Recently, I was wandering around a Target while my daughter was at Girl Scouts, and I was amazed to find six (six!) collections of poetry in the book section! Poetry! At Target! I was so moved that I took a picture and Tweeted,
I suppose what moves me is that I don’t think it’s coincidental that we are at an unprecedented moment of social and political unrest and uprising (and renewal?) in this country and suddenly Rupi Kaur is a New York Times bestselling poet and collections of poetry are for sale to the masses at Target.
It seems poetry has gone mainstream, at least in part, because we constantly swim in a current of excess language. There seems to be some kind of universal agreement that it’s time to pare down. To distill talk until it’s just truth.
Poetry has been a bit out of vogue in education over the last few years. At least in Virginia, poetry is not longer found on state tests. So unless students take an AP or IB literature course, reading poetry has been largely erased from most classrooms. After all, why invest valuable instructional time on a cognitively challenging genre on which students won’t be tested?
Of course, we all know better. Of course, we must do better.
Rupi Kaur , r.h.sin, Amanda Lovelace, and the other poets whose collections can be purchased at airport newspaper stands write in sound bytes and Instagram posts. Their poems can often feel more like an inspirational coffee mug than classic verse. And while I don’t think that Cyrus Parker should replace Seamus Heaney, Instagram poets can open the gate for our students into a bigger world of reading and writing poetry.
So, why not create a unit of study around Instapoets — reading them, analyzing their writing, contemplating what makes them so popular, and then creating our own (hopefully viral) Instapoems.
A Unit Map:
Day One: Introduce Some Poets & Begin Mentor Text Immersion
There’s a good chance many of your students won’t need an introduction to Instagram poets, though they may not know that we would call these writers poets in the same way we would Emily Dickinson.
(“What poets do you like?” I asked a writer the other day beginning a poem of her own and looking for a mentor text.
“I don’t know. I don’t really like poetry that much. But I kind of like Atticus,” she replied.
“Yep. That’s a poet. Find an Atticus poem you admire,” I suggested.)
The articles listed in the resources below are a good place to start talking about this phenomenon and the most notable poets within it. Choose a favorite to read as a class. Or perhaps divvy them out to groups and let each group introduce the rest of the class to a different poet.
Then, move your Instapoetry study into a deep dive into some mentor texts. For day one, choose ONE to study together. The resources below give you lots of poets to check out, but think carefully about your students and your teaching context while selecting these because they are NOT all tame. (In fact, Rupi Kaur has famously had posts blocked on Instagram because of their content.)
These days, I like to break mentor text study into three distinct parts:
- What do you notice about the kind of ideas the writer explores?
- What do you notice about the way the writer structures, organizes, and presents the writing?
- What do you notice about the way the writer uses words and punctuation?
Chat about your noticings. Make a chart. Talk about what exactly makes this poetry.
Day Two: More Mentor Texts!
On Day Two, we want to dig into many more mentor texts to see what else we can learn about Instagram poetry and to see what patterns are emerging. Allison and I usually advocate for 3-5 mentor texts. However, these are so tiny you can easily juggle more. I wouldn’t use more than 10-15, though.
Today you could continue to work as a whole class on a set of mentor poems that you have curated, you could jigsaw some poetry work (read through a handful of poems and lets students pick the one that speaks most to them). Or, if you are very daring, have older students, and have a permissive firewall that will allow you to access Instagram, you could simply give students a list of poets and turn them loose to explore and make noticings as they go!
By the end of class, you want to regroup, pool your thinking, and come up with a conclusive list of ideas about how Instapoets work their magic.
Day Three: Choose a Touchstone Poet & Gather Ideas
Since students will have likely looked at so many more mentor texts in this writing study than they normally would, it’s helpful for them to zoom in on one poet and his or her particular style before launching into their own pieces.
Once students have identified a “touchstone” poet for this unit, you might consider letting students sit and work with other students focusing on the same poet.
Students should begin gathering ideas for their own original Instagram poem. They might do this by “writing off the page” or brainstorming on Post-Its (just the right size for an InstaPoem).
Days Four-Six: Drafting and Conferring
Three days for drafting a wee poem feels like a lot, but in this unit of study I want to encourage students to draft multiple poems. Even when writing longer poems, students are tempted to dump a one-and-done draft on the page and call it finished. To students, poetry seems easy. We know that a powerful poem is arguably the hardest writing a student can do.
Telling students from the get-go “You have three days to think and write and revise and play with a few different poems” telegraphs your intentions that students should take this writing seriously, no matter how small the final product will be.
Days Seven and Eight: Feedback and Final Revision
In small groups, students should share the poems they have drafted and get feedback — yes, on word choice and line breaks, but also on which poem is the most resonant. Ultimately, students will only be submitting one of the poems they have drafted.
With their final poem selected, writers should do some final polishing.
Day Nine: Publishing
This is every student’s favorite step: making their writing beautiful and print-ready. Today, students should get their poem ready for Instagram by creating a graphic. I love Canva for producing social media graphics, but I’ve shared some other options below in the resources!
There are lots of ways students might publish these poems to Instagram. If you have a class Instagram account, students can email you their graphics, and you can post each one! If you don’t regularly keep an Instagram account, you could create one just for this purpose.
If you can’t actually go live on Instagram, compile students’ poems into a slide show to share in class or maybe even run on a loop in the school library.
I would also encourage students to publish it to their own social media, though. Think of the sense of ownership and purpose that would accompany asking your students to go public as a writer! When was the last time your students published their English-class writing to their social media accounts? Instapoets have gathered momentum through the public-ness of their words — it’s inherent to the genre. It should be a part of our students’ process, too.
Resources to Help You Plan & Teach
Listicles of Instagram Poets to Follow:
Some Mentor InstaPoems:
Apps for Creating Instagram Graphics: