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Top Ten Reasons We Dare You to Give an English Teacher “How to Read a Poem”


Give a teacher how to read a poem

Why Every Teacher Needs “How to Read a Poem” with Billy Collins

I stopped by the school yesterday to see my son’s English teacher. We talked about Common Core and standardized tests, research papers and the medieval mural an art student had painted on her wall. And we talked about the Quatrain Wreck, a “how to write a sonnet” infographic we published at Tweetspeak a couple of years ago. It turns out she uses the graphic in her senior literature classes. My older son told her I made it. She was new in the district, we hadn’t met, and she didn’t believe him. (It wouldn’t have been the first time he’d pulled her leg about something.)

There’s a bad word in the sonnet. I apologized for that, but she laughed, saying that it actually helps her students remember, noting that it is the scandal in the works that they read that stays with them the best. Human nature, I suppose. What I hadn’t realized was that she found the Quatrain Wreck by Googling sonnet teaching resources. (I thought my kids had shown it to her.) She wanted resources that would make learning fun and interesting, avoiding what one of our young publicity interns calls “the grim art of teaching poetry.”

Many of us were first exposed to poetry via that grim art, and suffered for it. Many students still are. And teachers are looking for ways to make that art not so grim. Even to make it the playful art of teaching poetry. The fun art of teaching poetry. The delightful art of teaching poetry.

give how to read a poem to an english teacherI brought my son’s English teacher a copy of Tania Runyan’s How to Read a Poem, and gave her a second copy to share with a colleague. Runyan uses the imagery and humor of Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry” as a framework for learning to experience a poem rather than take a blunt force instrument to it. Her approach is disarming as she invites readers to open their senses to a poem, not to a glossary of poetic devices.

I gave our local teacher the book because I believe it’s a book every English teacher should have in his or her top desk drawer. And today we’re extending a new sort of Poetry Dare: We dare you to give an English teacher a copy of How to Read a Poem. Surely you know an English teacher in your community. If not, ask around. And then order a copy, and hand deliver it. Tell the teacher Tweetspeak Poetry double-dog dared you.


Our Top Ten Reasons to Give an English Teacher How to Read a Poem

How to Read a Poem by Tania Runyan

Buy “How to Read a Poem” for a teacher

1. Tweetspeak dared you.

2. Tweetspeak double-dog dared you.

3. How to Read a Poem could make a student fall in love with poetry.

4. How to Read a Poem could help a teacher change the grim art of teaching poetry to the delightful art of teaching poetry.

5. Teachers work tirelessly to find creative ways to engage students. You could make a teacher much less tired.

6. I asked you to.

7. It would make a lovely end-of-school-year gift.

8. When was the last time you brought an English teacher a gift?

9. Because most English teachers today weren’t around when Shakespeare and Poe were writing poems.

10. Because we want an English teacher in every state to be given this book. Trust us on this: you don’t want your state to be outdone by South Dakota. (Let us know in the comments if you give a teacher the book, along with your city and state, and we’ll pin the book to your state. Once we fill the state by state map, we’ll go county by county and country by country.)

How to Read a Poem teacher map

BONUS REASON: Because a student cared enough to make this (can you hear the enthusiasm?):

A few words about How to Read a Poem, from student reader Sonia Joie:

“It makes you all happy when you read it.”

“I like how she gets you to read the poems and helps you go inside them. They’re nice poems to be inside.”

“Can I write in here? I usually don’t write in books, but I want to mark good parts and things I think of when I read the poems.”


Photo by Max Klingensmith, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by L.W. Lindquist. 

Your Comments

47 Comments so far

  1. . . . because:

    It’s among the very best and most creative resources for teaching poetry.

    It’s never too soon to cultivate appreciation for poetry.

    Teachers and students will learn something together.

    The book contains a wonderful anthology that will introduce students to voices they might otherwise never hear.

    Well, I could go on….

    Your Top 10 would make a great marketing piece, Lyla.

  2. L. L. Barkat says:

    This is so funny. Perfect. Perfect!

    Tania Runyan would be proud (and laughing. :) )

  3. L. L. Barkat says:

    Oh, and it’s true. New York absolutely does not want to be outdone by South Dakota :-)

    I just purchased 3 copies: one for a teacher in Westchester County, one for a library in Westchester County, and one for the tip of Manhattan (Poet’s House).

    Let the games begin ;-)

  4. Because some of us were frightened by poetry back when we were in high school . . .

    . . . and it’s taken 40+ years (and a dare) to get over it.

  5. Adding another reason to the list:

    It might keep good English teachers from resigning.

    • L. L. Barkat says:

      Monica, the link can’t be read without signing up. I’m curious to know what some of the reasons are.

      • I was able to read it. Odd.

        Teachers are feeling choked by regulatory encroachment, needing to teach to tests, increased stress for teachers and students because of the mandates, etc. All those things you know very well.

        Here is a link to her resignation letter that is referenced in the Gazette:

      • Not sure how long comments can be. Here’s part of the article:


        Hawkins’ letter says in part: “I can no longer be a part of a system that continues to do the exact opposite of what I am supposed to do as a teacher – I am supposed to help them think for themselves, help them find solutions to problems, help them become productive members of society. Instead, the emphasis is on Common Core Standards and high stakes testing that is creating a teach to the test mentality for our teachers, and stress and anxiety for our students.”

        She added, “Students have increasingly become hesitant to think for themselves, because they have been programmed to believe that there is one right answer.”

  6. Jeri says:

    Teaching poetry was my favorite part of the year when I was in the classroom. You have to get kids warmed up with some sillier and more playful forms before plunging into the dreaded sonnet! I learned that the hard way…

  7. i am an english teacher
    gone bad -

    for shame
    for shame

    the day i taught
    to the test, student
    splattered lines,
    made me mad

    for their sadness,
    for my buckling knees.

    i pounded the table with
    my fists – got their attention, i did.
    “this diagraming bit
    is going down in

    p.s. – i shall add yonder book to my cart :-)

  8. Donna says:

    I just bought one on Kindle for my dear friend in NY – she teaches middle school and LOTS of poetry! I’m going to fwd Sonia Joie’s reading as well… just to get her started. :)

  9. Tania Runyan says:

    This is wonderful–thank you so much for getting HTRAP out there! And Sonia, your words mean the most to me. :)

  10. Lyla, I have officially invited two English teachers to this ‘dare.’ It’d be grand to win one of them a copy. Good job, Tweetspeak!

    • LW Lindquist says:

      Thanks for doing that, Jody. :)

      Say, Tweetspeak isn’t actually doing the giveaway, so to be sure to be entered, go over to the Chicken Story (linked above) and leave a comment. :)

  11. Sarah says:

    Mississippi has a copy now, too!

  12. Because the system has destroyed the joy of poetry by its methods, and could learn a thing or two…


    You know there’s one right answer
    when you take that test. So you do your

    best to get it right, the faster the better,
    or you’ll find on your paper a giant red X.

    No time to stop and contemplate. Mark
    your answer without delay. The teacher

    is waiting and heaven knows she doesn’t
    have all day. Thirty questions all the same.

    Every student should know without
    hesitation that the sky is blue. But what if

    today you clearly see a sky of feather gray
    or remember an earlier violet dawn complete

    with the joy of birdsong? Or envision
    yesterday’s blaze of sunset:streaks of amber

    and pink bleeding across the horizon.Oh well,never mind what you

    see or feel or think. Just go by the book
    and fill in the blank. The sky is ____.

  13. Kevin L. Stotts says:

    I won a book to give to a teacher. I don’t think I told you that we are both in Ohio (Columbus suburbs). So, please add Ohio to the map. Thanks.

  14. Sandra Wirfel says:

    Forest Hills School District, St Mischael Pennsylvania. three copies of “How To Read a Poem”

  15. Because it’s also always good to give a present to yourself!

    Teaching poetry in Pennsylvania,


  16. Stick a pin in Michigan.

  17. Please add South Carolina to the map. What a slow poke I must be, dragging across the finish line like the tortoise when all the other hares blasted out of the starting gate weeks before me.

    My lateness should not indicate my sincere desire to put a copy of this book into the hands of at least two or three teachers I currently have in mind.



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    […] There’s a bad word in the sonnet. I apologized for that, but she laughed, saying that it actually helps her students remember, noting that it is the scandal in the works that they read that stays with them the best. Human nature, I suppose. What I hadn’t realized was that she found the Quatrain Wreck by Googling sonnet teaching resources. (I thought my kids had shown it to her.) She wanted resources that would make learning fun and interesting, avoiding what one of our young publicity interns calls “the grim art of teaching poetry.” (read the rest of this post at Tweetspeak Poetry) […]

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