Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Multiple Intelligences of Poetry

In spring of 2005, before I started blogging, I taught a poetry class to youth at the Methodist church. I taught Sunday school to grades 6 through 12, and being Methodists, it wasn't a problem to teach a poetry class just for the heck of it at the church.

Teaching the class was the practicum segment for my course Teaching Reading at college. I was already observing a class at a nearby middle school, and wanted a chance to teach. The students all chose to come. Not all of them liked poetry though. I was able to convince a couple students who I knew hated poetry to come and try it out.

Multiple intelligence theory was my basis for the activities I did in reading and writing poetry. When we read, I used the following options for the students to respond to the activities:
Artistic - Create a drawing or image of what you see when reading the poem. This could be multiple images of several lines, or just one overall image. [Visual/Spatial Intelligence]

Soundtrack - If the poem was a movie, choose three to five songs that would play in the background while the poem was being read. [Musical Intelligence]

Write a Letter - Write a letter from the point of view of the speaker in the poem, or a character in the poem, explaining what is happening from their point of view. [Intrapersonal Intelligence] Or write a letter to the speaker or a character where you emphasize with their situation, praise or criticize a trait, or offer advise. [Interpersonal Intelligence]

Pantomime - Act out the poem, but walk as the speaker would walk, go through the movements as the speaker would. Show the speaker's emotions through the way you move. [Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence]

Find the Patterns - Map out the rhyme and rhythm of the poem - how many syllables per line? Which lines rhyme? How do these elements, or lack there of, lend themselves to the message of the speaker? [Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Linguistic Intelligence]
The students have to be able to explain how the pieces related to the specific poem. The last two activities, pantomime and finding patterns, wouldn't necessarily work with all the poems, but the first three activities were for the most part universal. So I'd throw in the last two only when the material allowed (like it would with this poem).

Often this activity was done in pairs or groups. We would read a select number of poems in class, then each pair or group would take one of the poems and decide which intelligence they wanted to use.

I distributed surveys at the beginning and the end of the course. The very unscientific results were that students had a greater appreciation for poetry from the beginning to the end of the course.

I used this same method again while student teaching and the majority of students chose the drawing because they thought it was the easiest. Then I asked them to explain their response and it didn't go so well for them. Other students, however, proved their comprehension of the selected chapters in Night with their drawings.

I think a mini-lesson on each one where I model the process for poems we had read in class and discussed a few possible interpretations would improve the results of this exercise. I might use some poems by Shel Silverstein for these mini-lessons.


  1. Hmmmm
    I like your approach here -- using MI to think and use poetry. It definitely is a way to connect with a spectrum of students.
    And you laid out some good examples for others to use and be inspired by.
    Kevin Hodgson

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