If you are preparing for a test, such as the SAT or AP, that requires you to tackle reading passages, vocabulary, and comprehension questions, then you need to be a strong reader, especially with the pressure of a timed exam.
What about STEM students with seemingly little need for practicing writing beyond lab reports? To write a captivating college essay and explain why you deserve a spot in a coveted engineering program, you need to be a strong writer.
In a series of articles, we will focus on various ways students can achieve the advanced reading and writing skills needed to grow as scholars and achieve success. Today’s article is about poetry: a piece of the literature puzzle that is unique in its form and its ability to create deep and reflective thinkers.
Poetry - Why should we care?
As educators, parents, and students, we may find ourselves pushing poetry to the bottom of our overstuffed to-do lists in favor of practicing expository writing, reading novels, or studying for a math exam. A student may wonder why it’s important to write poetry when there are so many other writing forms to think of. While we often forget about poetry, it remains an important and official part of the required content in an English language arts classroom.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) explicitly reference poetry as early as 1st grade and continue to do so up through 12th grade. If you live in Virginia and have a student preparing for the SOLs assessment – poetry is a key part of these standards of learning beginning in 3rd grade. In NY state’s learning standards, poetry is listed as a key part of the range of reading experiences beginning in Kindergarten. This pattern continues in Massachusetts (poetry is first mentioned in 3rd grade) and beyond. These standards require students to comprehend, analyze, and compare poetry, often putting it in conversation with prose (or ordinary form). If your student is preparing for the SAT, poetry can help them too! Read through this overview of the reading section: While poetry isn’t explicitly mentioned, any of those literary or historical passages could be a poem.
Are you feeling inspired to pick up a poetry book on your next library tip? If so, great! If you’re not feeling motivated yet, read on! In this article, we will explain how poetry provides reading, writing, and 21st-century skills to students willing to engage with the broad and rich genre. Continue reading to answer the question – Why should we care about poetry?
1. Poetry Bolsters Reading Comprehension
Poetry does not exist in a vacuum, rather it is one piece of the literature puzzle. Once a student is fluently and independently reading texts, typically by 3rd grade, reading comprehension becomes a skill that needs to be practiced in order to access more complex fiction and non-fiction texts. Poetry is a great tool for students to work on their inferential comprehension. Inferential comprehension requires students to detect and understand the deeper meaning of what they are reading to infer things about characters and plot points that are not explicitly stated. A poet uses metaphor, unique structure, and vivid descriptions to imbue words with meaning, often leaving some things unsaid. Poetry requires the reader to deduce the message of a text by combining their intuition, prior knowledge, and words on the page.
Many students may be averse to poetry because it challenges them to think deeply in order to understand. This challenge is necessary to become a skilled reader, no matter what you like to read! For example, poetry can train a scientist to uncover the assumptions in a lab report, engaging with STEM writing with a critical eye. Only with strong literary analysis and deep thinking skills can a reader understand the nuances in an author’s argument. Poetry demands that a reader slow down, consider the purpose behind each word, and think deeply about meaning. On high school level tests, from APs to SATs, students are tasked with putting texts into conversation with one another: from short stories to scientific journal articles to historical documents. A wide range of texts demands a wide range of skills from students that they should begin practicing as soon as they can. Once students enter college, that demand only increases as students (both humanities and STEM) learn through critical analysis of readings and seminar discussions.
2. Poetry Improves Writing
Writing poetry can empower students to express themselves creatively, without the anxiety of having to stick to the endless grammatical rules. Writing can be scary for a student reluctant to take risks and make mistakes. Poetry is both a literary genre and a creative art form– its loose rules encourage students to share thoughts, feelings, and opinions without fear of “messing up.” At the end of the day, writing is a form of communication that is essential to academic, professional, and personal life. It is crucial to get students motivated to write from a young age, so they may enter the world with solid written communication skills. If you have a reluctant writer at home, poetry may just be the genre to get them started. Consider its overlap with song lyrics – poetry is fun!
But don’t worry – poetry can encourage grammar skills as well! In poetic forms, authors make grammatical choices to emphasize certain words and phrases. Poetry draws students’ attention to colons, hyphens, and ellipses as these punctuation marks are not an afterthought, but a central part of the text. In a 2020 NYT Op-Ed, Elisa Gabbert writes that, when reading poetry, she starts to “hear the punctuation” more than she usually does in prose. Grammar is not often the most exciting part of the writing curriculum to students, but poetry will make them pay attention to it. It teaches students how to use punctuation– not simply to end a sentence and move on to the next one, but to add excitement to the words.
On the Writing & Language (Verbal) section of the SAT, notoriously the most difficult section, about half of the questions fall under the category: Standard English Conventions. What this means is that students need to not only understand the countless English grammar rules but also need to apply this knowledge and edit passages. These are not skills you can learn a few weeks before the test. Rather, students should be developing them over time through consistent reading & writing practice. Poetry is one way to do that.
3. Poetry Promotes Deep Thinking
While students read far more words written in prose form than in poetry form in a typical English classroom, poetry may be the hidden key for many young learners to access the next level in their literacy development. It is a genre with varying levels of difficulty, providing a range of readers with an access point to the written word. Emerging readers, English Language Learners, and students with learning disabilities can start with poems, allowing the rhythm and rhyme to carry them through the poem as they see new vocabulary and figurative language in action. The advanced reader, eager for a new challenge, can reach for more complex analytical thinking skills by reading more abstract or lengthier poems, rich with hidden meaning. Poetry is adaptable. Ranging in style (from haiku to ballad) and ranging in length (from couplets about fleas to Sanskrit epics), poetry allows readers to take their preferences, attention spans, and analysis skills into consideration and still engage with the genre in meaningful ways.
Conclusion: The Importance of Reading and Writing
Your student may not possess the reading and writing skills necessary to achieve what they strive for – yet! But by taking reading and writing seriously, especially as a STEM student, they can open doors. We will continue to share how reading and writing skills can impact a student’s confidence and success as they strive for their goals. Whether you feel inspired by the above benefits of poetry, or choose to stick to prose, take steps today to make reading & writing practice part of your student’s daily, weekly, and annual routines. Vocabulary, close reading, and argument analysis cannot be learned in a day. Start building these skills now!
Here at Veritas Education, we offer a High School Reading & Writing course that is taught by an experienced instructor who prioritizes building long-term skills such as deep thinking, literary criticism, and advanced vocabulary that will benefit students from AP English classes, to the SAT, to college coursework and beyond. Our instructors use discussion and project-based learning to keep students engaged in their coursework, mimicking the format of many college courses. You can see the student feedback below and learn more about our Fall 2023 course offerings HERE.
If this article grabbed your attention, check out our monthly book review which highlighted a poetry novel for the month of August!