Teaching poetry can be difficult because many students are intimidated by this writing form and may not have a solid understanding of why poetry matters. It is important to find ways to engage the students in the material when teaching poetry by not only choosing the right poems to teach, but also by understanding the personalities and interests of the students to be taught. Starting with very simple concepts and allowing the students a bit of free rein in the subject matter can help them become engaged before moving onto more difficult topics and poems.
One reason that teaching poetry can be difficult is because students tend to have a difficult time understanding figurative language. This is any word or phrase that has an implied meaning; examples include similes, metaphors, metonymy, synecdoche, and so on. Before teaching poetry to a class of students, try teaching one or two of these literary devices. Simile is perhaps the easiest concept for students to grasp, so this is a good starting point. Give students plenty of examples of similes; mix famous similes from poems and literary works with similes made up on the spot; challenge students to come up with the most creative similes they can think of.
Once students have a basic understanding of some types of figurative language, present the students with simpler, shorter poems that express one emotion throughout. Point out the literary devices the students have learned. It may help to choose a poem without any rhyme scheme at first to allow students to focus on the figurative language instead. This will make teaching poetry a bit easier at the onset. Once the students can recognize and use figurative language, it may be a good idea to move onto rhyme schemes and common types of poems. While the sonnet is perhaps the most well known form of poetry, it may not be the best place to start. Begin with a simple rhyme scheme, such as ABABA, and so on.
The more engaged with the materials the students are, the easier teaching poetry will be for the teacher. Instead of starting off a lesson with Shakespearean sonnets, the teacher should perhaps start with a modern poet who uses modern language the students can connect with. Moving to Shakespeare later on is certainly important, but it is more important for the students to understand the point of poetry before delving into exceptionally challenging works.