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Tools of the Trade: Poetry

By Rita Sorrentino

“Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it, but to those who need it.” These are the sentiments of Mario Ruoppolo in the film Il Postino. Mario, the temporarily employed peasant postman, is introduced to poetry late in his life through a developing friendship with his only client, the briefly exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda’s passion and Mario’s urgency combine in this tender tale of friendship, love and the power of poetry. In a significant segment of the film, Mario enthusiastically tape-records the beautiful sounds of the Mediterranean island. Seagulls, church bells, waves and fishnets symbolize Mario’s life, love and loyalty, and initiate his desire to express his thoughts and feelings in poetry. 

In April, poetry is brought to the forefront in our schools, bookstores and online spaces. Although we don’t necessarily wait for April to appreciate sound and imagery, to find meaning through metaphor, and to play around with language, National Poetry Month invites us to take a more active role in promoting poetry through study, reading, writing and performing.  Fortunately, we have more tools at our disposal than Mario’s phonograph to gather resources, plan lessons, and help our students (and ourselves) create and share poetry.

Here are some free apps, web tools, and book previews worth considering. is The Academy of American Poets’ popular website offering links to poems, interviews with poets, and a trove of materials for teachers including lesson plans aligned to Common Core Standards. Of particular interest is this year’s Dear Poet 2015 project. Students in grades 5-12 are invited to write letters in response to poems written and read by award-winning poets who serve on the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors.  These activities that support engaging students in reading, writing, listening and speaking can be used sequentially or as a stand-alone to integrate in other areas of curriculum. Students may submit their work to be considered for publication on in May 2015. For younger students, there are resources for celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day this year on April 30. Click here for their list of 30 ways to celebrate national poetry month.

Haiku Deck

Haiku Deck is a simple yet powerful presentation tool that lends itself to creating and sharing poetry. It is available as a mobile or web app with a variety of themes and templates. Haiku Deck limits the amount of text per slide and gives access to Creative Commons licensed images. With imagery and carefully chosen words, poetry comes to life! Check out these poetry projects ideas from Haiku Deck’s blog. From figurative language to remixing and performing, Haiku Deck takes poetry everywhere.

Poetry Mentor Texts: Making Reading and Writing Connections, K-8

Poetry Mentor Texts by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli is a wonderful resource for using poetry across the grades and across the curriculum. This inspirational book offers teachers practical ways of using just-right poems and extends the teaching and learning of poetry to deeper thinking about reading and writing. The descriptions and examples of poetic forms in each chapter lead up to Your Turn activities. Studying a poet’s style and craft helps students discover their own voice and style of writing. The Treasure Chest offers a brief annotation of the poems discussed and suggestions for  companion pieces to enhance the work in classrooms. Can’t wait to get started? Preview the book online.


ReadWriteThink, an online resource from the ILA (International Literacy Association) and NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), provides materials for teachers, students, and parents. The site contains a wide range of lesson plans, interactive tools, and apps to support poetry across the curriculum. The student interactive tools guide students through the writing process of various styles of poetry. The Word Mover app offers students a fun way to create poems on mobile devices by dragging words onto one of the canvas backgrounds. Keep ReadWriteThink handy for appreciating poetry all year long.


Animoto, an online video creation web tool, gives students an opportunity to publish multimedia poetry. Younger students can get inspired with the library of thematic images while older students type in their poem and insert or upload images or short video clips. Music selections help students add to the mood and message of their poetry. Creating these poems affords students an opportunity to use 21st Century tools for authentic purposes and share with a wider audience.

Write Rhymes

Yes, we know poetry does not have to rhyme, but we’ve all met those students who work eagerly at the task. Introduce them to Write Rhymes for a little rhyming fun. At the site, they type in their poem. As they write, they can option-click on a word to find a rhyme for it. Results are listed by syllables. Work can be saved, copied or printed directly.

Twitter Poem

A Twitter poem is a venue for taking a small moment and letting it explode into a bigger thought. On the Stenhouse Blog, author and poet Shirley McPhillips explains the process, offers examples, and invites you to submit entries to the 2015 twitter poem contest with #stenpoems. Even if you are not interested in the contest, the twitter poems have potential to move writers toward improving word choice with concentration on strong verbs and nouns. Click here to preview Poem Central, Shirley McPhillips’ newest book about the role poetry can play in our personal lives and in the life of our classrooms. Or submit your twitter poem, and you might be one of four winners to receive a signed copy of the book.

There are certainly more resources available for celebrating poetry in April and year round. As Janice Ewing mentioned in the previous blog, please share your thoughts, practices and resources to enrich the conversation. Passion plus urgency, the perfect formula for unlocking the inner poet in all of us.

Rita Sorrentino profileRita Sorrentino is a recently retired teacher from Overbrook Elementary School in Philadelphia. Rita is finding new pathways for working with teachers and students to use digital tools for reading writing, speaking and listening. She presented ‘Beyond Superheroes: Using Comics Across the Curriculum” at the PETE&C Conference in Hershey in February. Rita joined the Pennsylvania Writing Project in 2004 and the Philadelphia Writing Project in 1994.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Breanna #

    Rita, I am a West Chester student. I loved reading this piece and gain many resources for my future classroom. The fact that there is an online resource for me to use for my future lessons will be a great asset, I feel that showing a video for a poetry unit takes a new twist on learning. It is something the students will be able to access outside of the classroom as well.Technology is being more prevalent in the world as well as in the classroom so why not incorporate it in a unit to engage them. Poetry is something that some students struggle with and I think that the activities suggested will engage them in the unit. I will take this with me for the future… Thank you!


    April 28, 2015
  2. NickJ #


    Thank you for sharing these links with me. I am a student myself at WCU and will need resources like this in the future to help engage my students in as many different ways as possible. Il Postino definitely sounds like a movie I should check out as well. Everyone on here seems to speak highly of it. Thank you for sharing.


    April 26, 2015
  3. Amber #

    I’m currently constructing a unit plan on poetry and your post provides incredibly helpful sources I can use to develop my unit. Thank you! I agree with you that poetry is an incredibly significant writing form. The ideas of animoto and a twitter poem are great for incorporating technology into writing! These are such fun ideas that will hopefully engage students in a form of writing that is not normally highly desired! I hope to instill a passion for poetry in my future students as an aspiring teacher and will most definitely keep these sources in mind!


    April 20, 2015
  4. We used to do a unit on Pablo Neruda’s poetry, and we also watched Il Postino. It’s been years since I’ve seen that film, but it was wonderful. I think you have inspired me to go rewatch it as part of my own personal poetry month celebration. 🙂

    As far as the rest of the post – what a wonderful collection of resources to teach poetry! I’ve seen some of these, though not all, but seeing this all in one place is such a great resource – thanks, Rita!


    April 19, 2015
  5. What a great round-up of poetry resources! Thank you, Rita!


    April 19, 2015
  6. Rita,
    I love your poetic opening too — the apps and webistes are fantastic. I can’t wait to share them with my students. Thank you!


    April 17, 2015
  7. janiceewing #

    Rita, these are such great suggestions — something for everyone! I love the way you started out with the reference to Il Postino and ended with “passion plus urgency…” I think that’s a good formula for all our teaching. Thank you for all of this.


    April 17, 2015

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