George Lucas Educational Foundation
Literacy

Using Instagram to Teach Poetry

The genre of Instapoetry can be a useful tool for engaging students and improving their literacy and media literacy skills.

July 8, 2019
Student typing on her phone
©iStock/Nicola Katie

I’m always on the lookout for engaging language arts activities. Earlier this year, while surfing Instagram, I came across a beautiful poem carefully sketched on a thematically symbolic image. Like. Share. Follow. Just like that, I became an Instapoetry junkie.

For those of you as oblivious as I was to this trend, Instapoetry has been a genuine poetic genre for quite a while now—much to the dismay of highbrow literary critics, who cringe at its very existence and scoff at its lack of depth and tendency toward digital marketing.

Instapoetry can be defined as short, free verse poems that are often paired with a symbolic sketch or shared on an image that represents the poem. Instapoets like Rupi Kaur carefully craft themes, colors, and images to suit their poetry—the work is not only about writing but also using visual art to communicate meaning. Many of the poets, including Kaur, are also artists who illustrate their own poetry, while others take “Instaperfect” photos or use carefully chosen stock photos to visually represent their poetic works.

It didn’t take me long to decide that this was something I wanted to explore with my students. It turned out to be an engaging way to combine lessons in reading, writing, the writer’s craft, and media product analysis and creation.

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Studying Instapoetry as a Genre

We began our study of the genre of Instapoetry with an open mind. Using the Teen Vogue article “10 Poets You Should Follow on Instagram Right Now,” I organized students into 10 small groups to analyze the work of one Instapoet each and share their findings with the whole class.

As a class we created an anchor chart with the common elements we could identify in each of the accounts. We decided that common elements of Instapoetry included the following:

  • The poets wrote or shared short poems (epigrams, couplets, blackout poetry, free verse, etc.).
  • Each account focused on consistent themes or topics.
  • The poets’ Instagram usernames, or handles, reflected the topic of their poems.
  • Each account had consistent colors, images, and fonts.
  • The poems used emotional language to explore universal human themes.

Once we had analyzed the genre, many of my students became very excited and wanted to begin work on their own Instapoetry accounts—the culminating assignment—immediately. I let them start on “Becoming an Instapoet” right away; the rest of the students waited until the end of the teaching unit to tackle this final task.

Based on this experience, the next time I teach this unit I’ll give the final assignment at the outset so that students can develop their Instapoetry accounts at the same time as we work through the lessons in the unit.

Analyzing and Writing Free Verse

Once we had a good handle on the genre of Instapoetry, we took some time to study free verse poetry, reading poems and discussing poets’ use of theme, symbolism, and figurative language.

Then it was time to practice. We studied the author’s craft of various Instapoets, and students wrote blackout poetry, epigrams, imagery poems, couplets, free verse, and anagrams, sharing their work with their peers and me for feedback.

After studying the genre and getting practice with writing poems, it was time for my students to put it all together and create their own thematic Instapoetry accounts. I created an outline of an example account to show them what theirs could look like. I’m a huge fan of teacher exemplars, and it was fun to create and share my own Instapoetry with my students as we played with the genre together.

Reading and Sharing Instapoetry

The final step of our Instapoetry unit was reading and sharing each other’s work. This was by far my—and many of my students’—favorite part of this unit. I had asked students to post their poetry over the span of a week or so, and we started each language arts lesson by taking a look at a few students’ work.

I also gave students 10 minutes or so each day to read each other’s posts and like or share their favorites. We tracked everyone’s individual favorite (and most shared) poems, and talked about what made certain poems both visually and intellectually engaging. These were great conversations focused on the craft of poetry and on media techniques. We made it a bit of a contest; the three students with the most shared and liked poems got recognition and a treat from my classroom prize box.

Overall, Instapoetry made for a great unit I’d recommend to anyone wanting to spice up their language arts units. It can easily be adapted to work with younger or older students, and I’ve already thought about how I could use it as an alternative to a book report (e.g., create an Instapoetry account about the themes or characters in a novel, or create one written from the perspective of a character).

Moreover, I found that Instapoetry was a great medium for teaching theme and symbolism since students could play with these concepts both visually and in writing. It was a great interdisciplinary unit—there was a significant media analysis and product creation piece, and my students not only became better poets but developed their understanding of the complexity of communicating through social media.

Although traditional language arts teachers may shy away from this poetry trend, the reality is that students today aren’t picking up poetry volumes from dusty library shelves. Instapoetry has made poetry cool for a generation of students who wouldn’t access it on their own, so why not study it?

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Filed Under

  • Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • English Language Arts
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School