Lesson Plans

Back to lesson plans archive
December 31, 2013

Discovering your voice through poetry – Lesson Plan

By Katie Gould, PBS NewsHour Extra Teacher Resource Producer


This lesson plan introduces students to the poetry of Rafael Campo and helps students to find their own voice while gaining confidence writing their own original poetry. This lesson plan has been created in partnership with the Poetry Foundation, the Great Books Foundation and the PBS NewsHour.


English Language Arts

Estimated Time

One 90 minute class period

Grade Level

Middle and High School


Pre-Lesson 5 minute activity and homework

  1. For homework ask students to pick their favorite song, print out the lyrics and bring them to class the next day. The song should be one that gives you “shivers down your spine”.
  2. This “shivers down the spine” is a common phenomenon and there have been songs and poetry written about it. One example was a song written about it in the 1970s. “Killing Me Softly with His Song” is a song composed by Charles Fox with lyrics by Norman Gimbel. It was a number-one hit in 1973 for Roberta Flack. The song has been remade by numerous artists including the Fugees.
  3. Play the song and have students follow along with the lyrics (on screen). You may also choose to hand out copies of the lyrics as well.
  4. In addition to picking a song, students should visit and read “How to Read a Poem” from the Great Books foundation, click here to access it.

Warm up activity

An introduction to poetry through music

Great quote from “Introduction to Poetry” poem by Billy Collins for the board.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

  1. Pass out “Introduction” worksheet and have students fold page one so they can’t see the definition that is written half way up the page.
  2. Ask students to answer the following questions and have them write their answers on their “Introduction” worksheet:
    • What words come to mind when they think of poetry?
    • What is the definition of poetry?

    *As an example you can say the word “alliteration” and show them this scene from “V is for Vendetta” as an example of alliteration.

  3. Then play two or three student examples of poetry produced by Ozena Dixon, Antonio Hunter and Ashley Johnson of The Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia, Pa.
  4. After the students have seen the poem(s) ask them:
    • Was this poetry?
    • How do you know that what you saw was poetry?
  5. Then give them a chance to add to their definition and words that come to mind when they hear the word “poetry”. Let them unfold page one and check to see if their definition of poetry was close. Ask to see if anyone was, many will not have been close.
  6. Now give students the short non-fiction article “Poetry is like music to the mind, scientists prove” to read.  Ask students if they can identify with the sensation of having “shivers down the spine” when they listen to a piece of music they really connect with? Reinforce what they read and explain to them that a piece of poetry can have the same effect as a song because poetry and music share so many qualities.
  7. Ask class if they can think of shared characteristics by writing music on one side of the board and poetry on the other side. Write characteristics making a special emphasis on how they often share the same characteristics.
  8. Explain to students that they are going to look at an example that has poetic qualities to it and pass out the lyrics to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel “Iz” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole (this is his version of the song) and give them a little information about his background:
    • Iz is a Hawaiian native who was famous for his ukulele playing and was a strong influence on Hawaiian music. He passed away at age 38 in 1997 and his ashes were scattered back into the ocean.
  9. Play the song letting the students read along and pass out their “Guiding questions” worksheet to them so they can look more deeply into the song. For this song have them use the even questions.
  10. Ask the students to share answers they arrived at with the person sitting next to them. Tell students that they won’t necessarily be able to answer every question and that is okay.
  11. Then give the students time to look at their own song and using the “Guiding questions” handout from the Great Books Foundation and explore their song more closely. For this song they should use the odd questions. They should address the questions from the “Introduction” worksheet and use the “Guiding questions” to help.
  12. Ask students “why do people write songs and poems?” and write answers on the board.
  13. Then pass out the handout “Guide: How to Read a Poem” from the Great Books Foundation and have students read through it. For the full guide please click here.
  14. Then read both poems on page two and three of the “Introduction” worksheet asking students just to listen first.
  15. Ask students which poem they like better and divide class into two groups based on their choices and have them sit in a circle (or in some arrangement so they can see each other.)  Then pass out another “Guiding Questions” handout and have students discuss and answer the questions on their own paper. For this poem students may pick any 8 guiding questions.

Main Activities

The poetry of Rafael Campo

  1. Have students return to their desks and ask them the following questions as a class and also have them write down their own answers on their “Relationships” handout:
    • What kind of relationship do you have with your doctor?
    • How do you talk to them?
    • How do they talk to you?
  2. Tell students that now they are going to read a poem written by a doctor who is also a poet- Rafael Campo. Pass out “Rafael’s Poems” to students and read them aloud one at a time and giving students the opportunity to reflect and discuss the poems. To guide the class discussion refer back to the questions from the “Guiding Questions” worksheet:
    1. Who is the speaker?
    2. What circumstances gave rise to the poem?
    3. What situation is presented?
    4. Who or what is the audience?
    5. What is the tone?
    6. What form, if any, does the poem take?
    7. How is form related to content?
    8. Is sound an important, active element of the poem?
    9. Does the poem spring from an identifiable historical moment?
    10. Does the poem speak from a specific culture?
    11. Does the poem have its own vernacular?
    12. Does the poem use imagery to achieve a particular effect?
    13. What kind of figurative language, if any, does the poem use?
    14. If the poem is a question, what is the answer?
    15. If the poem is an answer, what is the question?
    16. What does the title suggest?
    17. Does the poem use unusual words or use words in an unusual way?
  3. Now ask students to complete question two on their “Relationships” handout.
    Think about a time when you had to hear a difficult message from someone or you had to give someone bad news. How did that conversation go? Was it hard to understand where you or they were coming from? How did you or they make the message they had to deliver clear? Did you or they do anything to make the message “softer” or “easier” to hear? How did you/they do that? Did you appreciate those efforts or do you think the conversation went better because of your efforts?
  4. Now ask students to use the experience they wrote about to create their own original poem. Their assignment is to write their own poem in the spirit of Rafael Campo’s exploration of the difficulty of certain relationships, like his with his patients or about a girl he used to tease growing up. Students should try to emulate Rafael’s poems but the content should be from their own experience or the one they described in their “Relationships” worksheet.
  5. Once students have finished their poem have them compare and contrast their poems to the poetry of Rafael Campo and each others. This should be done in pairs or in small groups.

More Resources:

Special thanks to Great Books Foundation for their contribution to this lesson plan by providing resources on “How to Read a Poem” and Guiding Questions.


Poetry brings happiness to troubled teens

A unique program in Seattle teaches teens who are leading difficult lives to write poetry as a way to triumph over their experiences.

  • Tags:

  • Related Stories

    Tooltip of related stories

    More Lesson Plans

    Tooltip of more video block

    RSS Content

    Tooltip of RSS content 3