannot be satisfied with anything less than beholding his love, which is reflected in this cute little ditty from the Juno soundtrack where the singers “can’t see what anyone sees in anyone else but you.”

Poem: “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe and “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” by Sir Walter Raleigh

Pop Song: “No Scrubs” by TLC

Connection: Sir Walter Raleigh famously writes the nymph’s rejection of the passionate shepherd, claiming the shepherd is full of empty, unrealistic promises.  Similarly, TLC rejects the modern “scrub” who offers things that he simply cannot deliver.

Any questions or suggestions for the teaching strategy?  I’d love to hear them!

Video Tutorial: Collaborize Classroom Online Discussion Forum

Collaborize Classroom

I’m excited today to share Collaborize Classroom, one of my favorite online resources for students and teachers. Collaborize Classroom is an online discussion board that is safe, private, and geared especially toward secondary classrooms.  I use this site to deepen classroom discussion, teach online communication skills, get my grading done faster, and ensure inclusive student participation.  It is also a great way to improve student writing and brainstorm before essay assignments.  This video blog will briefly describe setting up the site and feature my favorite parts of this system from a teacher perspective.  If you have questions, or suggestions, we’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.  Thanks!

20 Fun Poem Types You’ve Never Heard Of

Poetry Terms and 20 Poetry Ideas PinTo celebrate National Poetry Month (in April), I thought I would share some fun poetry ideas to get those creative juices flowing, along with a FREEBIE handouts Glossary of Poetic Terms and 20 Fun Poem Types! Last year at this time, I posted Thirty Poetry Project Ideas for National Poetry Month, so this year, I thought I would introduce some poetry ideas you may never have tried – or even heard of!

*NOTE:  Some of these are on the “challenging” side and have been so indicated with an asterisk. Have fun!

  1. Canzone*: a Canzone is a Medieval Italian lyric style poetry similar to a sonnet, with five or six stanzas and a shorter ending stanza. While the typical sonnet is 14 lines, a canzone can range from 7 to 20 lines.  Poetry Through The Ages at has done a great job of breaking down writing a canzone.
  2. Clerihew: a clerihew is a humorous poem about a person, usually well-known.  This could be a great way to have students write about a character in a novel or a famous person they are studying. The poem consists of two rhymed couplets.
  3. Dodoitsu: a type of Japanese song, often about love.  It consists of four unrhymed lines with 7,7,7,5 syllables.
  4. Etheree*: a ten-line poem of 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 syllables or backward, with 10 through 1 syllable. Challenging and fun!
  5. Ghazal: originating from ancient Persia, a ghazal is essentially a set of two-line poems having to do with lost or unattainable love.  The rhyme scheme is AA, BA, CA, DA, EA, and so on.
  6. Katuata: a stand-alone, three-line poem of Japanese descent. The poem is 19 syllables or fewer, usually in 5, 7, 7 syllable lines.
  7. Kyrielle: a type of French poetry with rhyming couplets, usually written in quatrains in iambic tetrameter.  For an explanation and example, check out‘s lesson in the Kyrielle.
  8. Lanturne: a five-line Japanese poem consisting of 1,2,3,4 and 1 syllable.  When written, the poem is supposed to look like a lantern!  Cute and fun!
  9. Naani: an Indian four-line poem with a total of 20-25 syllables
  10. Nonet: the term “nonet” refers to a group of nine.  A nonet poem consists of nine lines, beginning with nine syllables, then eight, then seven, and so on.
  11. Quinzaine: a three-line poem: the first line makes a statement and the next two lines ask a question relating to the statement.  The first line is 7 syllables, the second is 5, and the third is 3 syllables.
  12. Rispetto: from the Italian word “respect,” usually respect for a loved one. A rispetto is a Tuscan verse poem consisting of eight 11-syllable lines, usually following the rhyme scheme abab, ccdd.
  13. Rondeau*: think “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in rounds. A rondau (round) is a French form of poetry of 15 lines of eight or ten syllables arranged in three stanzas — the first stanza is five lines (quintet), the second four lines (quatrain), and the final stanza six lines (sestet).
  14. Rondelet*: also a French form, the challenging rondelet consists of one stanza with seven lines, the rhyme scheme consisting of A, b, A, b, b, b, A
  15. Sedoka: an unrhymed poem of two 3-line katuatas (see above) with the syllable count 5, 7, 7, – 5, 7, 7.
  16. Senryu: a senryu is also a Japanese form of poem, similar to a haiku, with 5, 7, 5 syllables.
  17. Tetracys*: The Tetractys is a poetic form consisting of at least 5 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 syllables (total of 20).  Tetractys can also be reversed and written 10, 4, 3, 2, 1.
  18. Than-Bauk: While this ancient form may sound complicated, it is actually very easy once you understand the format!  The Than Bauk (also Thanbauk) is an old Burmese form that consists of at least three lines of only four syllables per line. Explained well here.
  19. Triolet*: the triolet is an eight-line poem with a strict rhyme and pattern of repetition. The form follows ABaAabAB.
  20. Tyburn: a 6 line poem;  the first four lines must consist of 2 syllable words and the last two lines must consist of 9 syllables: 2,2,2,2,9,9 syllables.

Have fun with these; I am sure your students will enjoy them! I hope you’ll try some of these in your classes!  If you do, please be sure to share your stories.  If you have other favorites we’ve probably never heard of, please share.

Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to download (and rate, please!) the FREEBIE Glossary of Poetic Terms and 20 Fun Poem Types!

Glossary of Poetry Terms and 20 Poetry Ideas

20 FREE Writing Prompts for Spring

I’m so excited that we’re on the verge of Spring!  Such a beautiful time!  To celebrate the spring, I have added another 101 seasonal writing prompts for grades 7-10…this time, for spring.  And for you, my loyal blog readers, I have included 20 free in this post!

Here is a sampling of 20 spring writing prompts from 101 Writing Prompts for Spring:


  1. Work at Home Mom’s Week is the first week of May. Mothers all over the world have either chosen to work outside the home, work inside the home, or be a stay at home mom and not work. Which is the best choice, in your opinion? Why? Give details and examples to support your response.
  2. March is Women’s History Month. Choose an important woman from history and do a research report on her life and accomplishments.
  3. April 7th is World Health Organization Day. What is the World Health Organization and what do they do?
  4. March is Music in Our Schools Month. In many schools, music programs are being cuts as budgets dwindle. Write an argumentative paper on why music programs should not be cut from schools.
  5. Explain and respond to the following quote by Robin Williams: “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'”
  6. National Defeat Diabetes Month is April.  What is diabetes and why are there two different types?  Why is diabetes such a dangerous disease?
  7. May is ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease Month.  Who was Lou Gehrig and why does he have a disease named after him?  What is the disease and how does it manifest itself?
  8. The second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day.  Many people have a special person other than a mother that they would like to celebrate.  Create a special day for that person who is special to you.  Write about why he or she should be celebrated each year.
  9. May is National Hamburger Month.  Imagine you have invented a new hamburger…what would it have on it?  Describe your burger in detail.
  10. You are completing the Spring cleaning your mom is making you do, when you come across a box you have never seen in your basement.  You wipe off the thick layer of dust, break open the lock, and open the box.  Describe what you see when you open the box.
  11. April is Grilled Cheese Month.  Describe in step-by-step format how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.
  12. Spring is a time for rebirth and change.  What three things would you most like to change in your life?
  13. Explain and respond to the following quote by Doug Larsen: Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush. 
  14. April is National Poetry Month in the United States.  Read, analyze, and interpret Elaine Equi’s poem “National Poetry Month.”  What is the tone of the poem?  What feelings are you left with by reading this poem?  Write your own ode to poetry.
  15. The first week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week.  Write a letter to a teacher you appreciate, then send it.
  16. Some say that after a rain, a rainbow appears, and at the end of the rainbow is a pot of gold.  Pretend that you found the end of a rainbow.  Write a story about your adventure to the end of a rainbow, what you saw along the way, and what you found at the end of the rainbow.
  17. April 22 is Earth Day.  Write a poem about the earth, saving the planet, going green, endangered species, global warming, or any other topic related to the Earth.
  18. Write a 10-line ode to a chocolate bunny.
  19. Pretend you are an Easter egg about to be colored.  How would you want to yourself to be decorated to best illustrate your personality and interests?  Be descriptive.
  20. April is Alcohol Awareness Month.  Research statistics of drunk driving and the effects of alcohol.  Create a campaign informing your classmates.

You can purchase 101 Writing Prompts for Spring, as well as 101 Writing Prompts for Winter, and 101 Writing Prompts for Fall on TPT for just $5 each!  (Of course, 101 Writing Prompts for Summer is coming soon!)




20 Free Writing Prompts for Winter

Now that the holidays are officially over, we can get back into the swing of things. Need some ideas for writing prompts? I have created my 101 Writing Prompts for Winter, and thought I would help ring in the New Year with a free sneak peek! The following 20 prompts are a sampling of  the prompts from 101 Writing Prompts for Winter.

Research Prompts

World Peace Day is December 21.  What is World Peace Day and how is it celebrated?  How was it started, and why?

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is December 7.  What was Pearl Harbor and why is there a day of remembrance for it?

Research the origin of kissing under the mistletoe.  What is mistletoe?  Why has it become a symbol of winter?  Why do people kiss under it?

Research the symbols of winter, i.e. Christmas Tree, nativity scene, snowflakes, a star, mistletoe, poinsettias, etc.  What do each of these symbols represent, and why are they symbolic of winter?

Argumentative/Persuasive Prompts

You have been asked to choose a new sport for the Winter Olympics.  What sport would you choose?  Convince the committee to choose your sport.

You have been asked to write a proposal banning the manufacture and wear of ugly Christmas sweaters. Convince the powers that be that ugly Christmas sweaters should be outlawed.  Be sure to provide examples and details to support your argument.

The Boy Scouts of America was founded in February, 1910.  As a scout, young boys and young men work hard to earn badges for completing tasks and service projects.  If you received badges for the things you do, what badges would they be?  Write about a new badge that you think all boys/young men should have to earn, and why.

Descriptive/Narrative Prompts

Think about a time when you realized that not everyone had the same things as others.  Some have more money and objects, others have less.  Some people get to spend time with their families at the holidays, and others don’t.  Think about the time you realized that not everyone was in the same situation as you, and how it made you feel.

Think about the time you learned that there was no Santa Claus. When was that moment, how old were you, and how did it make you feel? Be sure to paint an image in the reader’s mind to take them on that journey of discovery with you.

The first week of December is Tolerance Week.  Describe a time where you were tolerant, or witnessed someone being either tolerant or intolerant.


Create a plan for your school on how to honor Black History Month.

Explain to someone who does not share your religious beliefs how you celebrate your religious holiday.

Families do not always get along at the holidays. Describe how family discord can be a problem at these times, and detail how to best handle these situations.

Response to Literature (Quotes, poems)

Explain and respond to the following quote by Bill Watterson: “I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.”

Explain and respond to the following Japanese Proverb: One kind word can warm three winter months.

Analyze the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.  What is the poem’s tone?  To what is winter being compared?  What is the meaning of the poem? Be sure to cite specific lines from the text to support your analysis.

Creative Writing Prompts

National Haiku Poetry Day is December 22.  Choice three of the symbols of winter and write haikus about them.

Write an “ode” to something winter-related, i.e. a snowflake, a snowman, a fireplace, a Christmas tree, presents, etc.

Write a story that begins “It wasn’t until I looked at the present that I realized what it really was…”

Create a poem about the ugliest Christmas sweater ever seen.

Thanks for stopping by!

101 Writing Prompts for Winter!

More writing prompts for grades 7-10! 101 Writing Prompts for Winter includes writing prompts for Research papers, Argumentative/Persuasive Essays, Expository Essays, Descriptive/Narrative Essays, Response to Quote/Response to Literature (Poems) prompts, and Creative Writing prompts.

Topics include Christmas, Santa Claus, Chanukah, symbols of winter, quotes about winter, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, special winter holidays and celebrations, and more!

Sample prompts:
You have been asked to write a proposal banning the manufacture and wear of ugly Christmas sweaters. Convince the powers that be that ugly Christmas sweaters should be outlawed. Be sure to provide examples and details to support your argument.

Think about the time you learned that there was no Santa Claus. When was that moment, how old were you, and how did it make you feel. Be sure to paint an image in the reader’s mind to take them on that journey of discovery with you.

Families do not always get along at the holidays. Describe how family discord can be a problem at these times, and detail how to best handle these situations.

Explain and respond to the following quote by Bill Watterson: I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.

Suggested poems for analysis (except for one, due to copyright) are also included. $5 at

Thanks for stopping by!

Characterization Thumbprint Lesson

Here is a fabulous characterization idea, based on the artwork of Darren Booth!  I saw a similar idea on Pinterest, pinned by Rebekah Lyell, who had her students create them for an “identity” unit on themselves.  I saw that, and thought, what a great idea to incorporate characterization, getting deeper into the thoughts and perspective of the character!

There are two ways to make these Characterization Thumbprints, depending on the amount of work you are willing to do!  The first way is to have students take an impression of their own thumbprint using ink–or even better–washable marker (just have them color their thumb, then take the imprint, then wash).  Be sure to have wipes on hand.  Next–be sure student’s names are on their paper–take the thumbprints to the copier and enlarge them by 800-1000% if you can.  Once you give them their enlarged thumbprints, have students recreate their thumbprint with concepts, thoughts, ideas, and facts about the character of their choice (which works well if you are working on a novel at the time).  This works really well when it is written in first-person, and even stream-of-conscious.  Encourage them to follow the movement and breaks of the thumbprint as they write.

The quicker way is to just make a copy of one thumbprint (can be yours), and display it with a projector.  Students can then follow the curves and breaks of that thumbprint when putting together their thumbprint on paper.  Obviously, it is not completely important that the thumbprint is perfect–but that the characterization is right. Again, this works really well when it is written in first-person, and even stream-of-conscious. It’s an art project and characterization activity all in one!

If you have any ideas, or you decide to use this in your own classroom, please share pics and/or stories of how it went.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thirty Poetry Project Ideas for National Poetry Month!

To celebrate National Poetry Month (April), I thought I would make this month’s blog all about poetry by sharing some fun poetry ideas to get those creative juices flowing!

Years ago, while sifting through paperwork I happened upon my old “Poem Report,” dated May 24, 1989!  While the memories of working so hard to perfect my original poetry (not to mention my handwriting, since I didn’t own a computer then) came flooding back, I was able to flip through the pages with different eyes at that time—the eyes of a new teacher.  I was blessed to have so many great teachers, and although I never could remember which teacher assigned the Poem Report, I was finally able to honor her by assigning my students their own project to explore great poetry and discover their own inner poet.

Some ideas for a Poetry Project:

1)    Have students create a bio-poem.  As you can see from this site, bio-poems also work from others’ perspectives (like a character in a book) as well.

2)    Have students create “I Am” poems.  Really great activity for the beginning of the year or semester when you have new students.

3)    Have students create an “I Do Not Understand” poem. Some great examples.

4)    Also, the same blog has some excellent Found poems (anyone teach Touching Spirit Bear?)  The same can be done for any piece of literature.

5)    Have students create an “All-Lies” poem.  This is important because in order to write lies, you must know the truth.  These can be as many lines as you decide, and are generally non-rhyming.  To help students with this, you may have them write one poem all about themselves, then switch it up on them and tell them that the real assignment is to create all lies—or non-truths—about themselves.  For example, “I do not care about my friends, my room, or my iPod.  In fact, I wish I could throw away all electronic devices forever.”

6)    Have students free-write listening to music.  Or have them rewrite the lyrics of their favorite song, changing the story, or ending, or choosing better words by using a thesaurus to see what they come up with.

7)    Have students write poems in pairs—one person writes a line, then back and forth.

8)    Have students create a group poem…passing the poem around and having each one create a new line as it moves around (like the old game of telephone).  To be sure students don’t sit long without anything to do, have them work on several poems at once.  One of the rules, however, is that each line must be new and original and cannot be repeated within the same poem or in another poem!

9)    Give students a list of 6-10 random words and have them create a poem based upon your guidelines.

10) Have each student bring a photo to school.  This can be a personal photo, or a picture from a magazine or newspaper.  Have students create a 15-line poem telling the story of the photo, or from the perspective of the person in the photo.  If the photo is of a place or thing, have students write a poem from the perspective of that place or thing.

11) Have students turn a short story, tall-tale, children’s story, etc. into a poem.

12) Have students choose an article from the newspaper and create a poem based upon the information.

13) Have students create a poem in which every line of the poem must begin with a certain letter of the alphabet, i.e. all lines begin with the letter “s.”

14) Have students create their own epitaph in limerick form (I always used this one at Halloween—the kids loved it!)

There once was a teacher, Mrs. Bowers

Who lies here pushing up flowers

Her students drove her to death

Until her last breath

And now she’s out haunting for hours

15) Have students write a eulogy in poetry form for something they value, i.e. iPod, cell phone, their room, their car, their privacy.

16) Have students create a poem from headlines in newspapers, magazines, etc.  Be sure to indicate number of lines and whether it should rhyme or not.

17) Have students create a Sestina (six-stanzas, unrhymed). Challenging and fun!

18) Have students create their own sonnets.  Be sure to give the rules!

19) Have students write either a Tanka or a Haiku.

20) Have students create an Up and Down Poem.

21) Have students create a Five Senses Poem.  First, describe an emotion by assigning it a color (sight), then tell how it smells, tastes, sounds, and feels.

22) Have students create a synonym poem.  See Colin McNaughton’s “I’m Talking Big!” which begins “I’m talking big!  I’m talking huge! I’m talking enormous, immense, tremendous!”

23) Have students create a 5-6 line tongue-twister (this can be a good exercise in alliteration as well)

24) Have students create Cinquains.  Short and sweet!

25) Have students create a Pantoum, a Malayan poem invented in the 15th Century.

26) Have students create acrostics.  I am sure they have done this for their own name at one point in their lives, so have them create an acrostic using a more challenging word, such as their favorite sport, subject in school, or—even better—a character from literature!

27) Have students create an “ode” to one of their favorite things.  This can be a tangible object, like their cell phone, or something intangible, like exhaustion or frustration.

28) Create poetry across the curriculum!  Have students create a poem about a figure or event they are studying in history or social studies, or have students create a poem using at least 10 math words or concepts.  For science, have students write a poem based on the biology of a frog or other concept they have been studying.

29) Have students research a poet and write a biography—or better yet, a poem—about the poet!

30) Have students choose a famous poem, then create a copy of the poem.  They can create a copy by imitating the style, rhythm, and rhyme of the poem.

Although in the “old days” I put my report together in a couple pieces of construction paper and a few brads, times have obviously changed.  Have students compile their poetry projects in an original blog.  Blog hosting is free and gives a perfect opportunity for students to share their work.  Or, at the very least, have one of your more tech-savvy students create a blog for sharing each class’s work.  Students can also create work on their technological skills by compiling their work in a PowerPoint presentation or on CD.

Be sure to outline the guidelines and expectations for their poems. At the very least, let them know when they can or cannot rhyme, and how many lines minimum (or maximum) the poem should have.

Other ideas:

National Poem In Your Pocket Day is April 14.  Celebrate the written word by sharing your favorite poem with friends and colleages! See for more info.

Start a Poetry Slam at your school.  Info available at Poetry Slam, Inc. at or

Other fun stuff is available at including an interactive poetry machine, poetry writing workshops, tips for reading and analyzing poetry, poetry unit plans, and more!

Links consulted/referenced: