Last week, I dished out my seven tips for teaching poetry to middle school students. One of those tips was to make the study of poetry feel relevant to students. One of the best ways to do this is through your selection of poems that students are asked to read. While what is “relevant” will vary from student to student and class to class, I have done my best to make a list of relevant poems for middle school students.
I like to use read these poems with students throughout my poetry unit. It is especially fun to take a deep dive into some of these poems when teaching students how to analyze a poem.
Relevant Poems for Middle School Students
1. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
Middle school students love this poem by the one and only Maya Angelou. Students will be inspired by Angelou’s words as she expresses her adamant refusal to be kept down by anyone or anything!
2. “Text” by Carol Ann Duffy
What poem could feel more relevant to a teenager than a poem about text messages? This short, but insightful, poem by Carol Ann Duffy explores the nature of the popular form of communication many of us use hundreds of times a day. I find it fascinating to hear students’ thoughts on the benefits and hindrances of texting after studying this poem.
3. “Webcam the World” by Heather McCugh
In a thoughtful fusion of technology and nature, Heather McCugh exposes the irony of urgently recording the beauty (and ugliness) of the world using the devices created by the people and culture that is destroying nature! Your students will love this ironic call to save nature!
4. “If” by Rudyard Kipling
A classic poem by the British India-born author, Rudyard Kipling, that is sure to inspire your students. While this poem is written from the perspective of a father to his son, it contains a lot of helpful advice that can be applied to anyone. What I think I love most about this poem is the way that it describes a person who has developed emotional maturity–something that many of us (even adults) are often lacking!
5. “The Doll House” by A.E. Stallings
This poem by A.E. Stallings is a lovely nostalgic nod to both childhood and to the simple things of life. I love how she takes something as simple as a doll house and turns it into a meaningful reflective moment.
6. “The Hill We Climb” Amanda Gorman
One could not help but be mesmerized by the incredible Amanda Gorman as she brilliantly recited this poem during the presidential inauguration in January 2021. This poem contains so many beautiful truths that are sure to resonate with your middle school students. My personal favorite is the last lines, “For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.”
7. “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” by Tupac Shakur
A beautiful metaphor about courage, grit, and perseverance, Tupac’s few short lines will feel relevant to many students. Aided in part by the familiar author, the poem encourages students to continue pressing on in the face of adversity. What teenager has never felt adversity?
8. “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes
With similar themes to the previous poem, Langston Hughes’ dramatic monologue describes a mother’s efforts to carry on in the face of racism and oppression. As she encourages her son through the extended metaphor of climbing stairs, students will make connections between the time when the poem was written and the current state of our society. A great poem to take a look at where we were, how far we have come, and where we have yet to go.
9. “See It Through” by Edgar Guest
Another classic poem about perseverance, the catchy rhyme and rhythm of Edgar Guest’s “See It Through” will teach students a thing or two about how to approach difficult situations. I love teaching students that we often learn best through mistakes and failures. In fact, it is the mistakes and failures that can make us stronger!
10. “Touching the Sky” by Shreya D. Chattree
I adore this poem by Shreya D. Chattree! I love the perspective of a young girl approaching life with the hope of learning and growing, failing and struggling, all in the quest to become the best version of herself. What a lovely way to view the world!
11. “Be the Best of Whatever You Are” by Douglas Malloch
Another classic, “Be the Best of Whatever You Are” is a poem that encourages individuals to avoid the trap of comparison! I find this poem especially relevant in the age of social media, when it is so easy to believe the lie that a person’s worth is in the number or followers or likes, instaed of inherent. I love the reminder to stay in our own lanes and be the best version of ourselves!
12. “The Blade and the Ax” by Abimbola T. Alabi
“The Blade and the Ax” by Alabi is a great modern compliment to Malloch’s classic. Alabi uses personification to describe the world’s need for each individual’s talents. Everyone has something important to contribute! What a great lesson for middle school students to learn!
Poetry: You Can Do It!
While teaching poetry to middle school students can feel daunting at times, you can do it! One key is to meet students where they are and make it fun! Sharing poems that feel important and meaningful to middle school students will be a big help!
I would love to hear what poems you and your students love! Drop the in the comments below!
Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)