Friday, May 1, 2015

Why I make my students memorize a poem every year...

Yesterday National Poetry Month came to a close and my 8th graders celebrated by performing a poem from memory. Given the very few days I have left with my students, I briefly toyed with the idea of not doing it this year. But every year, I am always reminded again and again why I continue to do this activity in my classroom...

...For the student whose confidence is fragile, but got up in front of the class and remembered every single line of her poem despite thinking that she wouldn't. 

...For the struggling student who despite seeing some of his classmates have to tell their teacher that they weren't ready because they hadn't studied, got up in front of the class and showed everyone how it's done.

...For some of the popular students who perhaps don't always empathize with those who struggle, to see them understand what it's like to be humbled on occasion. 

...For the student who didn't just want to perform her poem, but wanted to tell everyone about the life of the poet to help others better understand the words she was saying.

...For the student who would rather be seen as macho than smart, to watch him give a sensitive and powerful performance of a poem by Tupac Shakur.

...For the contentment of seeing students applaud and cheer for their struggling classmates.

...For the student who was filled with so much anxiety that she was full-on sobbing at lunch, but who got up in front of the entire class later in the day and performed "Still I Rise" with so much emotion and power that she made me cry.

I might have missed out on some material I had to "cover" with my students by having them perform poems instead, but I think the benefits of this experience outweigh the drawbacks. On the surface, students just memorized a poem, but as I've seen this year, and what has been reinforced to me year in and year out, is that they learn more from this experience than they realize. I know I do.


  1. I am so glad you're a teacher. A-MA-zing!

  2. This is so wonderful, Beth. My students did some slam poetry a week ago, wrote with a classmate & then performed. They were so good, even though some were scared as you shared, they did it!

  3. Excellent! Memorizing poetry can be such a powerful thing.