Adding Creativity and Rigor to Poetry Units with Universal Theme Analysis Projects

Beginning a poetry unit can be intimidating for both teachers and students alike, but it does not have to be something to dread. Poetry offers so much freedom in the classroom: freedom for teachers to incorporate project-based learning into the classroom, and freedom for students to explore new avenues to express themselves. After I introduce poetry to my students with a quick annotation lesson that teaches them how to read and annotate poetry, I move onto fun and creative activities like blackout poetry, blank verse projects, and theme analysis projects.

One project-based learning assignment that I love to incorporate in my poetry unit is a universal theme poetry analysis project. This project is a great end-of-unit-project assesses student understanding while giving students an opportunity to explore universal themes that interest them. One of the great things about this project is that it can easily be tailored to fit a wide variety of grade levels. Students in upper-elementary students and Advanced Placement high school seniors can complete this project. For younger students, simply assign fewer poetic devices that are grade-level appropriate.

For a universal theme poetry analysis project, students work either individually or in small groups. They will select a universal theme (can be researched, assigned, or chosen from a list), and then find, cite, and explain examples of various poetic devices and techniques within poems that fit the theme they’ve chosen. To complete the project, students will then prepare a visual presentation that represents the theme they’ve chosen and all of their examples, citations, and explanations.

This project takes quite a bit of time, and students should be given some class time as well as adequate time outside of the classroom to complete this project. Typically, I assign this project at the beginning of the poetry unit once I’ve taught and reviewed various poetic devices so that they have a good understanding of poetry. You can download this assignment, a list of universal themes, and a comprehensive list of poetic devices HERE.

Here are more student examples of this project. While the directions call for the universal theme to be placed in the center, students can also get creative. In fact, the more they make this project their own the better!



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