Memorize and recite poetry
Other than my first year of teaching, the 2021-2022 school year was my most challenging. Out of eleven years of teaching both middle school and high school, students were more disengaged and more disinterested in literature, writing, and school in general, than ever before. It was tough.
There’s nothing worse than trying to get a discussion going when students won’t talk… not even to each other, let alone in a whole-class conversation.
This happened so many times last year, it was disheartening.
But guess what?
I still had to keep teaching.
To do that, I had to be excited about each and every day’s lesson. Fortunately, I love my content area. It’s amazingly cool to be able to work full-time sharing awesome literature with students and helping them express themselves through writing.
But when you’re in the trenches of mid-October or, worse yet, mid-January, I know how hard it can be to stay excited, positive and optimistic in the classroom so your students can benefit from that joy.
Fortunately, I’ve come up with a few tried-and-true ways that help me stay passionate and excited about my content. I’ll be sharing these ideas over the next month as the beginning of school approaches. And yes, I think you’ll find some of them a little unusual, but they work for me and keep me interested in learning more about my content. So, without further ado, here’s my first way to reignite your passion for ELA:
Memorize and recite poetry
During the 2020-2021 school year, I began using my forty hour commute to memorize some Shakespearean sonnets. I started with Sonnet 18 (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?) and over the following year added four more (130 My mistress’ eyes, 29 When in disgrace with fortune; 55 Not marble nor the golden monuments; 116 Let me not to the marriage of true minds). I now have these five committed to memory.
To study the poems, I printed out the sonnets on paper and glued them to an index card so I could have them in my purse whenever I had some time to work on memorizing them. I also kept a screenshot of them handy on my phone.
I originally memorized the sonnets for my British Lit class and knowing a sonnet or two was helpful during our unit on the sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Edmund Spenser, and of course, Will. The sonnets eventually came in handy during my last hour poetry class, especially as my students prepared for memorizing and performing poetry for Poetry Out Loud, the annual recitation contest sponsored by the National Foundation for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.
Reading and reciting the poems has enriched my teaching and given me something authentic and exciting to share with students. Because I had memorized the sonnets so thoroughly, internalizing them even, I was better at several things, such as discerning subtle nuances of meaning, appreciating the role of rhyme, and noticing the function and resulting beauty of iambic pentameter.
As a result, I was able to pass along my more sensitive take on the poetry to my students. In short, because I understood the sonnets better, my teaching improved.
Reciting poetry is nothing new. In fact, some may think it’s old-fashioned, but think of it as a modern “verbal close reading exercise.”
I like the description in the above quote: “performance-based learning.” That’s so accurate. For me, memorization deepens my personal connection with a text. A more acute personal connection builds my content confidence and fuels my passion. In the end, students respond in a positive way to my passion and that, in turn, motivates me. That’s exciting!
Thanks for reading again this week!
Have you ever tried memorizing poetry either on your own or with your students? Recitation is a forgotten art and I believe it may have a place in classrooms today.
Leave a comment or your own idea for how you stay passionate about your content by leaving a reply below or via my Contact page.
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