The Colorado Poet, #18, Spring 2012

Colorado Poets in High School

As a tenth grade English teacher, I am always looking for ways to get my students engaged in the materials we are studying. One of my curriculum requirements is to teach students how to properly paraphrase information obtained through research, and how to correctly cite their sources within the text of the paper as well as on their Works Cited page, according to MLA standards.

(Linda Keller)

Since poetry is one of the distinct pleasures of my life, what better way to teach these skills than through exposure to the wealth of talented poets here in our own state. I took students to our school library to explore the Colorado Poets Website. Students perused a variety of poets and when they found one that caught their attention, they selected a specific poem to analyze.

Students were directed to email their poets three questions. They were guided to introduce themselves, the nature of their assignment and pose three questions. These ranged from inquiring about sources of inspiration to the age at which the poetry writing began and to the challenges of being a poet. One student asked Rachel Kellum what she does when she doesn’t know how to finish off a poem. Rachel indicated she doesn’t give up on a poem that is challenging. She compared it to a “whispering voice trying to find out what it wants to say.”

The assignment required them to give biographical information on their poet, the reasons they selected that particular poet, and what made them choose the specific poem to analyze. They then had to identify various poetic elements used in the poem, citing quotes to back up their statements. Similes, metaphors, personification, alliteration, repetition, and the triggering of senses were on their list. Additionally, they had to discuss the structure of the stanzas and indicate whether the poem was free verse, used a rhyme scheme or whether it was a specific form such as sonnet or villanelle. Another aspect of the analysis was to discuss the surface meaning of the poem and interpret a deeper meaning.

One of the most thrilling aspects of the project was how many students visited my classroom before the school day started to excitedly show me the email responses they had received from their chosen poets. They had to incorporate material from the poets responses into the paper. Some students had numerous exchanges with their poets and were able to deepen their thought process as a result. Other students ordered books by their poets and brought them into show me.

I would like to express my gratefulness to all of the poets who took the time to respond to my students. I work with an extremely diverse population. They come from 60 different zip codes in the Denver area and their skill levels are equally varied. Several students said they are now more interested in poetry than they were before the project. Others thought it was a fun assignment and actually enjoyed completing it.