School library programming ideas for National Poetry Month

gate books

When Ropa Moyo discovered an underground occult library, she expected great things. However, instead of being paid for her magic, she had to accept a lousy, unpaid internship. And pay them with bills and feed them to a fox. Then her friend Priya offers her a part-time job. Priya works at Our Lady of Mysterious Maladies, a very specialized hospital where a new disease resists both magical and medicinal cures. Her detective work leads her to a lost fortune, a spirit of vengeance and a mystery buried deep in Scotland’s past.

April is National Poetry Month. It was created in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets to raise awareness of the importance of poetry and to highlight the role of poets in our culture. When I was in the classroom, I loved teaching poetry, which I know is not the experience of many teachers. Part of the joy for me was taking my classes to the library to code what my librarians had planned. After the long grind of January through March in public school, celebrating poetry in April, usually after spring break, was a great way to get my students to start shopping again. It helped bring creativity and fun to the classroom after months of preparation and standardized testing.

Planning school library programs for National Poetry Month is a great way for the library to work with teachers. One of my focus areas this year, after a year of virtual teaching, was how to make teachers’ lives easier. I don’t want to make the teachers work anymore, I want to offer them a breathing space. Many of these programs are easy to participate in and enrich students without increasing the workload of teachers. Collaboration is one of my favorite aspects of being a school librarian, and National Poetry Month is one of the best times to encourage collaboration.

As with any program, it is important to raise awareness. You can get a free poster that can be downloaded to include in digital announcements and a physical copy can be requested to post in the library for teachers to display in their classrooms. The poster was designed by a student and selected in a competition. There is a cash prize for the winner and runner-up, and the students’ artworks are exhibited in schools, libraries, and literary events across the United States. Keep an eye out for the 2023 poster competition, which will take place this fall.

Poster for National Poetry Month 2022 with words There is a poem in this location

Dear poet 2022

In this multimedia project, students and teachers are challenged to write letters to poets, written and read by the award-winning poets themselves, in response to their poems. The website has a list of videos of poets reading selected works of the year. Students spend time viewing or reading (or viewing and reading) the available poems, and then write a letter responding to that poem. There are two ways letters can be sent to Dear Poet: students can submit individually, or teachers can submit on behalf of their students from the classroom. For teachers there is a lesson plan with four activities, starting with reading historical poets and writing them a letter, then reviewing the poets of 2022 and responding with a letter.

This is an opportunity for school librarians to teach classroom instruction and collaborate with both teachers and students. If you prefer to do this as a month-long activity program in the library, the Individual Student Response Form should be used. This activity is perfect for lunch or classrooms, as it’s easy for students to participate on their own, with some guidance from librarians. When they’re done, you can download and print a certificate of completion to take home.

Submissions are due by May 1, 2022. After the work is submitted, some student letters are selected for publication with the student’s consent. Then poets will respond to the answers. So students can check back in to see what the poets they met in the library think of what the students said. It’s exciting to engage with poetry and poets who are writing in real time in this way. Students are excited to receive a personalized response. Check out some of the letters and replies from 2021.

Blackout Poetry

Blackout poetry is when printed text, such as a page from a book, newspaper, or magazine, is edited or “blacked out” so that the remaining words make up a poem. This is a great program option as it takes students off their phones and into a tactile activity. It is also another program that can be held throughout the month.

All you need are pages of text and black permanent markers. Take some robbed and discarded books and rip out the pages. Better yet, let the kids rip out the pages because they love the thrill of something this taboo being allowed in the library. It can range from as simple as a fully redacted poem with just a few words remaining, to drawings that represent what the poem is about. The poet can be as creative as he wants. For a more detailed step-by-step guide, see this blog post.

pro tip: Wherever you put the markers and paper, make sure you put something on the table to protect it or you’ll end up with black spots bleeding through the paper.

back poetry

Spine poetry is a form of “found” poetry. It is made up of words from other sources, such as blackout poetry or poetry made up of a series of images. In this case, the book titles form a poem, so a little imagination is required.

Have students come and stack books so their titles make up a poem. It’s fast, fun, and a great way to get kids involved in the library. It’s a perfect photo opportunity for #shelfie. Children can add their creations to social media if they want to share their poems. It’s also a great photo op for libraries with their own social media presence to highlight student work.

Poem in your pocket tag

April 29th is a national poem in your pocket day. The date is always in April, but changes from year to year. Poem in your pocket day, created in 2008 by the Academy of American Poets, consists of carrying a short poem with you (which fits in your pocket) to reflect on and share with others to make reading easier to encourage poetry.

For the program, print out short poems, no more than one page. Poets.org has provided Poem for Your Bag Day with suggestions for short poems and print-ready poems. This resource is about 60 pages long, but you don’t need to print every page. Instructions, poems and even an origami swan tutorial are included.

Once you have printed the poems and cut them to pocket size, set up a designated pocket poem space so students know where to pick up their poems. Encourage them to write their own poems to share and carry in their bags too! It’s fun to lay out some sticky notes or other small papers for students to write their own poem or copy a poem they like. Consider creating a place where pocket poems can be posted. Students can share their own work or their favorite poems publicly. This is a program that benefits from a lot of building or marketing to the day to increase participation.

Encourage teachers to participate by choosing their own pocket poem and allowing time in class to share poems. You can provide teachers with a digital tool to create a stapleless book that students can add multiple poems to as needed. Again, this is another activity that translates well to social media, often using the hashtag #PocketPoem. Share poems students chose and why. Or share poems students have written if they’re okay with it.

I found an awesome digital poem in your bags activity that made a high school library in Virginia where they made a slideshow of bags you can click on and each takes you to a different poem. This library did this while their school was in hybrid teaching mode; some students in school, but 80% still learn virtually from home.

poetry slam

Hosting a poetry slam is the ultimate library goal. It’s a big project, but definitely worth it. As I mentioned earlier on how to start a young adult book club, the best way forward is with student leaders. Does your school have a poetry or creative writing club? Can you take a creative writing class and recruit? these are your people

This is a great opportunity for community involvement. See if you can reach local poets willing to serve as a judge or give a special performance. It’s always great to have community members, who students may know or have heard of, demonstrating literacy in action right where they live.

Once you have your student leaders, appoint an MC, organizer and recruit judges. It is best to have both student and faculty judges. The MC will host the event, hype the poets and manage the audience. The organizer keeps time, points and manages participant lists and submissions. Promotion is also very important at this event. You don’t want brave teenage poets showing up to deliver spoken word poetry with no one in the audience. For a more detailed step-by-step guide, check out this one from Youth Speaks.

National Poetry Month is an excellent opportunity to break the stigma surrounding poetry. At school, teenagers often learn to hate poetry because they think they misunderstand it or that they can’t understand it. The library can be a place to reintroduce easily accessible, beautiful poetry to be shared and enjoyed by all.


If you’re looking for more poetry resources, be sure to check out The Greatest Poetry Of All Time and your 2022 Poetry Calendar for National Poetry Month.

Leave a Comment