Nine poetry ideas for high school

Get creative with these nine poetry lesson ideas

Need a new poetry idea? If there’s one thing poetry can give you it’s this: variety in your ELA lessons. Read this post to learn how to add more variety to your classroom with these nine poetry ideas that I’ve pulled straight from my lesson plans for my new poetry class.

For background, I’m teaching a new poetry class this year. The class meets during seventh hour (the last period of the day) and is open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores with approval. When students enrolled for their classes last spring during arena scheduling, I hoped to have half a dozen students sign up. I was wrong. EIGHTEEN students visited my table and got their name on the roll. Wow! What a great thing!

And so far, this class is my absolute favorite one of the day.

I have an unabashedly creative group of students who, for the most part, truly appreciate the beauty of words and have a penchant for enjoying the challenge of a new poetic form each week.

Below, I’ve listed the various poems this awesome group has written so far this fall. Perhaps one or more of these will be new to you and might give you some ideas for your own class.


Side note: I plan to publish longer posts on some, if not all, of these individual poem projects. Follow my blog or become a subscriber at the bottom of this page to catch those posts.


But for now, I hope the ideas below will inspire you to try these within your own larger poetry unit, or simply as a refreshing creative writing activity.

Nine poems for your ELA classroom

  1. Something You Should Know
    • This poem is one you must try. It’s inspired by a poem written by award-winning poet, essayist, and journalist (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and more) Clint Smith. With this poem, Smith takes a concrete topic (a hermit crab) and transforms it into a discussion on an abstract idea (our personal vulnerabilities and how we deal with them). You will be AMAZED with the poems your students will write with this Clint Smith classic. Go here on American Poetry Review to read the poem now.
  2. List Poems
  3. Silence Poems
    • Students wrote on a simple theme: silence. That was it. It was broad enough but also gave a direction for students to travel in verse. I love providing a general idea to a group of students and seeing how they each have a unique response to it. This poem idea was number 24 (Sound of Silence) on this page on ThinkWritten.com.
  4. Cinquains
  5. Cold Water
    • This was simply another poem on a given theme: cold water. Not warm, not hot, but cold. Again, interesting results abounded all around. Thanks to idea number 9 from this page on ThinkWritten.com.
  6. Odes
    • Think of these as tribute poems to something unexpected. Great fun! Yes, we talked about formal structures such as Platonic and Horatian odes, but we wrapped up with contemporary odes, which can be free verse, unrhymed, and primarily celebrate the unexpected. Here are the mentors we used to get familiar with contemporary odes: Lucille Clifton’s “homage to my hips” (we watched this video of Clifton reading it) and Kevin Young’s “Ode to the Midwest.”
  7. Villanelles
    • Villanelles were our second foray into a strict structure. My students gave villanelles the ol’ college try, but also felt a little too constrained. Adhering to the strict form definitely hindered creative expression. I passed out two mentors (Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night) and and asked students to figure out the form and structure on their own or with a partner. We also noticed and graphed out the rhyme scheme with this one. I also provided a villanelle guide sheet to help them imitate the structure more readily.
  8. Metaphor Poems
    • With the help of Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice, we created verses built around incredible metaphors provided to us with the roll of the die. Since the dice determined our metaphors, I decided to not place any additional requirements on their metaphor poems beyond that they needed to be at least eight lines in length.
  9. Animal Poems
    • This Poetry Daily email featuring this poem by Peter Filkins inspired this easy poem idea: write a poem about an animal (see what I mean by simple?!). Filkins’ poem did have some new vocabulary to learn (panzer) and we marveled at its use of metaphor and alliteration. My students decided that we should write at least ten lines for this poem and I asked them to include at least one use of alliteration. I found a couple more mentors: Woodchucks by Maxine Kumin and The Crocodile by Lewis Carroll.
Photo: Collin Yung

Try any or all of these poem ideas, and you’ll see students connect better with all things ELA if you do. According to Andrew Simmons in “Why Teaching Poetry is So Important” in The Atlantic, “…poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text.” In my experience, poetry shows students that they can write and think creatively and in fresh, spontaneous ways. That’s so important.

I would also venture to say that the benefits of poetry are best seen when students write more than one or two poems per school year. They need to write several, if not many! Enter poems or poetry as a keyword in the search bar below to find even more poetry ideas from my blog. Have a great week!

Search my website for more ideas!

Need another poetry idea?

Enter your email below and I’ll send you this PDF file that will teach your students to write Treasured Object Poems, one of my favorite poem activities. I know your students will enjoy it!

Image shows readers the paper I'll send for signing up for my email list. The handout gives instructions for a Treasured Object poem.
Treasured Object Poems

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Yet one more poetry idea!


ELA Brave and True | Love teaching. Make it memorable.

Feature photo credit: Alex Perez on Unsplash

Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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