National Writing Project

National Poetry Month and the National Writing Project

Date: March 15, 2011

Summary: The National Writing Project offers an impressive array of resources to help teachers and students celebrate National Poetry Month, an annual 30-day event that celebrates and promotes the achievement of American poets.


Charles Baudelaire once wrote, "Any healthy man can go without food for two days—but not without poetry." If he's right, April will be a very healthy time for those of us who choose to partake of the delicacies offered up by National Poetry Month .

Conceived in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, the annual 30-day event celebrates and promotes the achievement of American poets.

A profusion of celebratory events will be held in every state, including readings by the famous and not so famous as they bring the pleasures of poetry to the public square (for an event near you, see the National Poetry Calendar). Poems, the Academy hopes, will be everywhere. Those who send a request to will be gifted with a daily poem in their email box.

A significant part of the celebration will be Poem in Your Pocket Day , April 14, in which participants will carry with them a favorite poem to read to colleagues and at public gatherings.

The Academy of American Poets offers a number of classroom suggestions in its Tips for Teachers section—everything from beginning each class with a poem by a different poet to giving students a list of words and asking them to create a poem using those words. Gail Desler, technology liaison with the Area 3 Writing Project, has also blogged about how to ignite National Poetry month in the classroom .

Teachers are encouraged to post a favorite poem in the faculty lounge or organizae a poetry contest for teachers and administrators to be judged by students. In other words, it's a time for teachers, students, and everyone else to get a little crazy over poetry.

Over its 35-year history, NWP has collected its own impressive array of resources from teachers who have shared their strategies for sucessfully teaching the reading and writing of poetry. Here is a selection of their contributions.

Spotlight on Poetry Programs for Teachers

Poetry has been an important source of learning for the students of NWP teachers, who have participated in a variety of programs such as the ones below.

The Dream Flag Project Spreads Hope Through Poetry

Students find a way to share their dreams with the world by studying a unique blend of Langston Hughes's poetry and Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags. More ›

River of Words

Teacher-consultant Connie McDonald knew the River of Words poetry contest was one that her students—familiar with coulees, bayous, and rivers—should get involved in. Now NWP of Acadiana students regularly win awards. More ›

Poetry Out Loud

Poetry Out Loud, a program that encourages students to learn about poetry through memorization and performance, holds a competition that has inspired NWP teachers and their students. More ›

LSU Writing Project teams with WordPlay
Baton Rouge student Thomas Hinyard "spits"
his new work at a poetry slam.
The Baton Rouge Spoken Word Poetry Slam

In a cooperative venture, LSU Writing Project and the Baton Rouge nonprofit organization WordPlay engage students in writing by bringing spoken word poets into the schools to model and spread their art. More ›

The Rural Sites Network’s Rural Voices Radio

Rural Voices Radio is the first spoken-word production of the National Writing Project. The thirteen-part series features original writings by students and teachers from diverse rural regions throughout the United States. More ›

Calling America

This new audio series by the team that produced Rural Voices Radio features short segments of writing by authors, young and old, from across the nation. More ›

The Rural Poetry of Place Project

The Rural Sites Network collaborated with the Rural School and Community Trust to create the Rural Poetry of Place project. Eight sites were awarded grants to support the teaching and celebration of place-based poetry. More ›

Reading Poetry

Viewing a Poem as Argument: Helping Students Understand Contemporary Poetry

When her high school honors students were put off by contemporary poetry, Sara Bauer found a way to engage them: have them analyze the poem as an argument. More ›

Poetry for Left-Brainers

Self-proclaimed left-brainer Judy Willis had always avoided poetry. Then, particpating in an NWP summer institute, she experienced a model for interpreting a difficult text, and learned not only to interpret poetry, but to appreciate its value.  More ›

Writing About Poetry

The Facts and Nothing but the Facts: Using Objective Writing in the Teaching of Poetry

Richard Gillan demonstrates how close attention to the details of a poem can lead a writer to a more perceptive analysis of the text. More ›

Imagery: Thinking with the Mind’s Eye

Peggy Riley identifies a crucial element of reading and writing poetry: seeing in the mind’s eye, connecting abstract ideas and sensory images. More ›

Creating a Poem

Place-Based Poetry, One Step at a Time

Ann Gardner’s student, who had never seen a free-form poem, writes successfully in this style when he is exposed to free-form poetry and led through a revision one step at a time. More ›

Uncovering Truths Beneath a Found Poem

John Hundley gives a step-by-step recipe of how he took what could have been a throwaway day and used it to help his students create found poems, showing how a collaborative, student-centered learning environment promotes success. More ›

The Chain Poem, a Way of Breaking the Ice

Ingrid Wendt claims poems are boring only when they fail to surprise. Surprise me, she tells students. In this description of the chain poem, she shows how teachers can help their students achieve surprise. More ›

Puny Poetry Meets Its Match

By presenting a series of scaffolded lessons, Jim Horrell and Gerri Ruckel demonstrate how they lead students from poems with wordplay and no meaning to works of sophisticated self-expression. More ›

Cat Watching: Six Easy Steps to Classroom Poetry

Scott Peterson has developed a process for setting students up to write poetry, one that he practices himself and details here. More ›

I’m Listening to You: A Poetry Writing Lesson

Patrice Vecchione uses a poem by Robert Bly to help students find a way, in their own poems, to make sights out of sounds. More ›

Sound and Sense: Grammar, Poetry and Creative Language

Ray Skjelbred finds that providing his students with the vocabulary of grammar helps them develop an understanding of sentence possibilities that increases their options as poets. More ›

Writing Poems: “Like Yellowstone National Park”

Barry Spacks provides a method to help young poets shake out of the habit of a sing-song, usually rhyming formalism. The great tool for the poet, he says, should not be the metronome. More ›

Beyond "Pink Is a Rose"

When poetry writing proves a challenge for her second-graders, Michele Fleer turns to group poetry writing. In a group, Fleer’s students are less hesitant to explore language and the ways it can be put together. More ›

We Are No Stephen Kings: The Reluctant Road from Coal Miner to Classoom

Teaching a transition class to a group of unemployed coal miners, Aida Mainella Everhart finds that reading, writing, and writing poetry in particular prepare and motivate her students for the challenges that lie ahead. More ›

Creating A Poem: The Emotional Component

Creating Empathetic Connections to Literature

Taken aback by her eighth grade students’ dry-eyed response to The Diary of Anne Frank, Lesley Roessing finds a way to help students convert the them they encounter in multicultural literature into us. More ›

Channeling Emotion: One Way to Make Poems out of Feelings

Wordsworth called poetry the spontaneous overflow of feelings. Inspired by this definition, Kathy Woods takes her English class through a step-by-step writing process to help students tap into their feelings and express them in powerful ways. More ›

From Grief, Poetry: Expressive Writings from the Westside Tragedy

In the context of a trauma that followed a massacre at an Arkansas middle school, Robert Lamm makes a case for the power of poetry writing as therapy in times of crisis. More ›

Podcasting Poetry

Podcasts Contribute to "Whole New Kind of Teaching and Learning" at the Nebraska Writing Project

In a program funded by a Technology Liaisons Network minigrant, Nebraska Writing Project teacher-consultants first learned about podcasting, then had their students create podcasts in their classrooms. More ›

Teachers as Poets, Poets as Teachers 

Patricia SmithExploring Life Through the Poetry of Personas

Renowned poet and poetry slam performer Patricia Smith explores urban life and history by getting into people's skins and speaking their words. She discusses the intersections of poetry and teaching. More ›

Billy CollinsPoet, Educator Billy Collins Discusses Poetry in and out of the Classroom

Two-time Poet Laureate Billy Collins has a mission to bring good contemporary poetry that is accessible and pleasurable to students in schools across the nation. Collins established a website, Poetry 180, that provides "a poem a day for American high school students." Collins wants one of these collected poems to be read aloud each day. More ›

Kay RyanPoet Laureate Kay Ryan: Poet as Teacher, Teacher as Poet

U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan has honed the art of simplicity in both her teaching and her writing. Her writing instruction focused on "the miniature arena of the paragraph," and her poems, which often use cliché in striking, unexpected ways, are both pithy and nuanced. More ›

When a Student Hands Me a Line Like This

Georgia Tiffany describes how she fashions an end-of-the-semester poem from lines drawn from her students’ work. More ›

A Love of Words: An Interview with Patrice Vecchione

Roger Bunch’s interview with poet-teacher Vecchione touches on subjects such as the importance for students of learning to write poetry, ways to get students to write poems, and what makes a poem excellent. More ›

Imaging Experience

Lezlie Laws Couch analyzes her process of creating a poem from a childhood memory, then offers a five-step framework for a classroom writing exercise in reshaping memories into a poem. More ›

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