How to Get Teens Interested in Poetry

Nikki DeMarco


The inimitable Nikki DeMarco is as well-traveled as she is well-read. Being an enneagram 3, Aries, high school librarian, makes her love for efficiency is unmatched. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is passionate about helping teens connect to books. Nikki has an MFA in creative writing, is a TBR bibliologist, and writes for Harlequin, Audible, Kobo, and MacMillan. Since that leaves her so much time, she’s currently working on writing a romance novel, too. Find her on all socials @iamnikkidemarco (Instagram, Twitter, Threads)

Love Inspired

Book Riot is teaming up with Love Inspired to give away $100 to to one lucky winner! Simply fill out the entry form for your chance to win. Love Inspired presents a broad range of wholesome and inspirational stories from inspirational romance, inspirational romantic suspense, and inspirational women’s fiction titles for all readers to enjoy. In addition to Love Inspired’s romance lines, Love Inspired has expanded and now includes a trade paperback program that highlights longer faith-based novels that take readers on a journey of emotional exploration about love, friendship, family, and community.

Love Inspired is published by Harlequin.

April is right around the corner. It’s National Poetry Month and one of my favorites to celebrate in the library. Last year, I wrote about programming ideas for school libraries to celebrate poetry. That programming was geared for teens who already read and love poetry. Now I want to dig deeper and target the students who love poetry, but just don’t know it yet. 

Whenever I ask a student their feelings about poetry, eight times out of ten they respond, “I don’t like poetry because I don’t get it.” As a former English teacher, I understand how poetry is taught in middle and high school. It’s often taught the same way whole class novels are taught: drawn and quartered until it’s dead and unrecognizable. In an effort to teach critical thinking skills and how to analyze literature, we take all the pleasure out of reading. Over time, students learn that when teachers ask for answers to questions, the teachers don’t actually want to know what students think, they are leading them to the standardized test answer. This teaches them that they can’t trust their instincts about what they read, and that they need to be told what to think. 

In order to instill an appreciation for poetry, students need to trust themselves again. Adults need to listen to kids’ opinions without immediately discounting them as inexperienced and wrong. Here are some places to start getting teens to love, or at least not hate, poetry. 

Start Easy

Start with easy, straightforward poems that are short enough to be digested in one sitting. Ada Limon’s “How to Triumph like a Girl” is a good place to start. It’s one stanza, uses simple, poignant language, and packs an emotional punch. Clint Smith’s “Something You Should Know” is another approachable poem to start with. These are poems that you can read once and understand, yet start to analyze and glean even more meaning out of metaphors and word choice. 

Now that you have a poem to start with, ask students questions they can answer. Questions like:

  • Did the title catch your attention?
  • Once you read it, did the poem match what you thought it would be about? 
  • Did the poem match the title?
  • What’s one thing interesting you noticed about this poem?

Another easy place to start is social media. Watching poems performed, as they were intended by the authors, is mesmerizing. Show them a poem by Sarah Kay or Rudy Francisco on YouTube. Then ask the same questions above. Show them GetLitPoet’s account on TikTok and let them *gasp* scroll. Give them a few Instagram poetry accounts and let them browse. Set them loose with some poetry hashtags and then have them share their favorites. 


One thing adolescents are not lacking is emotions. Coincidentally, this is also exactly what poetry focuses on. Poetry tells the truth about feelings. It creates real connections between people. When you share your favorite poems, poems you are passionate about, your students will pick up on your fervor. 

A lot of kids are just a step away from loving poetry by loving song lyrics. They connect with the feelings in their favorite songs and feel them intensely. Show them famous lyrics performed as spoken word, like this performance on TikTok of Tupac’s lyrics.

Have the students draw connections between poems that make them feel something and their lives. Let them find poems that remind them of their favorite song, the current show they are streaming, their culture, first love. 

Some questions to ask:

  • How did this poem make you feel?
  • What’s the vibe of this poem?
  • Did this poem remind you of something else you’ve read, a show, or song?
  • Did you see yourself represented in this poem? How?

Be Specific

To me, the beauty in poetry is how it notices small truths and helps me understand them in a new way. Often, that’s through a specific observation. “Small Kindnesses” by Danusha Lameris does this beautifully.

It starts with:

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by.

This is something I’ve seen time again. I had never considered it as a kindness, but it is. It’s a small way one stranger can be considerate to another. The truth of small kindnesses everywhere struck me with those first lines, throughout the entire poem, and then in my own life when I took notice of other small kindnesses.

Encourage your students to find specific word choice in a poem and identify why it resonates with them. Then give them the vocabulary they need to help them articulate what exactly is happening. Enter metaphor, couplet, meter, and epigraph. Then give them a chance to practice making their own similes and blank verse. 

Make Poetry Part of the School Culture

For poetry to be appreciated, it needs exposure. Print out small poems for Poem in Your Pocket Day that students can carry with them and share with others. Put poetry on free bookmarks. Share poems on your school’s digital platform. Put poetry in the hallways. Encourage teachers from all content areas to share their favorite poems. If your math teachers say they don’t have a favorite poem, email them a selection so they have a starting point. When an entire staff normalizes talking about poetry, it’s less intimidating for the students, and they are more inclined to seek out poetry on their own. 

I’m sure you’re fired up and are ready to make poetry part of your life in a meaningful way. You should look at the best poetry books of 2023, how one rioter begins their day with poetry, and how poetry can ground you when you feel hopeless.