Stay in the Mix During National Poetry Month!

How to use the written word to highlight, and counteract, social boundaries.
Grade Level


Everyone who loves words


The free expression of poetry to communicate the power of boundary-crossing


All month long




Did you know...

  • Poetry is a way to engage others in dialogue. In Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry, American Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky reminds us that poetry "summon[s] up communal life. ... In their rhythms and cadences, poems carry in their very bones the illusion and dynamic of call and response."
  • In 1987, Marc Smith, a blue-collar construction worker in Chicago, decided that he'd had enough of "poetry snobbery" and set out to "lift the poetry from the page" and to convert readings into true presentations. Nearly 20 years later, some consider his idea — poetry slams — a youth subcultural phenomenon.


Student Voices

"When I Feel Left Out"
When I feel left out
I feel like dirty old trout.
I played by myself without any help.
When the day was over I fell over
but no kids cared to come over.

After the bad day I had
I hope the next day isn't this bad.
Today's a new day
I'm not sad
I hope this day isn't bad.

–Third-grader Lauren Garafano


"Bad Guys Finish Last"
Bad guys finish last.
They bully others because of their past.
They don't care about the pain they cause.

They don't stop to think, or put the situation on pause.
They snatch and smack and push and punch.
They take away your money for lunch.

They tease and torment, but the whole time they smile.
Not caring if you're 15 or just a small child.
You think you can't win, no matter how much time you spend
Trying to rise up, for you are pushed down again.

Never lose sight of the goals you've set,
For no matter what you go through, they cannot make you forget.
Keep standing; keep demanding to be left alone.

Although it seems hard, you don't have to do it alone.
Don't be ashamed to ask others for help,
For there are some cases where you can't win by yourself.

–Middle school student Kevaughn Griffith


Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think these authors chose to express their feelings in a poem?
  • Have you ever written a poem? What makes poems work well for talking about feeling excluded?
  • Each of these poems describes people's behavior. What do the poets want people to do?


Activity Ideas

  • To get to know your classmates even better, write a name poem. Print your name vertically on a large piece of paper. Think of a word beginning with each letter of your name that says something about your personality or things you like. Read your name poem to the whole group. (Grades K-3)
  • Write a collective poem that helps everyone in the class or group learn about one another. Use a 3-by-5 card and number 1 to 5 on the left border. Then list:
    1. Something a family member says that annoys you, makes you laugh, makes you feel safe or scares you
    2. Your favorite sound, three times
    3. Your favorite place in the world
    4. Your favorite color, five times
    5. Your favorite thing to do
    Join four other students, taking turns each reading one line at a time. Read each line in any order until each person has read all five phrases. (First person reads line 3 on her card, second person reads line 2 on his card, third person reads line 4 on her card, etc.) (Grades 3-6)
  • Host a poetry slam. Set up a microphone in the classroom or lunchroom, distribute two note cards to each student and ask them to form groups of five or join others at their lunch tables to write a phrase about a time they felt excluded. Each group can put the phrases in an order that they like to be read aloud as a group poem. (Grades 7-12)


Books in the Mix

Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para sonar juntos, written by Fancisco X. Alarcón and illustrated by Paula Barragán, includes 17 short poems in English and Spanish. Each dream poem reflects day and night dreaming about topics that include the hopes and aspirations of children, their families, and people throughout the world. (Grades PreK-3).

In Wordsworth the Poet, written by Frances H. Kakugawa and illustrated by Scott Goto, a mouse named Wordsworth is unlike any other mouse in the Hawaiian Islands. He sees holiday lights in raindrops and rows of dancing brides in white cresting waves. And when he sees his friends being teased, he uses poetry to describe how that feels. (Grades K-5) 

Michael Baldwin's& A Slam Poetry Manual: How to Produce a Poetry Slam and Succeed as a Slam Poet is an easy-to-use 32-page manual with all the steps needed to create a poetry slam. (Grades 7-12)