Here are 12 poems that seem to be written specifically for middle school students, along with suggestions for teaching.

Here are 12 Poems for Middle School Students

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1. “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” by Emily Dickinson 

 Reasons to love this: 

  • Students will readily understand it.
  • Students love pointing out who the “frogs” are in society today.
  • It’s incredible how this little poem is still relevant and applies to our world even now!
  • Perfect introduction into literary analysis

Lesson focus:

  • Extended metaphor
  • Imagery

2. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost

Reasons to love this poem:

  • This poem can be challenging to understand at first, but once students begin discussing it, its meaning becomes clear. 
  • It is a poem that helps students have that “light bulb” moment.
  • It is short and powerful.  Easy enough to teach in a single class period.
  • If you teach The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, you’re familiar with this beautiful poem.  Taking time to read and analyze it helps students understand the themes of the novel.
  • If you want to challenge students to memorize a poem, offer them this one!

Lesson focus:

  • When we say poetry is “condensed language,” this poem is a perfect example of that.
  • Couplets
  • Imagery
  • Practice using DIDLS
  • Connect the poem and the novel to teach themes

3.  “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service

Reasons to love this:

  • Students can listen to Johnny Cash’s powerful reading of it!
  • Funny, surprising ending that students enjoy.
  • Since this is a narrative poem, students anticipate a beginning, middle, and end.
  • The strong rhythm and rhyme make it fun to read out loud (or listen to!)

Lesson focus:

  • Narrative poetry
  • Rhythm
  • Rhyme scheme
  • Hyperbole

4.  “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

Reasons to love this:

  • Before teaching, be sure to share that Dylan Thomas wrote this poem for his dying father.
  • Students will notice the repeated lines of the villanelle form.
  • The poem argues logically as it moves through how wise men, good men, wild men, and brave men face death.  Finally leading the speaker to plead for his father to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
  • Strong images of light and dark that will help students understand the theme.
  • Another poem that is so relevant today.

Lesson focus:

  • The villanelle form
  • Word choice
  • Repetition
  • Imagery

Learn more about teaching poetry

5. “I, Too” by Langston Hughes

Reasons to love this:

  • This poem is so wonderful and relevant!  If you have time, be sure to share with students Walt Whitman’s “I Hear American Singing.”
  • Students can readily comprehend the “today/tomorrow” sequence as well as hear the speaker’s bitterness and anger.
  • The poem is framed with a similar line.  The change of just one word — “sing” to “am” provide a great starting point for discussion and analysis.
  • There is nothing not to love about Langston Hughes!

Lesson focus:

  • Free verse
  • Word choice
  • Theme
  • Connection to other pieces of literature (in this case, “I Hear America Singing.”)

Snag these poetry analysis sheets.

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    6. & 7.  Sonnet 18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” and Sonnet 29 “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,”

    Reasons to love these sonnets:

    • Challenging? Yes, but worth it when students realize that they can read and understand a sonnet.
    • Relatable.  Sonnet 29, especially, sounds like it was written by an angsty pre-teen…no one understands me — except for YOU!
    • Sonnets follow a logical argument.  Once students know this, they can begin to look of the argument the speaker is making.  This makes sonnets much more approachable.
    • Check out this post for more details on how to teach sonnets.

    Lesson focus: 

    • Form of the sonnet
    • Meter
    • Iambic pentameter anyone?!
    • The “turn”

    8.  “Oh Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman

    Reasons to love this:

    • Before teaching, share with students that this poem was written about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  This will help them focus on the overall theme.
    • I always struggle reading this poem out loud because…it makes me cry! 
    • The logic of this poem is easy to see.  Ask students to infer what is happening to the speaker in each stanza.
    • Notice the contrast between what is happening in the world (cheering crowd, battle over, safe harbor) and what is happening on the ship.

    Lesson focus:

    • Tone
    • Repetition
    • Form
    • Extended metaphor

    9.  “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks

    Reasons to love this:

    • Completely relevant.
    • Short and punchy.  What a great form!
    • Easy for students to comprehend after the initial reading with only a few vocabulary clarification needed.

    Lesson focus:

    • Word choice — look at what is communicated in just a few words!
    • Rhyme
    • Form
    • Alliteration

    10.  “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson

    Reasons to love this:

    • This little gem of a poem is easy for students to relate to and understand.
    • The abstract concept of “hope” becomes concrete – figurative language in this poem makes sense!
    • Compact yet powerful.  Another wonderful example of condensed language in poetry.
    • Like so many Emily Dickinson poems, this is a perfect way to introduce literary analysis to students.

    Lesson focus:

    • Imagery
    • Extended metaphor
    • Theme

    11.  “Litany” by Billy Collins

    Reasons to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this:

    • This has to have been a number 1 favorite with my students for its random quirkiness.
    • After the initial, “What?!” Students will start to see the parts of the poem:  You are this; you are not that.  I am this; I am not that.
    • Students don’t have understand each reference to enjoy it!  It’s just plain fun to read and consider.  What does it mean to say, “And you are certainly not the pine-scented air./ There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air”?  Is that an insult or a compliment?
    • If you have studied “This Is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams, your students will get the nod to “the plums on the counter,” which makes the inside joke among poetry lovers so delightful!
    • If you are challenging students to write companion poems as part of your poetry unit, this one is a blast to take on.  Can students write a poem that is a litany of what someone is and isn’t and what they (the speaker) are and are not?

    Lesson focus:

    • Poetry is just plain fun, funny, quirky, and delightful to read!
    • Metaphor
    • Theme

    12.  “Did I Miss Anything?”  by Tom Wayman

    Reasons to love this:

    If you’re a teacher, this poem is an instant favorite!  Print it up and hang it in the faculty lounge!!

    • Sarcasm?  Why yes!  Poems can be as sarcastic as a middle schooler!!
    • And when you finish chuckling over this clever poem, you’ll notice the construction — everything/nothing — that moves the poem forward and provides vivid scenes.

    Lesson focus:

    • This is another poem that is fun to read and share with your students.
    • Theme — ah yes.  What is this poem telling the reader?  Specifically if that reader is a student?!

    Try one (or all) of these poems with your students!  They are perfect to share with middle school kids!

    If you’re looking for poetry analysis sheets that will help you all year, you can find free poetry analysis worksheets here. You can use them for any poems.

    If you’re looking for more support for teaching poetry, you can find it in this “Strategies for Teaching Poetry” guide. It will help you step-by-step through the teaching process!

    You can find more teaching support in my shop.

    With gratitude for all you do,

    8 Comments on 12 Poems your Middle Schoolers will Love

    1. Thank you so much for this great list! I have two middle schoolers who are drawn to poetry. I am always looking for more great suggestions of poets/poems to share with them. Thanks for reminding me of these great choices!

    2. Thank you for putting together this list! I love poetry and want to share my passion for it with the middle-schooler I am homeschooling.

    3. Omg. Thank you! My daughter is not in middle school, but she is a 4th grader with high IQ and always drawn to interesting, challenging and unusual. This list was a beginning of several fruitful conversations about poetry and resulted in our purchase of your “Poetry idea jar” for future explorations.
      Please, accept my deepest gratitude

      • I’m so glad to hear this! Poetry is just so much fun to discuss, create, and share! Thank you for you kind words!

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