Teaching Tip – Dramatic Poetry

Let’s bring poetry into the classroom and let’s make it fun.

I like to start off with this poem

Homework! Oh, Homework! by Jack Prelutsky

Homework! Oh, Homework!
I hate you! You stink!
I wish I could wash you away in the sink,
if only a bomb
would explode you to bits.
Homework! Oh, homework!
You’re giving me fits.

I’d rather take baths
with a man-eating shark,
or wrestle a lion
alone in the dark,
eat spinach and liver,
pet ten porcupines,
than tackle the homework,
my teacher assigns.

Homework! Oh, homework!
You’re last on my list,
I simple can’t see
why you even exist,
if you just disappeared
it would tickle me pink.
Homework! Oh, homework!
I hate you! You stink!

I present this poem to the class by reading it in a really boring monotone and I race through it as fast as I can while reading it from a print out.

I then ask the students what was wrong with my performance. Most students will point out that it was boring, that I talked too fast, that I kept the paper in front of my mouth, etc, etc, etc.

I then read the poem again and I vary my tone of voice. I use some actions and move around the front of the classroom. At the end, I yell “Homework! Oh Homework! I hate you! You stink!” and then I rip up the print out and throw it above my head.

The students always love my presentation of the poem.

We then go over how a good presentation should have these things

– loud, clear, voice
– some use of action
– a prop (here the piece of paper was the homework)
– how it sounds better if it is memorized and not read
– engaging the audience
– using tone of voice so it’s not always the same and boring like it was the first time I read it

Sometimes the students come up with quite an extensive list.

I then give the students a handout that has about forty poems in it. Each student needs to sign up for a poem that he or she would like to present but two people are not allowed to pick the same one.

On the front of the package, I list the poems with a line beside each one and this note to the parents,

Dear Parents,

The students have been learning to present these poems in class. Your child has been assigned a poem (or part of one) to present dramatically to the class next Thursday. (Memorizing it would be an asset.) Encourage your child to read the poem with feeling and to include some actions. Also, please read at least ten of these poems for homework and check off the ones you have read together.

This is a relatively easy assignment and perfect to use in the first term. I like how it gets the students used to speaking in front of the class. I use this great rubric to mark each student. The best thing about this assignment is that it can be used to assess Oral Communication for an English mark as well as the first term’s drama mark.

Like I said, last week, drama is an important thing to fit into the classroom. I know it’s hard to find time for the dramatic arts when there seems to be so much focus on English, Math, and Science. But this activity ties in nicely to an entire unit on poetry. So try it out!

Don’t forget to check all the Teaching Tip Tuesday posts for other great ideas. If you have an idea you’d like to share, please contact me. Teachers helping teachers is what this is all about.