10 Must Teach Poems for the High School English Classroom
As high school English teachers, we all can agree– there’s nothing quite like the feeling of a student finally understanding and connecting with a poem after deep analysis and discussion. With this particular task of finding fresh works to teach in your classroom or using classic ones that make an impact, there’s always one looming question: which poems should I be teaching? For English teachers searching for the answer, look no further! Here are 10 must-teach poems for high school students sure to engage any English class. From funny interpretations on modern life to true classics that span centuries— you’re sure to find something perfect for your students here.
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“The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman
Teaching poetry to high school students can be hard, but one thing is for sure. Amanda Gorman’s smash-hit poem “The Hill We Climb” should be a mandatory addition to all high school English classrooms. Drawing inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr. in her opening lines, Gorman weaves together her message with soulful language and graceful turns of phrase that captivate the reader from the get-go. Not only does she redefine the idea of optimism, but she also tackles current social issues concerning race, oppression, and division. Aspiring writers should take note of Gorman’s intelligent wit and clever wordplay to spruce up their own works. With lessons on perseverance and hope for tomorrow, “The Hill We Climb” is sure to inspire generations ahead to keep pushing forward despite the obstacles life throws at them.
“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe’s masterpiece, “The Raven”, is a poetic classic that every high school English Language Arts (ELA) student should know. Told in rhythmic iambic pentameter, Poe masterfully weaves a tale of a narrator who encounters a raven one dreary night. The experience leaves the narrator overwhelmed with grief and heartache as he plunges ever deeper into the depths of his despair, providing readers with an honest look at loneliness and regrets. Beyond its emotional impact, “The Raven” serves as an example of Poe’s adept usage of literary elements such as alliteration, onomatopoeia and imagery – demonstrating why it is one of the most beloved pieces in literary history. Without question, “The Raven” needs to be taught in ELA classrooms around the world!
“I’m nobody, who are you?” by Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?” is an iconic piece of literature that has become a hallmark of high school English language arts curriculum. It’s no wonder why– between its cleverly amusing verses and wry wit, this poem speaks volumes about life and its ever-changing complexities. Not to mention, the timelessness of the poem ensures its relevance even in the modern world. High school students will identify with the message being conveyed through it: we are all somebody despite our individual imperfections and doubts. “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?” is definitely a must-read for any aspiring lover of literature or student of high school English!
“Ode to Cheese Fries” by Jose Olivarez
“Ode to Cheese Fries” by Jose Olivarez is an ode to an often overlooked and underrated indulgence—the humble cheese fry. With wit and humor, Jose cultivates a love letter to the cheesy concoction, drawing attention to its numerous merits and inducing smiles with his clever puns. Through this piece, he has demonstrated that even such a seemingly trivial item can become something much more with some creative thought; the poem highlights the power of language and the multiple ways in which it can be used to transform message. This piece is a wonderful addition to the high school English classroom, as it offers students perspectives on how words are creative building blocks that can elicit feelings and make topics more interesting when molded into different forms.
“Harlem” by Langston Hughes
“Harlem” by Langston Hughes is a classic work of literature and essential reading for any high school English class. A poem that still carries immense relevance today, Hughes writes poignantly about the effects of dreaming deferred and encourages readers to never lose sight of their aspirations. This thought-provoking work instructs us to keep our hopes alive even when faced with hardships, and its cursive wit and intelligent prose make it an enjoyable read for all. With its memorable imagery and emotive power, “Harlem” offers a powerful insight into the dreams we hold dear and serves as a reminder of why it’s important to never stop reaching for them.
“Meteor Shower” by Clint Smith
In his poem “Meteor Shower”, Clint Smith takes the reader on a uniquely personal journey through identity and origin. He paints a vivid picture with his precise and starry language, using images of galaxies to explore an individual’s sense of belonging. Smith deftly injects thoughtful reflection as he ruminates on the complexities of heritage and family history.
Ultimately, he encourages us to consider our own definitions of what it means to be home, not only geographically, but also within ourselves. It is this contemplation that makes “Meteor Shower” such an important candidate for teaching in the high school ELA classroom. It’s also a great poem for getting to know your students at the beginning of the year.
“United States of Anxiety” by Marcus Amaker
In his work, “United States of Anxiety”, Marcus Amaker takes a revelatory look at the nation he calls home, shining a spotlight on the uglier aspects that so many still struggle with today. With the skill and insight of a savvy wordsmith, he tackles hard-hitting issues such as racism, poverty and inequality. And yet despite its heavy subject matter, Amaker’s poem is balanced with both wit and wisdom, making it an essential pick for any ELA teacher hoping to inspire thoughtful conversations in their classroom.
“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
The poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou is a powerful poem that any high school ELA classroom should be sure to include in their curriculum. Its witty and laconic lines leave the reader in admiration of its depth and inspiration. As a black woman, Angelou speaks out against racism and oppression with amazingly clever language. This poem empowers readers to rise against adversity, no matter how hard it tries to prevent them from doing so. It’s a perfect reminder of resilience, resistance, and strength – all important virtues to impart our youth today. Through her unique narrative style, Angelou inspires us to take on the world head-on despite the ever-present odds.
“To Helen” by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “To Helen” should be in every high school English classroom. Poets don’t get much more iconic than Poe, whose eerie yet witty writing style has captivated readers for centuries. “To Helen” is a perfect example of his style – from its celestial imagery to the clever wordplay throughout its verses, there’s no doubt why this unruly romantic poem stands out. Not only does it serve as a showcase for Poe’s exceptional talent, but its use of personification and allusion also make for an interesting learning experience for students. And of course, who could forget the ending line that always leaves readers feeling sad yet inspired? From its historical context to its lingering atmosphere and creative language, Edgar Allan Poe’s “To Helen” would surely be a splendid addition to any High School English classroom.
“The White House” by Claude McKay
Claude McKay’s “The White House” is a truly unique poem, as it artfully blends insightful social commentary with clever wit. The poem is a scathing satire on the white privilege and racism of early 20th century American society through the eyes of a young black man refusing to be limited by societal conventions. Claude McKay masterfully employed his sharp wit to create dynamic imagery that illustrates the brutality and prejudice of the age, boldly critiquing power structures and stereotypes many accepted at that time. Indeed, this poem remains an important inclusion in the English classroom even today – its powerful imagery and subtle critiques can carry meaning across generations.
Thus, as it has been seen, there is no shortage of poems that can be read and discussed in the high school ELA classroom. From Gorman’s powerful piece “The Hill We Climb” to Marcus Amaker’s “United States of Anxiety”, teachers have stacks of poetry to choose from when constructing their curriculum. While it may seem daunting, when done with the right approach and with the necessary care, students will benefit greatly from exploring the undiscovered possibilities of these enriching pieces of literature. Not only do these 10 poems touch on hot topics such as society and equality, but also on simpler subjects such as food and love. There is something for everyone that is available for teaching in a classroom—and conversations about these poems will surely bring further insight into our lives on bookshelves!