Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Poetic Primary Sources: Using Poetry to Teach History

During National Poetry Month, we often think about reading or writing poems in our Language Arts classes, but poetry can be an incredibly valuable tool in the Social Studies classroom, as well.  After all, poetry has been around since the beginning of written word!


More importantly, according to the National Council for Social Studies, primary sources should be our go-to for informational text in the History classroom.  Primary sources offer us a first hand account of history, and can often provide perspectives (and biases) we cannot otherwise see. Poetic primary sources can open up doors to the innermost thoughts of individuals, and can help students examine time and place in a way other documents cannot, allowing emotion to come through in the sharing of historic times and events.

Here are just a few resources to help you make the most of National Poetry Month in your Social Studies Classroom:
  • Poetry Soup has great listings of poems from all eras and all peoples.  Take a look at the many history-related poems to find a topic that works best in your class.
  • Some of the greatest poetry is written in times of strife.  During WWII, incredible poets recorded their greatest experiences and fears during their internment in camps, both in American and Europe.  While the Japanese wrote haikus throughout history, the ones written during American Internment were written in English, yet are truly authentic in form.  Poems written during the Holocaust in Europe take on many forms, but are all strong in both emotion and visualization.  Find a great collection of all types of poetry from WWII at the WWII Poetry Site.
  • During WWI, many soldiers wrote letters from the trenches.  Some of those wrote in poetic form, sharing their hopes and fears for their futures.  The Poetry Foundation has a very complete listing of resources that describe many aspects of the first world war.
  • And if we are sharing historic poetry, we must go back to the original poets of Greece, and Homer was the best at detailing history in verse.  Examine Classical Literature and the poets that started it all at Ancient Literature
  • Finally, Famous Poets and Poems has an amazing listing of poems from all times, including modern poets that examine current topics and current events.  Allow students to read Maya Angelou or Shel Silverstein to escape into the realities of the 20th century or the dreams of the 21st.

But reading poetry is not enough! Allow your students to report on history in poetic form.  Writing poetry can be informing, but also cathartic.  More importantly, it can be engaging, keeping your students learning through the month and beyond as you come closer and closer to the end of the year!

Happy Teaching!

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