Creative ways to showcase the theme of a poem

Teaching students to identify the theme of a poem can be either a breeze or a bit of a challenge. As educators, we always strive to make our most important (and most demanding) lessons engaging and memorable to ensure our students truly grasp the significance; teaching themes in poetry is no different. If you find yourself at the end of a long road covering the elements of poetry, I’ve got a way to help you wrap up your final poetry lesson with a bit of a creative Van Gogh approach that will breathe life into the grand finale of your poetry unit: the Poetry Theme Art Exhibit. 

Why Identifying the Theme of a Poem is Necessary

Before I hand out tickets to the Poetry Theme Art Exhibit, I want to emphasize why it’s important for our students to identify the theme of a poem. After weeks of zooming in on the many complex layers of poetry (form, structure, figurative language, tone, etc.), shifting to theme is an invitation for students to zoom out and enjoy the view. All the hard work that’s gone into reaching the summit is done. Examining the theme is simply catching your breath, taking it all in, and reflecting on the universal message hidden within the lines of the poem. 

Teaching Themes in Poetry: A Mini-Lesson

When identifying the theme of a poem, I simply ask students, “What is the universal message about _____ the speaker is trying to convey?” And because some poems are more complex than others, I teach them to look at three separate things: The Topic + The Details + The Speaker. 

  • What is the speaker talking about? 
  • What details do they use to describe it? 
  • How would you describe their attitude towards it? 

These three questions help students make headway in revealing the underlying message of the poem.

creative ways to showcase the theme of a poem

I prefer to build confidence by featuring an accessible poem like “A Wise Old Owl” by Edward Hersey Richards or “Bed in Summer” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Once students know what they are looking for, it’s time to introduce your poetry theme art exhibit!

Launching the Poetry Theme Art Exhibit

To kick of this activity, I like to find the theme of a poem together and create an example. I prefer to choose something fun like “Today is the Worst Day Ever,” “How to Eat a Poem,” or “Hope is a Thing with Feathers” that grabs their attention while also serving as the perfect model for the lesson.

First, we read the poem together and discuss the basic elements using a condensed version of TPCASTT. The final step is to determine the message the speaker conveys about life. Once we have a few ideas, we read the poem again to verify.

Next, we generate a theme statement that captures the essence of the poem’s universal message.

Now comes the fun part! We identify keywords in the poem that contribute to the theme, circle them, and then create a sketched overlay that incorporates imagery, sensory details, and symbols—the perfect way to visually represent the theme.

We add a bit of color and draw attention and voila! A poem worthy of being displayed on our classroom walls is born.

Creative ways to showcase the theme of a poem

The beautiful thing is that students can do this activity by hand (perfect for those artsy kiddos who love to draw, or you can do it digitally using a program like Canva!

Incorporating Student Choice

With the model poem as a guide, it’s time to encourage students to choose their own poem or partner up with a classmate for the next step. Poems like “My Shadow” by Robert Lewis Stevenson, “Thumbprint” by Eve Miriam, “Identity” by Julio Noboa Polanco, “Adventures of Isabel” by Ogden Nash, “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman are some of my favorites to suggest. However, students are also encouraged to work with any poem that inspires and intrigues them.

See this post for some time-tested favorites, or give your students a bit of lee-way with finding their own perfect poem on Pinterest or Poetry Foundation.

As you wrap up your poetry unit, it’s fun to proudly display a collection of poetry messages on your classroom walls—a celebration of our students’ creativity and their understanding of themes in poetry.

Interested in saving time with a ready-to-use version of this lesson? Check it out here.

Other Creative Ways to Explore Theme

While the Poetry Theme Art Exhibit is a fantastic way to engage students in analyzing and showcasing the theme of a poem, there are also alternative activities that can add variety to your classroom. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. Creating a Multimedia Presentation Highlighting the Theme: Challenge students to create a multimedia presentation (such as a slideshow, video, or TikTok) that explores the theme of a poem. They can include relevant images, music, voiceovers, and text to convey their interpretation of the theme and its impact on the poem’s overall meaning.
  2. Performing a Dramatic Interpretation of the Poem: Reach those students who love a good spotlight and allow them to perform a dramatic interpretation of a poem while being sure to highlight the theme. They can create a script, rehearse, and bring the poem to life through acting, gestures, facial expressions, and tone.
  3. Poetry One Pager: A popular activity for any genre, students can create a one-page visual representation of the poem in a format known as a one-pager (though my own son grumbles every time a one-pager is assigned, haha!). They must represent the theme with images or words and incorporate visuals from the poem, along with meaningful quotes, lines, or singular words that stood out to them.
  4. Symbol: In this activity, students create a 3D object that relates to or symbolizes the theme of the poem. For example, using Tupac Shakur’s poem, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete,” as inspiration, students might create a 3D paper rose and incorporate creative elements that represent the theme. They could use a concrete-looking stem or write meaningful words on the leaves, showcasing their understanding of the poem’s theme through a tangible symbol.

Engaging students in the exploration of poetry themes doesn’t have to feel lackluster. By intentionally creating a space for creativity, you can transform your lesson into an experience worthy of an exhibit.

I hope this post inspires you to consider showcasing themes in poetry a bit differently in your classroom this year. Happy teaching!