Physically Feeling Poetry

Understanding Mood and Rhythmic Devices

A few strategies that both middle school and high school students find interesting follow.

One idea is considering contemporary or classical wordless music that the text evokes either because of the rhythm, sound, or connotations of the words. Auditory learners really are drawn to this one.

I’d do it both ways. First, play a couple minutes from two or three different kinds of music and ask students what kinds of words could describe the mood of the music. AND why? Consider long sentences vs shorter ones.  Consider alliteration and assonance in prose, as well as poetry.
Then, we read a few poems or passage of text and talk about what songs or kinds of music or instruments the text bring to mind.

A second idea appeals especially to visual learners – What colors or images do the texts bring to mind? What words, rhythms or sounds evoke those colors?

When teaching them the names of the feet in poetry, we’d try to figure out the rhythmic pattern of their own given names. Dactylic tetrameter; anapestic pentameter; iambic trimeter: something else?

And another- marching, tapping clapping, and swaying to the music of poetry. One of our favorites has been swaying to the movement of the waves in “Sea Fever” by John Maesfield. (Be prepared. Some students have a really difficult time “feeling” the rhythm of poetry. The kinesthetic activities seem to help.)

These strategies all help to reinforce the idea that poetry is a special genre of literature that fits a definition I share with them from one of my old dictionaries:

“Poetry is literature designed to convey a vivid and imaginative sense of experience, especially by the use of condensed language chosen for its sound and suggestive power as well as for its meaning and by the use of such literary devices as structured meter, natural cadences, rhyme and metaphor.
(Houghton-Mifflin College Dictionary. 1986).

I invite you to check out other ideas for engaging young adolescents in studying and writing poetry in my book TEACHING MIDDLE SCHOOL LANGUAGE ARTS: Incorporating Twenty-first Century Literacies you’ll find on website linked here.

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