Keep It Simple and Relevant – Poetry with Grade 8/9s

High School


Every year as I introduce my poetry unit, the class groans, but it is my favourite. I love how in depth we can go by analyzing a piece of literature that is so short.  Once we get to the end of the first class though, at least half of them are nodding along and having ‘Oh!’ moments. The other half, I just hope will warm up eventually.


I have three pieces of advice when introducing poetry:

  • Keep figurative language short and sweet.
  • Give them a very clear math-like formula to follow when analyzing a piece.
  • Teach songs they enjoy as a form of poetry.

The list for 8/9 is pretty simple, and I always go over the terms and ask learners to add their own examples if they’d like: simile, metaphor, allusion, personification, hyperbole, imagery, rhyme scheme, alliteration, stanza, and idiom.

Once they have these down, I give them a song, as I find this to be a gentle introduction to poetry. Believe it or not, Katy Perry song lyrics incorporate a lot of figurative language! My two personal favourites to teach as poetry are Roar and Firework. Note: While I do recommend the lyrics to these songs because of the figurative language used, please use caution if you decide to search for her original music videos. Some have some very questionable content. Interestingly, Katy is one of many contemporary artists whose roots and early experience with music were in the Christian Church.

After listening to the songs, I tell students to perform a close reading of the song lyrics. They read it once. Then, they read it a second time, but aloud. They look up all words they don’t know, highlight examples of figurative language, and then finally, they put the poem into their own words.

The hope in following these steps is to engage students who don’t naturally enjoy or understand poetry, and also those who are not entirely convinced that classic literature holds weight today.

Kim Ceriko, Island Literature Studies F2F Teacher