Make Your Students “Poetry Geniuses”!

Make Your Students “Poetry Geniuses”!

by Abi Frost

I recently discovered a web resource called “rap genius.   

Abi Frost

This Brooklyn-based startup allows users to explore and understand the meaning behind song lyrics, poetry and literature.  The long term vision is to annotate all text, including news stories and long-form works like War and Peace.  

Teachers have started using the platform to teach students critical reading skills, so I decided to try it out in my small seventh grade reading class for struggling readers.   I saw this as one engaging way to address Common Core Standard RL.7.4:

RL.7.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama.

I designed a review lesson for my poetry analysis unit using the Poetry Genius tab on the Rap Genius website.  First, I added new poems to the website, each of which matched the specific interests of the students in my small group class.  For example, one of my students is an avid baseball fan, so I added “Analysis of Baseball” by May Swenson.  Of course, this is one of the luxuries of having a small group class, but it could easily be adapted for a full class of students by having them sign up for their own accounts and find their own poems. Then, using the annotation guide below, students annotated their poems on the computer:

I was very happy with how the lesson turned out because the students were actually engaged in deep text analysis!  Usually, when I remind students to annotate texts and use active reading strategies, they moan and complain.  For this lesson, however, I did not have any eye rolls, teeth sucking or complaints about annotating poetry.  Not only do middle school students love using computers, they were hooked when I showed them that what we were doing was just like annotating rap and other music.  Here are some examples of what students created:

In addition to the high level of student engagement, I found the lesson truly created an experience requiring students to “determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meaning [and] analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds on specific verse or stanza of a poem” (RL.7.4).  As shown above, one student highlighted the word “rainwings” in a poem about running and wrote in his annotation: “This is an example of strong diction because it helps you picture rain falling down on whoever is running.  The author uses this device to put an image in your head about someone running in the rain and also show that the person is strong and you should be strong too.”  He also included a picture of a dragon with big wings that he found on google images.  Next time I use Poetry Genius, I am going to try the interactive feature which would allow me to give students feedback on their annotations (within the tool) to push their thinking.  For now, I am excited that students were closely reading, analyzing the purpose and effect of literary devices, and writing!

Abi Frost,  Middle School Special Education Reading Specialist

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2 responses to “Make Your Students “Poetry Geniuses”!

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