Teaching Tips

25 Jan

5 Top Poetry Tips by Matt Miller.


I have been teaching weekly at Arnold Hill now for around ten months, and along the way have learned a thing or two. After all that time, I think I’d be alright in thinking I’m at least some way qualified to give 5 Top Poetry Teaching Tips. I will not profess these to be my top 5, because my Top-5-anythings tend to change fairly regularly, but here we are:


  • Listen, for God’s sake listen!
    • Listen to your class and determine what they want and need and the direction they want to move in. They’ll have some good ideas. Use them, steal, roll with them and everyone will be happier. Of course its important to have your own plans and ideas but giving time to respond to student input is no bad thing.


  • Stay on your toes, baby
    • Have formulas. Formulas are good when they work. They’re lovely. Routines are good for most people, I think. But classroom dynamics and needs seem to have a way of shifting around a fair bit. Use your formulas  but don’t let the routine of them blind you to the dynamics wiggling. Keep an eye out for when things need to change and don’t be afraid to do so.


  • Do as I say, do as I do
    • I usually find, if I have anytime at all, that it’s a good idea for me to run through the exercises I’m planning to set my students myself before the session. It makes me more confident with introducing the exercise, allows for better timing and, if needs be, provides me with an example of my own response to the exercise that can help to underline my explanation of it.


  • Bring the atmosphere
    • Enter the classroom carrying the atmosphere you want to create. Come in smiling. Come in energetic, positive, prepared, calm, measured, ready, eager, bright eyed, bushy tailed. Or whatever your preferred mood for the session may be. Embody it.


  • Keep it relevant
    • There are a million writing and teaching exercises out there. Oh internet, you ever present friend. But if you don’t get the grasp of the exercise yourself, it isn’t ever gonna work. If it’s a nice exercise that you really like the sound of but it’s not relevant to your session, it aint likely to work. Use teaching exercises on the internet for inspiration, steal your favourite lines, but make them your own somehow. You’ll understand them better and it’ll work better.


There we are. There’s more, of course, but I think those are 5 useful ones. It’s also very important, I find, to keep a record of sessions – type up how things went, keep your exercises and plans in a folder, refer back to them, remind yourself of what you’ve done, what worked, what didn’t, don’t throw stuff away. Let’s call that number 6 then; Record and reflect. And enjoy it. That’s good too.



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