Common Sense Review
Updated October 2013

Poetry 180

180 instant poetry lessons, courtesy of Poet Laureate Billy Collins
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Common Sense Rating 3
  • Straightforward presentation-- you can find the link to the poems quickly.
  • Pick and choose poems here-- you can also search by number.
  • Collins' "Introduction to Poetry" serves as an apt beginning.
  • Collins provides a step-by-step guide for reading poems aloud.
  • The site features a link to the LOC Poetry and Literature Center.
Pros
True to its title, this site is a list of ready-to-share poems that lend themselves to being read aloud.
Cons
Analytical reading isn't promoted; poet biographies and historical context would be a welcome addition.
Bottom Line
This accessible site supports a daily community-building ritual of reading poetry aloud.
Jeff Knutson
Common Sense Reviewer
Senior Manager, Education Content
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

Teachers will appreciate the straightforwardness of the site— it’s simply an index of 180 printer-friendly poems. With topics like relationships, love, and death, students will enjoy the accessibility of the collection.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

With an emphasis is on speaking and listening, students' fear of "not getting the poem" may be diminished. However, with little weight given to analysis, the site could discourage opportunities for deeper learning.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

Audio versions of the poems could help serve as great models for students. Also, a pronunciation guide would be especially helpful for ELL and Special Ed students.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

The simplicity of the site invites many applications. An entire school community may want to create a ritual of reading poems daily, perhaps sharing them after the announcements. Within the classroom, a teacher might begin the year selecting a daily poem and soliciting volunteers to read aloud, modeling expectations of the ritual throughout the year and moving toward an environment where students begin to take ownership of the process.

For further application, have your students focus on research and comprehension. For example, with a poem assigned in advance, students -- either working independently or collaboratively -- could research a poet’s life, prepare discussion prompts, and pull specific vocabulary to highlight. Students could present findings and critical questions to the class, including a reading. Such an assignment could extend the work with these poems beyond the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards, helping students interact with the language in more complex and meaningful ways.

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What's It Like?

Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools says it all. Created during his tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate, this is Billy Collins’ list of 180 poems that invite being read aloud. Chosen specifically with teens in mind, the poems touch on engaging subjects such as relationships, struggles with siblings and parents, love and loyalty, death and change.

The site's homepage presents Collins’ reasoning behind the collection and then offers five links: 1) the list of poems, 2) the Library of Congress’ Poetry and Literature Center, 3) suggestions on how to use the list, 4) permissions for the poems, and 5) an explanation on how to best read poems aloud (there’s a downloadable audio version of this guide as well). As a longtime advocate for experiencing rather than analyzing poetry, Collins has placed the focus of the site on the list. Simply choose a poem, and you’re ready to read.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Poetry 180's greatest strength is also its biggest weakness: It’s a list of poems -- no more, no less. Keeping this in mind, you'll find a collection of poems that teens will love to listen to. The range in language, imagery, form, and subject matter may even win over reluctant students who might think that poetry is beyond their grasp. The ritual of reading aloud every day can enhance a sense of classroom community.

With the poems numbered, you could easily use Poem #1 -- Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry” -- on the first day of school and proceed from there. If, however, you’re seeking poems with ready-made discussion prompts, comprehension questions, or literary devices already highlighted, you won't find them here. It should also be noted that, despite the range in verse and prose, there's little diversity in Collins' choice of poets.

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