When I first announced to my students that our next unit was poetry, the class shared a collective groan. I was familiar with this groan–it was one that I also would have participated in at their age. But as I grew older, I began to see the magic in poetry, because it truly is so powerful! But I struggled seeking ways for students to see this magic.
Looking for answers and committed to the Teach Living Poets movement, I sought out help and came across the blog post for Poetry Blind Dating. Please read the article written by Kristin Dreyer and Nikki Lehman that inspired this activity!
For these blind dates, my goal was for students to find one poem that they connected with and to engage with that poem a little bit deeper.
When they walked in, the lights were dimmed, music was playing, and there were electric lanterns and flowers around the room. While decorating the room is not necessary, I truly believe it is what helped students get excited and engage in this activity. We often set the stage for elementary school classrooms, but the magic of learning, creativity, and imagination disappears as students get older. I write more about why teachers should embrace corniness and the magic of learning here, but it is important to reiterate: high school students are still kids, and they deserve a learning environment that is still playful and curious and inspires awe and wonder.
Some budget-friendly ways to decorate your room:
- Plastic/fake flowers from the Dollar Store
- Batter-operated candles from the Dollar Store
- Pink or white tablecloths (Yes, from the Dollar Store!)
- Twinkly lights around your room that you typically use for the holiday season
No time to decorate your room? Just dim the lights and play some cheesy love songs as they come in! Any way to differentiate your room from the norm will make this day much more special for your students.
After the students come into the room, I introduce the concept of poetry blind dates! Around the room, I have 8 different poems scattered.
The poems I selected were:
- “The Art of Unlearning” by Clint Smith
- “Dragons” by Sarah Kay
- “this is a poem” by José Olivarez
- “Things Haunt” by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
- “Untitled” by Rupi Kaur
- “What Now?” by Gary Soto
- “Horse in the Dark” by Vievee Francis
- “From Sand Creek” by Simon J. Ortiz
While my focus and emphasis is on Living Poets, you can also do this with any historical time period–I can see this being really effective for the Transcendental period as well, for example!
I do leave multiple copies of the poems at each desk so more than one student can engage with the poem. All the poems should be folded, or turned over, or in envelopes, so students cannot read them yet. On the desk, I write down 4 words from each poem. Choose words that may reveal what the poem is about or simply the most interesting, emotionally-charged, or even random words from the poem!
I encourage students to solely walk around looking at the words before choosing one that interests them. I ask all students go on at least three “dates.” During this date, I simply have students read the poem. After going on at least three dates, they pick “the one” that they want to go on a “second date” with.
After picking their one poem that they felt connected to, they now dig deeper on this second date and do some research on the author and context of the poem! I also have them analyze this poem further with the SOAPSTone method. However, you can decide on several different activities to get them to engage with their second poem:
- Researching the author
- Writing a summary/reflection
- Writiing a letter to the author with questions
- Writing a response poem
- Filling out a questionnaire regarding specific aspects of poems or literature that you typically have students engage with
While this activity was done with poems, you can easily do this across so many subject areas! You can do this with different historical texts/figures, math equations, science experiments, or other areas in English: short stories, articles, and more!
Students really did enjoy themselves during this activity and even asked if they can do it again someday. Even my student who was most resistant poetry said, “I realized I don’t hate all poetry,” which was the greatest validation!
Bringing more fun and low-stakes ways for students to engage in the material, while incorporating student choice and kinesthetic learning, is a win for all. If you have any questions about this activity, or if you end up implementing this in your classroom, I would love to hear from you!
Best of luck!