A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...

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Level: Middle School
Time for Activity: 10 to 20 days for the "open mic" (this could span your class’ entire poetry unit, giving students an engaging activity to look forward to at the start or end of each assignment); one day to discuss the poem; two or three days for the homework assignment.
Materials Needed: Journals or notebooks; and copies of the poem created by the students in "open mic."


To involve all the students in the construction of a free verse or rhyming poem, by having each student create a line that builds on the previous student’s line - then take a section of the group poem and develop his or her own poem from it.

Action Steps:

  1. Guide your students through several of the poetry forms in Poetry through the Ages. Discuss the points raised in the exhibit, specifically the structure and technique of the forms, and as a class, choose one from which to build a group poem. Be sure that students understand the rhythm and beat of the chosen form, as well as the usage of words. Typically, free verse, lyric, or ballad are simpler to utilize in a group situation.
  2. Once a poem is selected, hand out several examples that you did not present to your class. Prior to photocopying these examples, eliminate one or two lines from each of the poems (Likewise, you can also put these examples up on an overhead projector and have your students re-write the poems in their notebooks. This re-writing process could give them the opportunity to have a closer experience with the language).
  3. Give your students 10 minutes to create lines of poetry to insert into these empty lines. These lines should follow the same rhyme scheme and rhythm present in the rest of the poem. After every student is finished, ask students to read their poems aloud, complete with their newly created lines.
  4. Next, explain to your students that the class will be doing a similar activity with their own poems.
  5. As a teacher, create an opening line for the poem. This opener should be a fun line of poetry focused on a concrete theme or image. Be sure to choose a theme that is open-ended and intellectually and emotionally accessible to your students. If you are using a form that has a structured rhyme scheme, choose an end-of-the-line word that can rhyme with several other words.
  6. Once you have this line, write it on a sheet of paper and give the line to a student. Tell this student that he or she should take the line home and create the next line of the poem for homework.
  7. At the beginning of class of the next day’s class, have that student read the two-line poem aloud. Then, take the piece of paper and give it to another student to take home. This student should write the third line of the poem. Repeat this until every student has had the opportunity to add a line to the poem. .
  8. After the last student entered his or her line into the poem, prepare photocopies of this poem to distribute to your students. Read it with them and discuss ways to edit and polish the poem, cleaning up grammar, adding or subtracting words, tightening similes and metaphors, and breaking into stanzas (unless it’s single-stanza free verse). Also, ask if any students would like to add lines to it. Serve them as a guide and editor. Let them compose every word of this poem.
  9. For a homework assignment, ask the students to take four or five lines of the poem - including the line they contributed - and write an entirely new and different poem from those lines. Don’t limit them to a particular form. This is an exercise in developing poetry from spoken word. Ask them to write the poem, read it to themselves, then read aloud in class or (if it’s especially personal) to you.