10 Poems To Teach Figurative Language

Incorporating literary devices into lessons? Try these ten poems to teach figurative language.

While I appreciate poetry, teaching it does not come naturally to me. I must purposefully incorporate poetry into lessons. As I continue to stretch myself with poetry, I discover its depth and tools; I truly do enjoy finding figurative language in poetry. Plus, I enjoy finding the techniques normally associated with poetry in speeches or nonfiction. I’ve always known that poetry provides meaning and symbolism to so many readers.

One way that I teach poetry is alongside literature, a bit of a paired activity. I search for new poets from varying backgrounds and time periods. I typically switch up poetry every school year, so I have a vast amount of poems that I can recommend to you, especially for teaching figurative language. (If you want to download this list, I have a printable version in my resource library. I’ll email you the password, and you can download the list and many more activities.)

Specifically, if you are looking for poems to teach figurative language, I have ideas. Look at these suggestions:

Edgar Allan Poe:Annabel Lee,” hyperbole

I started with Poe because I love him. He’s dark and brooding… great features for a poet. “Annabel Lee” is sad, but students often see it as upbeat because the theme relates to love. Neither Poe nor his darling bride was a “child,” making this the perfect poem for teaching hyperbole.

Maya Angelou:“Still I Rise,” consonance.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of my favorite books, and I introduce Angelou to students with her poetry. Students enjoy the momentum of the poem, and they can easily analyze how her use of consonance creates a flow.

Langston Hughes:Harlem (Dream Deferred),” simile.

Langston Hughes is probably my favorite poet, and I sneak his poetry into class often. “Dream Deferred” has clear similes. Students have strong opinions about raisins, and the poem grosses some of them out which, I always tell them, is the point of poetry. A reader should feel emotional about poetry.

William Shakespeare: “Sonnet 18,” metaphor.

I introduce classics to students alongside modern pieces. “Sonnet 18” is the perfect example of students enjoying classic pieces. Most students have heard part of this sonnet, and explaining the metaphor is an easy next step.

Elizabeth Alexander: “Butter,” alliteration.

“Butter” has great examples of alliteration, but the entire poem provides a great opportunity for discussion. Teach this poem alone or with any story that reflects on childhood. Students will giggle over the poem’s message.

Walter Dean Myers: “Summer,” imagery.

I honestly teach this poem at the end of the school year. Students can relate to the poem because Myers has targeted exactly what summer means to youth. I like sending students to summer with a bit of imagery.

Gwendolyn Brooks:Speech to the Young,” alliteration, assonance, consonance.

This poem has perfect examples of alliteration, assonance, and consonance which students often need to practice. The theme resonates with youth, too.

Juan Felipe Herrera.Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings,” symbolism.

Juan Felipe Herrera is still writing poetry and winning awards. Students always like reading modern works and note that a writer is still alive. (This fact makes me laugh.) Students will also appreciate that elements in this poem could symbolize various parts of their lives.

Teaching figurative language with recent poetry is a bonus.

Sara Teasdale: “There Will Come Soft Rains,” assonance.

This poem is in Bradbury’s short story, but teach it with any story about war. Teasdale was an American writer, and her work fits nicely into an American literature curriculum. Teasdale uses assonance, but students will recognize other elements as well. The figurative language in poetry of Teasdale is plenty.

Lord Tennyson: “Morte d’Arthur,” onomatopoeia

First, this is a fun poem. “Ripple” and “lapping” are examples of onomatopoeia. Finally, the poem is long, and I often jigsaw it with a class.

I keep my eyes open for new poetry to add to my curriculum, and I specifically use these ten poems to teach figurative language. If you want to download this list, it is in my library. Sometimes having a list within your reach can prompt important discussions and provide enrichment to another lesson, especially if you’re targeting and teaching figurative language.

If you’re looking for another approach to teaching figurative language, read Melissa’s post for more ideas over at Reading and Writing Haven.

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poetry activities