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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hooked: How I suckered my kids into a poetry lesson

One of my summer reads was Teach Like a Pirate. Reading this book showed me how much I already do to engage my students, while also emphasizing the need to really contemplate ways to hook my students into a lesson. 

As I prepared to teach my first poem of the year, I found myself conceiving ways in which I could draw my students in to reading poetry without them immediately shutting down at the thought of poetry. And because we were going to use the poem for inferences, a very weak skill for my students, I knew I was really going to have to keep them as engaged as possible. 

Hook #1: As we wrapped up our informational text lesson, I casually mentioned that we were going to be reading a poem next. [Insert groans here.] Knowing that I had their attention, I told them that we don't read sappy poems in my classroom (only one girl complained). I know how to find the good stuff that is much more enjoyable. Hooked! I was getting lots of questions regarding the topic, but I said nothing more than it was a secret and they would have to wait until the next day. 

Hook #2: To introduce the lesson, I showed this picture and asked my students to complete a Quick Write: 

I let them know that we are a safe environment and that they would not have to share their thoughts verbally (although many of them did opt to share when given the opportunity). By the end of this activity, my kids were desperate to know just what kind of poem we were going to be reading. But they had to wait another day. 

Hook #3: We read "Fat Man" by Niall Janney - or so they thought. What I actually gave them was the first sixteen lines of the poem. We had great discussions about being judgmental (huge issue in the classroom this year), I made the speaker of the poem appear to be incredibly unlikable, and just as the lesson appeared to be coming to a close, I told them I had a secret to tell them: "This isn't the whole poem." I honestly did not expect the reactions to Hook #3 that I got. Anger, confusion, shock, and lots of whaddya-mean! And then I made them wait until the next day - again. 

This is the second year that I have used this poem, and not once in using it have I heard anything negative about poetry. My students were truly engaged and interacting with the poem, and I believe that using hooks throughout the lesson contributed to the overall success of the lesson. 


  1. Cool idea! I have a feeling my 9th graders will groan when we get to poetry. I may have to incorporate your hook ideas when we get there-- thanks for sharing :)

    1. You are very welcome. I am not a big fan of poetry myself, so I really have to work hard at presenting it.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing! I too will use that to intro my 9th grade poetry unit next month. Do you have any "favorite" poems you suggest I use?? I am teaching a home school group so have some flexibility - Thanks again so much for sharing!

    1. I do - and these all come from a book called Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons ( The most popular poems I have taught from this are "You Can't Write a Poem About McDonalds" and "Maybe Dats Youwr Pwoblem Too" (Spiderman with a lisp), both of which you can find online.