Spring is herem and that’s a great reason to enjoy a poetry unit with your students! But the fact that these poetic seasons also coincide with NCAA’s March Madness and MLB’s Opening Day makes competitive poetry activities the perfect way to bring a little poetry (and a lot of fun) into your classroom. After all, what excites kids more than a fierce and friendly competition?

Begin with the poetry basics

Before doing any poetry activities, my students and I spend a couple of days analyzing poems together, paraphrasing them and learning to spot poetic devices. I like to limit us to seven to ten poetry terms. After all, we are playing games, not writing a dissertation. Younger children will use fewer terms and simple definitions. This is a good starting list:

  • Alliteration
  • Assonance
  • Rhyme and rhyme scheme
  • Imagery
  • Symbolism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Refrain
  • Wordplay
  • Mood

Poetry Activities

1. Poetry madness

There are several ways to organize a March-Madness-style poetry unit. I like to start with 16 poems—four love poems, four sports poems, four nature poems, and four silly or funny poems. For older students,  you could also organize poems by form—sonnets, free verse, limerick, haiku, etc. I group my brackets by subject and start with love poems vs. love poems, nature poems vs. nature poems,  and so on. Depending on the age of your students and how much time you want to devote to this unit, you can decide how many poems you want to discuss and eliminate each day.

Taking two poems at a time, students discuss the poetic devices found in each poem and how they contribute to the poem’s overall greatness. Then they vote for a winner. That poem advances to the next round. This can be done as a class or in small groups and continues until each group or the class has an overall winner.

2. Change my mind

For this game divide students into pairs and give them 4-6 poems to choose from. They should briefly discuss the merits of each and choose their favorite. When you say “Go!” they find a pair who chose a different poem and each duo tries to convince the other why their poem is best. After a brief debate, they should switch to another pair and begin the debate again. Repeat this until everyone has debated or until you can no longer stand the noise.

3. Best in show

Similar to Poetry Madness, in this game poems are grouped by subject or form—but now think dog show. Students should choose a poem from one of the designated subjects or forms. They will then take turns presenting the merits of their poem along with the other students who have chosen a different poem from the same group. Once a “Best in Category” has been selected for each group, those winners will compete to be “Best in Show.” To prepare for this game, consider having your class watch a few clips of the National Dog Show and have fun trying to replicate a similar atmosphere in your classroom. And keep in mind that, as with dogs, the winner will often just come down to a matter of taste.

4. Blind draw debate

In this game, poems are again pitted against each other, but this time, students don’t get to choose their poem. Instead, pairs or groups of students are assigned a poem. They must analyze it and debate its merits with another group—whether they really like that poem or not.

5. Poetry in motion baseball

Divide your class into two teams, and give each team a stack of poems. Draw a baseball diamond on the board or arrange desks into a baseball diamond. This game could even be played outside with actual bases. The player “at bat” is asked to locate a poetic device from the stack of poems. For example, they may be asked to find a poem that has onomatopoeia or locate an example of alliteration in one of their poems. If a student can answer the question in the allotted amount of time (say 30 seconds), they advance to the next base. Three incorrect or unanswered questions equals three strikes, and the opposing team is up to bat.

Non-Competitive Poetry Activities

Of course, if you prefer to steer clear of competition, there are other fun ways to bring poetry into your classroom. You might even let your students choose which of these activities they want to do.

6. Memorize!

Have students memorize and recite poetry. We tend to think of memory work as outdated or as something strictly for the younger grades. But poetry memorization is a valuable skill for every age.

7. Make them new

Let students rewrite poems in their own words.

8. Add art

Ask students to illustrate their favorite poem.

9. Make it musical

Have students work in pairs to turn their poem into a song and perform it for the class.

10. Tell a story

Rewrite a favorite poem as a story. This works well with narrative poetry or poems like “The Jabberwocky ” or “Casey at the Bat.”

11. Line slides

Allow students to create a slide presentation taking the class through their poem line by line or stanza by stanza, explaining what it means and how the poet uses different poetic devices.

12. Become the poets

Encourage students to write their own poems on various subjects or following different forms.

13. Read to others

If you can visit a nearby elementary, collect poems for young children, and let older students practice reading them with voice and expression then read them to the little ones.

Need ideas for your classroom? These poems are a great place to start!





Because kids sometimes struggle to relate to poetry, many teachers are reluctant to teach it. But the key to bringing poetry into your classroom is to start out by keeping it light and fun and to give kids plenty of ways to explore the wonder, beauty, and fun of poetry. These poetry activities are great for helping both students and teachers develop a love for reading poems in class.