It can be hard to know which poems will spur your middle and high schoolers into deep, meaningful discussion and which will leave them, ahem, yawning. So we asked experienced teachers to share their favorites—the punch-in-the-gut poems that always get a reaction, even from teens. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Snow by David Berman
Captures a narrative in miniature with a creative structure.
2. Deer Hit by Jon Loomis
Students won’t soon forget this poem, both for the story and the sensory details.
3. Eating Poetry by Mark Strand
Read this poem to discuss the meaning beyond the literal words on the page.
4. Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
Frost doesn’t hold back with this poem, an ideal one for discussion and debate.
5. Having a Coke With You by Frank O’Hara
Teach this poem for how O’Hara uses references or for the humor.
6. That Sure Is My Little Dog by Eleanor Lehman
Lehman engages with popular culture and an irreverent tone.
7. Mother to Son by Langston Hughes
A politically charged poem that still rings true today, Hughes’ poetry, but particularly Mother to Son, is timeless.
8. Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House by Billy Collins
Any student who’s ever felt annoyed or had to put up with daily frustrations will relate to this poem.
9. Pass On by Michael Lee
Lee’s poem creates snapshots of memory, creating lines and ideas for every student to grab and hold on to.
10. The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur
The late artist created a clear connection between the rhythm and deeper meaning of poetry and rap.
11. Beethoven by Shane Koyczan
This poem is a biography in verse that connects Beethoven’s story to the universal.
12. A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe
Poe is an expert at rhyme scheme—and this poem is clear evidence of that.
13. Oranges by Gary Soto
Soto’s poem about trying to impress a girl shows what small moments reveal about ourselves, and how those moments embed themselves in our memories.
14. Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
A political, uplifting, call to action that students should read right when they’re starting to define the mark they can have on the world.
15. And the Ghosts by Graham Foust
An example of just what one line can do.
16. So You Want to Be a Writer by Charles Bukowski
Sheds light on the writing process, with a sense of humor and a tongue-in-cheek challenge.
17. This Is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams
This poem leaves lots of space for inference, which leads to great discussion.
18. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas
A solid work for teaching poetry elements (repetition, rhyme scheme …).
19. We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks
This fun, quirky poem captures the mood of teenagers and leaves a lot to talk about.
20. Daddy by Sylvia Plath
Plath rarely minces words and this is no exception—this poem is stuffed full of deeper meaning.
21. I died for Beauty, but was scarce by Emily Dickinson
Dickinson is so good at creating mood, this time about reflection.
22. Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
A ghost story wrapped up in a poem, another Poe classic.
23. Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market by Pablo Neruda
The rest of the poem is as humorous as the title, and it’s fun to dissect and analyze how Neruda writes about everyday objects, like the tuna on ice.
24. A Total Stranger One Black Day by E. E. Cummings
Use this poem to teach ways to approach point of view.
What are your favorite poems to teach?