Adult Ed
An Introduction to Poetry


Activity One: Writing List Poems - a great place to start.
Activity Two: Prompts for Poetry - a good next step.
Activity Three: Finding Poetry on the Internet - looking at other kinds of poetry.
Activity Four: All Kinds of Poetry - branching out.

Watch out for these Poetry Hazards!
Poetry full of archaic language:
Thees and thous might turn your students off.
A lot of time on symbolism can kill a poem.
Poems full of words your students don’t know.

Tell students that their poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. Trying to rhyme can make writing poetry too hard.

Poems that are easy to decode but hard to understand can turn students off. Haiku, e e cummings, and William Carlos Williams are wonderful, but students who aren’t familiar with a lot of poetry might think that spare, but very literary, poetry is strange and sort of pointless.
Poetry From All Over
Don’t be Eurocentric. Poetry comes from all different people all over the world. Include multicultural poets of this country like Langston Hughes and women poets such as Sylvia Plath. In Kenneth Koch’s Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? you can find Chinese poems, Japanese poems, African Tribal Poems, Native American Poetry, and poems from Swaziland. Enlist your students to bring in any poems from their own culture that they know of, or to research some if they don’t. Don’t forget music - song lyrics are another great source of poetry.

Activity One : Writing List Poems
List poems are a great way to get started. Students use their imaginations and creativity in a safe, set structure.

Step 1 Show some examples of list poems. Kenneth Koch’s book Wishes, Lies and Dreams is full of great examples of list poems. Share some of those with the class, use the poems below, or write your own.

Two List Poems:

Good Things
My children safely home.
A real letter in the mailbox.
A warm day in winter I didn’t expect.
A good cup of coffee to start the day.
Quitting time, especially on payday.

What I Love
I love my family.
I love my house.
I love to eat pancakes.
I love sleeping late on Saturday.
I love a sky full of so many stars.

My favorite color.
The sky, the water,
Robin’s eggs,
Morning glories,
My father’s eyes.
The sofa he slept on.
The suit I wore
To his funeral.

Step 2 Start with a group list poem.
  • Pick a phrase that will start each line.
  • Have everyone write one line on a piece of paper.
  • Collect them and put them in a pile.
  • Ask a student to come up and pick one.
  • If your students are strong readers have them read the line. If they are not, you read them.
  • Write the lines on the board (if you have a big class, you might need to make a few poems).
  • Ask the class if any of the lines should be moved around.
  • Come up with a group title.
Step 3 Students write individual list poems
Here are some list poem ideas. Suggest them one at a time to start.
  • What I love
  • I look forward to…
  • Dangers
  • Kind Acts
  • Angry Things
  • New Things
  • Old Things
  • Happy Things
  • What I would change

The teacher can demonstrate for the class using “What I Love”.
Write “What I Love” on the board, and write you list underneath:
I love…
I love…
I love…
I love…
I love…
Ask the students to write at least four “I love…” lines of their own. NOTE: If students are very beginning writers, you may want to give them a template sheet to write on like this:

I love__________.
I love__________.
I love__________.
I love__________.
I love__________.

Step 4 Have the each person in the group write a few poems. Take time to first read them in pairs, and then in small groups or to the whole group.

Step 5 Brainstorm new lists and ask the group to write poems based on those.

Activity Two: Prompts for Poetry
Writing prompts are statements or questions that are used to instigate a response; be it further thought or a piece of creative writing. Prompts can also be used to inspire poetry.

Step 1 Share the following example of a poem that was written by a member of Thirteen/WNET wNetSchool’s GED/TV Tutorial in response to the following prompt: Step 2 Write a few of these prompts or others you come up with on the board.
  • What was your world like as a child?
  • Describe a dream (from Kenneth Koch’s book Wishes, Lies and Dreams).
  • Describe a daydream.
  • Describe the perfect day.
  • What is Heaven like?
  • What does the inside of your head look like?
Step 3 Ask the class to add some of their own prompts to the list.

Step 4 Ask the class to write a poem using one of the prompts.

Step 5 Take time to first read the poems in pairs, then in small groups or to the whole group.

Activity Three: Finding Poetry on the Internet
Note: Your students need access to the Internet for this activity

Step 1 Send students to a poetry site such as the American Academy of Poetry’s Listening Booth. They can actually listen to poems and read along. Ask them to come back with a printed version of a poem they found and liked.

Step 2 Put students in pairs or small groups. Have them share the poems they found. They can read them to each other or pass them around and read them silently.

Step 3 Ask students to practice reading their poems to each other and then share them by reading aloud to the larger group.

The World Wide Web is full of poetry! Check out any of the links below. They are full of general information about poetry, poems, biographies of poets, poetry resources, and many links to other poetry resources online.

American Academy of Poetry: (
The Poetry Project: (
Poets and Writers: (
The World of Poetry: (
The Internet Poetry Archive: (
Atlantic Unbound Poetry Pages: (

Activity Four: All Kinds of Poetry
If your students really take to poetry, try this: Ask everyone to write a poem. Tell them it can be any kind of poem. Tell them it doesn’t have to rhyme. See what happens. They can use the lists and ideas if they need to, but some students might be ready to branch out into other forms of poetry.


Step 1 Publishing student poetry is a great way to build confidence. It also motivates students to revise and edit. If it is going to be published for others to read, students will want to get it just right.

Step 2 Teach poetry by example. There is so much poetry to read from all around the world, use it often in your classroom Use the Web or print resources to bring more poetry to your students. If you can summarize the essence of a poem for students, or have them do it themselves, it can be a jumping off point. For example, the William Carlos William poem “This Is Just to Say” is an apology for something he is not really sorry for. Ask students to write a poem that is an apology for something they are not sorry for, or secretly glad that they did. Click here to go to “This Is Just to Say”: